20th Anniversary of 9/11 :: Looking Back


It’s been 20 years since 9/11 happened on September 11, 2001. 20 whole years since the “War on Terror” first began. 

I’ll never forget that day. We had just started our sophomore year of high school. We had standardized testing for the first hour or so. They didn’t interrupt us. The principal had determined that we were in no immediate threat of an attack in the suburbs of Indianapolis and that inciting immediate fear would let the terrorists win. So, I walk into my first official class of the day, Geometry, and I see the TV playing in the front right corner of the classroom. 

I look to one of my classmates and say, “What movie trailer is this for? And, why does the teacher have the TV on?” Our teacher stood up in front of the room and told us all that this was not a movie trailer; this was actually happening. Live. 

I take my seat just as the second plane flies into the second Tower. 

I was only 15 years old. I thought I had lost part of my childhood and innocence when my parents divorced the year before. This stole another whole piece of my youth from me. My family is all originally from New York. I immediately worried that we’d have family or family friends that were part of what would become the almost 3,000 that lost their lives in those four coordinated attacks. 

Thankfully, we didn’t lose anyone immediate. Yet, so many others did. This didn’t end how 9/11 would come to affect me personally, however. 

Less than two years later, I was selected as one of only two people in my high school to be invited to a program called Presidential Classroom in Washington, D.C. Students from all over the country came together in country’s capital to learn more about the government, see the inner workings of how it all worked, and visit places I had only seen on C-Span and the like. I sat on the Floor of the House. I had an armed escort to use the Male Representatives’ bathroom (but, that’s a story for another day!). I walked the rows and rows of Arlington National Cemetery and felt the weight of all those laid to rest below my feet. The massiveness of that cemetery blew me away in person. 

We had all been divided into smaller groups for the week, and one girl in mine had a father that worked at the Pentagon. We were the only group that trip that got to see parts of the Pentagon civilians will never see. We were escorted to the spot where Flight 77, hijacked over Ohio, had crashed into the West side of American military headquarters. The memorial erected there was beautiful – and gut-wrenching. 

I left D.C. determined to get into politics and help change the world. I later learned to hate politics. 

My high school sweetheart and best friend always knew what he wanted to do with his life from the time we were 16. I never had any idea what I wanted to do when I “grew up”! After 9/11, he wanted to go into the military, and he wanted to stay in for the full 20 years and retire. He settled on the Navy and then lived and breathed becoming a Navy Seal one day. I can’t tell you the number of times during Junior and Senior year that we watched Navy Seal training videos while hanging out at his house. 

And, he did it. December after we graduated, he headed up to Chicago for basic training. I still have some of those letters he sent me during those weeks. After basic, he was gone. He would come home on leave once or twice a year for a week or two and then be off again. 

We went off to the courthouse the Christmas after he went to basic training. After his first tour of duty, he seemed the same at first. Through high school and on, he had always been a snuggler (while I was not!) and held me so tight when he slept. That first time back from overseas, he slept restlessly and intermittently held onto me. After the second tour and becoming a Seal, he had nightmares in his sleep. I went to comfort him, and he flipped over and started choking me until I could get him to wake up. 

[When my younger brother was old enough to join the Army, he enlisted for the front lines. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more terrified in my life. He hurt his knee right before he deployed and got assigned to desk duty indefinitely. I know we’d be visiting his gravesite today, instead of attending his wedding this Summer, if he hadn’t damaged his knee.]

Chris couldn’t ever tell me where he was, even though he would try to call from a sat phone at certain ports and email me from the ship. What he did was always confidential. Not even knowing where the person you love is, or when you’ll hear from them next (if it all), is really, brutally hard. 

Each time he got higher security clearance, the government got very invasive. It used to make me mad that they wanted to know everything while I knew almost nothing. 

Eventually, we decided that we were better being friends and him knowing he always had someone back home that cared for him. I ended up getting pregnant with my daughter in 2009, and her biological father wanted nothing to do with being a father. When I told Chris I was pregnant and how the father reacted to the news, he told me he would take care of us for as long as was needed until I met the person that would truly make me happy. 

He came to see us when she was four months old while he was on leave, and I had never seen him around kids or babies before. We had never been interested in kids ourselves ever. He held that little baby like the most natural thing in the world, fed her a bottle, and let her spit up on him and all! I think seeing new life and such innocence was something he desperately needed after all that time fighting in a war with seemingly no end. 

He told me that there was no way, if he knew she was his, that he would ever be able to walk away from her. 

It took until she was three years old until I finally found the man meant for me for the rest of my life and the father that my daughter deserved. As promised, Chris made everything so easy. He gave me power of attorney on everything and let me handle the dissolution of marriage in the most expedient way possible. It was the end of an era for me and the beginning of a whole new beautiful one. 

But, not for Chris. Not for the thousands of other soldiers in our branches of military that were still fighting a war most of America didn’t think about on a daily basis. Not for the thousands that came home, with long-term health issues, and not getting the proper treatment at our VA Hospitals. Not for the thousands upon thousands that suffer with PTSD and don’t get the help they need either. Not for all those veterans living homeless on the streets across our country. 

My husband turned on a Netflix documentary the other night, Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror. It’s been tough to watch. It’s brought back a lot of pain and memories. Hearing the voices of so many soldiers say they were out there with no clear mission as to what their objectives were is heartbreaking. Hearing many of them say, after years into the war, that they would call home, and friends and family went about their lives and didn’t even bother to ask how they were doing over there breaks my heart even more. 

A 20-year war.. our troops finally pulled out just before the 20th anniversary of 9/11… and, where are we now?

I know it’s not just my story. There are many other stories out there, far more tragic than mine, from the past two decades. What are we doing to help our veterans and their families now? What can we do in our small corners of the world to make some kind of difference?


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