Terrorists had flown two airplanes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York.
I sat curled around myself in bed, bolt upright and frozen, listening in horror and concern for ten minutes until my mother opened the door and I turned stricken eyes on her. "Mom," I said, "There's no school today," and I told her what had happened through numb lips.
It was early in the morning in Hawai‘i and there wasn't much in the way of information yet; Mayor Harry Kim didn't know what we were dealing with yet, and he made the decision: all public schools in Hawai‘i County, closed.
Mom and I didn't really know what to do, so... I went to sleep for another half an hour or so.
When I woke again the sun was up. There was more news on the radio: a plane down at the Pentagon, another in rural Pennsylvania. My sense of shock grew, now with added fear: my brother was in Pennsylvania. He was at school in Philadelphia, nowhere near where the plane went down, but... but... what if...? It was an unreasonable fear, I knew, but it wouldn't go away. I prayed he would call.
Eventually I went downstairs for breakfast. I think my mother went to work. I sat on the easy chair and turned on the television. I started flipping channels. At some point I fetched a notebook, a piece of paper, something, and started writing down every channel that was showing news of the attack. I can't remember why... I think it started so I would know where to look for news, and then just to record how many channels were showing it. It was most of them. MTV, even, although I suppose it was right in their backyard anyway. I started taking notes: quotations, flight numbers, how many passengers on the planes, numbers dead. I remember when videos started to surface of the planes hitting the towers. I remember feeling sick as I watched bodies (people) tumble from the fortieth floor, people desperate for a quick death to escape the fires. I remember watching the towers collapse. I remember the bridges crowded with dusty, scared evacuees.
I watched for hours. I must have stopped eventually. I don't remember what else I did that day.
The next day we went back to school. We were the only county in Hawai‘i to have had the day off. I remember being in English class with the television on so we could watch the news. I remember our teacher had us write about what we saw, what we felt. When I got home, I made sure we kept that day's newspaper.
I don't know where the newspaper is, or my notes, or what I wrote for class. Somewhere in the house, I expect.
I remember reading in the papers about the international response, people in other countries lighting candles and holding American flags. I remember being touched; I remember thinking it was beautiful of them to show so much support, even though we had an unpopular President who had been alienating all of our allies (as if that would prevent people from caring). I remember Bush's speech. I remember hearing the name Osama bin Laden for the first time.
And I remember what came after.
I can point out the clear, surface-level ways in which I was affected. My chemistry teacher, one of the best teachers I've ever had, was called away to O‘ahu (he was Air Force Reserves). After only one month of proper instruction my classmates and I stumbled through a year of incompetent substitutes and a replacement fresh out of college who was very nice but didn't know what she was doing; I'll never really know how much better I could've been. Junior Year, my classmates and I were meant to go on a trip to Europe together, only to have the Hawai‘i Board of Education put a ban on international travel for public school students, due to unrest in the Middle East. I remember doing a documentary on the Iraq War with my classmates and wondering what the hell we were doing there.
But of course, it was so much more than that.
What happened ten years ago changed this country, changed it in ways we should not have allowed it to change. It saved the presidency of a man who should've been kicked out after four years, and ignited wars on the other side of the world that dragged on and on and on, are still being fought. It changed the way we travel, changed the way we think; it persuaded us to let our freedoms and the freedoms of others get taken away without complaint in exchange for what we hoped was safety. It stirred up hatred. It made us afraid. We're still trying to crawl back from it.
I remember, just recently, when they told us Osama bin Laden was dead. I remember I felt tired, and bitter, and wondered what there was to celebrate.
The nation changed ten years ago. The whole world did. I grew up in that world.
It changed me.