Charred Paper

By Guest Contributor

At around 9:30 AM, my friend’s mom arrived to pick him up from school. Fifteen minutes later, three moms and two dads came by to collect their children. By eleven, most seats in the classroom were empty. I asked my teacher, now for the seventh time, why everyone was leaving. My heart began to beat slightly faster. My pencil slipped onto the desk.

On the A train that morning, I saw a new ad with a photo of a flooded New York street. “Be prepared.” I could not imagine how common these ads would become. No one could.

Around noon, my mother, brother, sister, and I began walking downtown. When we arrived at my uncle’s apartment, my two-year-old cousin was napping so we had to be quiet. My aunt hugged us and then quickly walked into the other room to mute the television. My parents followed her, and I was told to remain in the hallway.

Walking down Lexington Avenue, and particularly when we crossed Park, I saw the smoke. It would have been hard to miss it on such a clear day. When, against my mother’s orders, I peeked at the television, I saw the video clip. I could tell I’d see it again. Even though I didn’t know what it meant.

Arriving home that evening, you could smell the smoke as it blew across the river. Charred papers drifted down like snow, landing on the street and in our backyard. I picked one up and read it.

The worst kind of fear is the kind you don’t feel. I didn’t know anyone who died. Not really anyway. There were some people I’d met — at least that’s what I was told. I never could remember any of them.

Even now, it is hard to know what to think or feel. It was inevitable that the day, with all its associated images, would become political. For us — those who were too young to fully remember — the tragedy has become metaphor. The tenor has become the vehicle, so the tenor is lost. We struggle to replace it: what did the attacks mean? What do they say about us? What do they say about others?

When it happened, I assumed it was only a matter of time before someone explained it to me. Third graders expect things to be intelligible, at least by the adults. Now we are adults and we still don’t understand. It feels as if after our parents picked us up, we never went back to school.

VIVIAN DARKBLOOM ’16 is from New York, N.Y.

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