The twelve-year-olds huddled over a clunky computer screen, discovering MSNBC for the first time.
Back then, I didn’t know what the World Trade Center was. I didn’t know my grandfather used to work there every day, five days a week. I didn’t know that, even though he retired, he still made his way into the lower east side of Manhattan once a week.
All I knew, really deep in my heart, was that it was a Tuesday morning and the sun was shining.
The weirdest part, for me, was the way I often obsessed over numbers. My sister made a game out of the time on our microwave clock, always adding and subtracting.
“7:43 p.m.,” she said. “Four plus three is seven.”
Patterns like that ran through her head constantly. She’d add and subtract, multiply and divide time like it would spin any which way she chose, as long as she always had the upper hand.
I didn’t think about September 11th as this perfect day. 9-1-1. Two towers stretching over the cloudless sky like a giant “11” in the air.
No, that came much later when I became obsessed with googling the reasons we should’ve known. The way the flight numbers added to passenger numbers and everything circled back to a single, haunting number.
The age I was when the country’s history was forever altered.
The number of class days of sixth grade I’d had.
It’s easier to say that one day is one day. That holding onto it like a piece of you will do nothing good.
But it will.
It’ll teach you how to take an old man in the southern heat, too busy to be bothered with his family’s life and imagine what he used to look like, sitting in that history classroom, telling your classmates the story of his life.
The walk home, covered in soot. The meeting on the 42nd floor that saved his life. The subways littered with lost souls and broken hearts and a smattering of hope that someone was still alive beneath that rubble.
It’ll teach you to hold your breath and pray someone might hang onto life like a small air pocket tucked under tons of steel built to remind the other guys we’re strong kings of business and infrastructure.
But it will never teach you how to explain to a child why they don’t have a father or how to envision two structures grazing the clear Manhattan skyline. It will never teach you how to recreate a Before that’s not haunted and altered by some After.