When I was eighteen I had a job in an “up and coming” neighborhood. This basically meant that it was a slum that was gentrifying—full of bars and restaurants but also junkies and the homeless. At this job one of my duties was to clear the veranda of the night’s occupants each morning before opening the office. This lead to all sorts of horrifying situations because my bosses didn’t really seem to grasp that a cute little eighteen year old blond probably wasn’t the ideal person to do this.
On time stands out for me—even though it was very mild. I had just walked up the stairs to start rousing the regulars awake. There was a pile of blankets near the stairs and a pair of arms shot out from underneath the blankets. Those hands grabbed at my ankles. I flailed and kicked and fought and ran.
I was completely fine (and much more careful after this—though to stupid to insist that the process change until after I was actually attacked). This incident really altered how I thought about personal safety. It was a turning point for me in realizing that I wasn’t invincible. Being young and white and cute wasn’t going to insulate me from all the bad things that could happen (long time readers realize how much this was drummed into my head after this).
It’s been twelve years and every morning I walk past the blanket piles that the homeless of this city still sleep under. I am not eighteen anymore and I don’t work in that neighborhood. And I am a transformed person. I am cautious and snake-bitten. I walk past the blankets and wait for the hands to shoot out. I am ready to scream, to kick, to fight.
I think many of us feel this way about 9/11. We spend this day watching the skies. We shakily check the news. We warily wait for the hours to pass. It was a country wide tragedy—the loss of our collective innocence. Whether you were in New York that day, whether you knew some one who died, whether you were on a flight—your experience that day changed you. Our collective experience changed us all.
I woke up this morning apprehensive. I remembered that day. I remembered the person that I was what feels like a long time ago. I mourned her and I mourn us all. The politicization of what is an American tragedy is sickening. No matter our individual experiences we survived this as a people. And as a people we move forward—dodging those hands that seek to grab us. Those that are real and those that live only in our fears.