Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight Years?

Has it really been eight years since 9/11? It feels like yesterday, and also like it was so long ago. Eight years sounds like such a long time, but it has slipped by so quickly. My heart goes out to every person who lost someone that day, whose life was changed forever in such a terrible way.

Eight years ago I was in college. My major was Organizational Leadership and Supervision. What I really excelled in, though, was skipping class, and that's why when the first plane hit the towers that day, I was fast asleep. I shared a bedroom with my roommate, and she was also sleeping. Both of our phones kept ringing, and we kept silencing them. I'm guessing we had been up late the night before...I can't remember.

Finally, one of us answered the phone, and while I can't remember what exactly was said, about ten seconds later we were rushing down the stairs to turn on the televison...just in time to see the second plane hit. We lived next door to campus and soon some of our friends had trickled through the door to watch the footage with us. They had canceled classes for the day and everyone was at loose ends and didn't know what to do.

I sat in the computer chair staring the screen, and I really couldn't make sense of it. My brain was so inwardly focused at the life was all about my friends and my life and my everything. The sheer magnitude of what was happening was overwhelming to me, and I couldn't process it. Instead, I sat with my cell phone, dialing the same number over and over, getting the same dead air response every time.

I didn't know anyone personally involved in the tragedy, but my whole life still changed that day. The number I was trying to call belonged to my high school boyfriend, and while I can't remember if we were officially together at that point in time or not...I feel as though we were, but I don't know...we were on and off so much we both just refer to a long period of time as "the time we were together" even though it was probably twenty different times.

He was the first person I'd ever fallen hard for, and he was funny, scathing, sarcastic, and flaky as all get out. He dumped me mercilessly in high school. and left me with a huge unrequited crush for a long time. When college didn't go the way he wanted, he joined the Marines. At the time, we all just shrugged...I thought maybe it would teach him discipline. If only I had known. When he joined, none of us expected anything but him serving stateside, fulfilling his contract, and getting free college afterwards. During boot camp, he apparently realized his true feelings for me, and we began to work our way back toward a relationship. When we talked, we talked in terms of when he would get out, when we wouldn't live across the country from one another any more, when we could give our relationship a real shot again.

Instead, that morning, I realized that nothing was going to be that simple. I couldn't get through...not all day. The base phone lines had apparently been over run by people calling their loved ones and no one could get through at all. You would have thought he was going to ship out that day, the way I was acting.

Finally, I talked to him, and I can't remember what we talked about, of course. He ended up serving two tours overseas. I still have letters from him from faraway places, filled with things that were just unbelievable to me. He served selflessly, and to this day will stand up and talk about how he wishes he could go back, help more, do more. He made it back...a lot of people didn't.

But he's a different person. Those life experiences changed him fundamentally. Eventually we cut ties, exhausted from all the drama of our relationship (note to self...don't date someone as dramatic as yourself), and he ended up marrying a mutual friend from high school, and the stories she would tell about him used to confuse me, make me shake my head. He wouldn't do that, act that way, say those words.. In many ways, he ended up being a totally different person than the boy I fell in love with in high school. His life since he returned has not been easy for him...he suffers from PTSD among other things from his time in service, and there are a lot of things he just doesn't seem like he is 'wired for' anymore. He's so intelligent, with so much potential, and his brain, his thoughts just gets in his way sometimes. He can't sleep, and he says that when he does, sometimes he wakes up screaming.

After a long road of hits and misses, I'm blessed to count him as one of my best friends today. It's taken us years to get back there, to the point we were at so many years ago, where we are friends without holding any of our actions, past or present, against each other. Now we're older and hopefully wiser, but for him especially, I know that day eight years ago changed the entire course of his life. He lost friends. He lost fellow Marines. He lost part of himself over there, and while I wish I could take it all away for him, I know he wouldn't change a thing. I know he looks at the personal sacrifices he made as nothing compared to the service he could do for his country, and I am so proud of him.

It's just another way I see that 9/11, that day 8 years ago, changed everyone. Not just those who lost family members in the initial crashes, but those whose lives changed in the years following, those who sacrificed their families and loved ones to fighting for our country. What a huge sacrifice all of those people made, and at what cost. 9/11 has had such far reaching impact on almost everyone...part of me still can't believe it ever really happened, that anyone could plan that, put it into action. But it happened, and I think many of us were changed because of that day.

What about you? Where were you eight years ago today, and how has it affected your life or the lives of your loved ones today?

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