Rebuilding the bubble, 11 years later

    It’s become a cliché to say that you will never forget where you were and what were doing the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Like all Americans that day, I think we were dumbstruck — confused, and clinging to the imaginary safety bubble we’d all been living in.

     It’s become a cliché to say that you will never forget where you were and what were doing the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

    I was sitting in Mr. Heywood’s social studies class during my the first week of 8th grade at Our Lady of Calvary Parish School in Northeast Philadelphia. The voice of Sister Mildred, the loving but stern principal, announced over the PA that all teachers were to turn on the classroom televisions. After less than two minutes of watching, a second plane flew into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

    Like all Americans that day, I think we were dumbstruck — confused, and clinging to the imaginary safety bubble we’d all been living in. Some must have been stunned into silence. But, being teenagers, many of us found it impossible to be silent. Mr. Heywood tried to shut us up, but there was no killing the speculative chatter.

    “Why would someone do this?” I heard from tearful classmates. “What if there’s a nuclear war?” And, “When do you think they’ll be sending us home from school?”My head felt hot. I was listening through the discussion for explosions in the distance. Terrified, I tried to answer the questions. These are questions I still struggle to answer today.

    “It had to be Russia,” I said turning to my best friend Alyssa.

    Considering we’d barely studied beyond the Cold War at this point, it seemed fair to think the Russians could be responsible for the attacks. I was 14, the same age that I learned what the words “Taliban” and “Al Qaeda” meant.

    Innocently, Alyssa and I continued to listen for bombs and debate where they could be coming from.

    When they finally released us from school around 11 a.m, I met the third grader I babysat after school and walked to her house, where I called my mother. She was surprisingly calmer than when I left dresser drawers open in my bedroom.

    I said, “Don’t you think it was Russia, mom?”

    My mother, then, now and forever, a staunch Catholic and Republican, made me feel very stupid as she laughed condescendingly at me.

    I can’t help but notice now that many Republicans are not laughing at presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s comment that Russia “is without question our number one geopolitical foe,” which he said on CNN in March.

    My most vivid memory of 9/11 happened later that day. I called Alyssa on the phone to talk about the Taliban, and I heard her dad, a die-hard Republican like my mom, through the wired phone in their kitchen: “I’ll tell you what we should do! Let’s rebuild in a week to show those pricks what America’s made of!”

    I wonder now, does it take a week or a decade to rebuild a bubble?

    Kimberly Paynter is the NewsWorks videographer.

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