“I feel the hole in the city as a hole ripped out of my chest and head, thousands burned and crushed and orphaned and ruined and dead. I merge onto I-95 South, and I cry — great whooping moaning sobs, strangling me, fighting to get out of my throat and go nowhere except back into my ears. I clutch the wheel to keep it straight, signaling, getting left, barreling onto the ramp for I-78 West, driving home as I’ve done a thousand times before, and I cry and cry and cry.”
This, even more than Jon Stewart’s first “Daily Show” after 9/11, is what the day was for me. I think there’s a book out there about the high school class of 2002, my graduating class: so many enlistments that year, college plans reconfigured to “safer” cities (whatever that means, I went straight to the Code Orange bullseye of DC). Most of us have never been able to vote, had a sense of current events, or hell, even lived a day as an adult without the shadow of that day casting over the circumstances of our lives. On that day, I was seventeen, almost done with the process of separating from my hometown and high school, but I couldn’t travel without permission, couldn’t buy cigarettes or a lottery ticket or get a tattoo. Most importantly, we were too young to have voted in 2000. Would that have changed anything? Maybe not. But given the proclivities of my classmates, I didn’t know that teenagers came in any flavor other than “super-pretentious ultraliberal” until I was in college.
And I think about us, stuck in that weird place with the last of our childish ties about to be cast away as we prepared to leave home, and what our adult lives might have been without this day, especially those that graduated that year and who now live on only in memories and photos and dog tags thanks to the foreign policy aftermath, and I too cry and cry and cry. If eighteen is the cultural line of demarcation between adulthood and childhood (although the goddamn “millennial” generation is doing their best to see that pushed to 30), then we have never known anything else.
I’ve read a few, but Sarah Bunting’s account is the one that I come back to read year after year. You should too. And if you know a dude named Don who lived in Jersey City in 2001 and was born on September 11…tell him Sarah and her readers want to buy him a beer.