I hadn't planned on doing a tribute blog.
Not because I wasn't going to mourn, but because I would be.
Then I had a friend of mine from college send me two videos that she found on Youtube and dedicated in an email to one of our college roommates that passed away while serving over in Iraq.
Halfway through the first video I was trapped in memories of the day that 9/11 happened and by the time the video was over I was sobbing. I'm still crying.
I was only 17 when 9/11 happened. A freshman at the University of South Florida, I was excited about finally being an adult and being on my own. USF is fairly close to MacDill AFB and to the VA Hospital. We were the college where all of the true future Air Force officers of the ROTC came to in Florida. I knew that one day I'd be serving in the military. Both of my parents served in the Navy and my mother was dating a man who served in the Army and was now in the Reserves. I had just decided to wait a few years until I enlisted.
So being at USF I was surrounded by military personnel and I was happy about it.
The morning of September 11, 2001 I woke up underneath the arms, legs, and naked bodies of my best friends Ryan, Angel and Angel's new boyfriend James. I pushed my way out of the tangle of arms and walked towards the shower to get dressed for class. I had an early class that day and was still a little drunk from the night before. So when I felt my stomach clenching with dread I thought that it was the Jack Daniels creeping back up on me. I stood in the shower, scrubbing the scent of alcohol, smoke, sex, and gay men from my skin when my thoughts became centered on my grandfather and my other best friend Justin, both of whom lived in New York. Being the daughter of a pastor I threw up a quick prayer for their safety, rushed into my skirt and shirt, brushed out my hair, grabbed my backpack and raced off to my Fashion Design class (bet you guys didn't know I designed clothes did you?), leaving Angel, Ryan and James in the room to sleep off their hangovers.
The campus was surprisingly quiet, even for it being as early as it was, and I had no idea that while I had been showering that the first plane had already crashed into the World Trade Center. When I walked into my classroom, I heard cries and sniffles, I saw that the tv was on and I saw people hugging each other. Fear rushed over my body instantly. I didn't know what was going on, but I knew it was bad and I knew that I wasn't going to like it. I sat down and looked at the television screen and that's when I saw what they were saying. I was in shock. A plane had flown into the WTC? Was it an accident? What the hell was going on? How many people had died?
My class, usually loud and boisterous, filled with the flamboyant and the artistic, those of us who loved to express ourselves, was somber and quiet. We sat there and watched the television, no one spoke, until the second plane flew into the second building. Then, true to form, I screamed out "WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?" My body was shaking, I was scared. My grandfather lived in Harlem. He was there in New York! My best friend Justin, who was my soul mate, lived out in Greenwich Village and was working on Broadway. He was RIGHT THERE! I pulled out my phone and tried to dial, I got nothing. My cell service was down. I raced out of the room, my backpack slung over one shoulder, my teacher yelling my name and I raced back towards my dorm. I wasn't the only one running by this point. The campus that had been a veritable wasteland only moments before was filled with students running to their dorms, running to their cars, trying to call home.
When I got to my dorm, Angel and Ryan were awake, holding each other and crying. I could hear James in the bathroom vomiting. I sat on their laps and we all kept trying to call Justin, my grandfather, Angel's mother who was visiting her sister in New York. We watched as the buildings fell, we watched the reports as they talked about United 93 and then I remembered that I had a friend, Tiffany, who was supposed to be flying from New York that morning to come home. My body was frozen in shock and then I had my very first panic attack.
I don't remember much after that. There are flashes of the RA coming in to check on me. Me watching the news reports with the boys. Being told that our entire campus was on "strictly enforced lockdown" because of our "proximity to a popular military base" in the face of "the terrorist attack upon our country." I couldn't leave and my family couldn't come get me. I remember seeing my dorm mate, Meagan, rushing in and throwing clothes in a bag and then I remember seeing her getting dressed in her Air Force uniform, although that was the next day. I hadn't slept. None of us had. We were still on lockdown, except for those of us who were going off to serve our country.
I remember hugging Meagan. Holding her tight and crying on her uniform. She was much older than me and she'd opened my mind to different types of relationships and sexuality, beyond gay or straight. Megan was bisexual and had been in a threesome relationship with our other roommate Heather and their boyfriend Scott. I remember begging Meagan not to go, because I had a bad feeling. She had been recalled to the base for a debriefing, quick retraining and then deployment. She kissed my forehead and made me promise to take care of myself and to design her a "fabulous gown to wear to the homecoming dance" when she got back. I promised, but Meagan was deployed and she gave her life for her country.
It was three days before I was able to hear from my grandfather, who sobbed on the phone about what had happened. Three days before I got a phone call from Justin where he comforted me on the phone and told me "I almost went down there that morning. I was planning on going through that part of town with some friends, but I changed my mind at the last minute. They were all there. They saw it happen. They'll never be the same. I'm so lucky. I'm so blessed."
It was a week before I heard from Tiffany. Her flight had been cancelled at the last minute and she was okay. She was lucky. She was blessed. Ryan comforted her when she cried on the phone. They ended up getting married that next year and have been together ever since.
I didn't enlist until years later. We were still at war with Iraq. George W Bush was still the president when I enlisted. I knew that I was signing myself up to fight in a war that started about an event that many people had forgotten about. But when I enlisted I was wearing the bracelet that Meagan had given me the day I moved into the dorms. It was rainbow colored and I had no idea that it stood for homosexuality. I just knew that she'd given it to me. My fiance had just passed away from brain cancer when I enlisted. When I enlisted I was thinking about the children who were still waiting on "Mommy" or "Daddy" to come home. I was thinking about the men and women who lost their spouses either on 9/11 or who lost them in the war. I was thinking about my stepfather, who deployed to Kuwait a year after the attack and was never the same.
I thought about the young guy that I had been dating, who served in the Marines and was never heard from again.
I thought about my friends who had enlisted and had come back scared of their shadows and unable to live a life truly free of paranoia.
I thought of Justin, who still lived in New York and said that the people there couldn't believe that the rest of the country had moved on "so fast". That the people there were still grieving even years later.
When I told people that I had enlisted I was amazed at how many of them were angry or disappointed in me. When I was injured and sent home I was amazed at how many of them turned up their noses at all that I'd lost. And when I mourned my battle buddies that lost their life in Iraq, the ones who committed suicide because they had never felt so "hated" before, the ones who were killed by suicide bombers, or by IEDs, and those same people merely shook their heads before moving on to talk about the latest celebrity scandal, I finally understood what Justin was saying.
9/11 was a horrific tragedy. One that was felt not just by Americans but all over the world. New York is filled with tourists on a daily basis. The airports are overrun with "foreigners" who are coming to experience America. It wasn't just Americans who were killed by Muslim extremists. People were killed. People of all colors, all nations, all religions.
What this Army veteran found out was that 9/11 is NOT just an American tragedy. It is NOT just one that should be remembered here, because it was not one that was only felt here. America may have been the target, but we were not the only victims. September 11, 2001 was a global tragedy. A human tragedy. One fueled by hate, by anger, by terrorism.
So this is to all the men and women that lost their lives, that lost their spouses, all the children who lost their parents, all of the first responders, to the passengers of United Flight 93 who performed such an amazing act of heroism, to the members of the United States Military (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, National Guard, Reserves) who fought in the war, who are still fighting in the war, who lost their lives, limbs, their sanity, their dignity, their families, their way of life, their homes, the parents who lost their children, and to everyone else affected by the senseless tragedy:
THANK YOU. We will NEVER forget.
Here are the videos: