Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11: What was it like, outside of the U.S.?

"Something just happened.  In New York."

My friend, the one I was meeting later for a leisurely brunch on this day off, sounded subdued on the phone.  In shock, almost.


"Dunno.  Something crashed into the Towers."

"The Twin Towers?  What, like a truck?"

"No.  In the air."

"In the air?"  That made no sense.  If her voice hadn’t been so solemn, I would have laughed.  But, as absurd as this something-from-the-air sounded, I understood it was no laughing matter. ""What, like a… a plane?"

"Yeah.  A small one, they think."

"Damn.  I hope no one is seriously hurt."

I thought it was an accident.  I found out later we all did.

I wandered through the mall, the crowd thin on a Tuesday morning, but still busy.  There was an empty spot in front of an internet cafe computer, and on a whim I took it., I typed.  The server automatically brought up the Mexico version — the same way it always loaded Google in Spanish; how I hated that — and I scrolled through the page, left, down, right, to find the link to the original page.  My eyes jumped from irrelevance to irrelevance, barely catching a word here and there, until they snagged at a link.  Manhattan video, it said.  U.S. under attack.  I clicked it.

I watched that two-minute video for maybe half an hour, over and over.  The streaming wasn’t good, so it kept freezing.  The images, no matter how many times I watched them, didn’t belong in this reality.  The puff of smoke from the side of the Tower.  The gleam of fire in an increasingly gray world.  And the soundtrack.  The "oh my God", repeated over and over.  The camera shook in the owner’s hand.  That, the shaking, was what finally made me shut it off.

No, I wasn’t in the U.S.  I’m not American.  I lived in New Jersey for a couple of years, yes, but that had been too long ago.  I had friends there, sure.  But September 11 would affect me, all Mexicans, far beyond any personal ties we had to the U.S.

Mexico is the U.S.’s backyard in many ways.  I’ll extrapolate on that some other time.  But this tragedy was our tragedy too, simply because the U.S. was invincible.  It was the Big Brother that kept the wolves at bay.  Defensor of truth and liberty, and with the moral and military might to enforce righteousness in the world.  In so much more than the practical aspects of economic dependence, I’d grown up in a world in which the US was, quite simply, Daddy.  Like any teenager, we’d complain about its all-encompassing influence and chafe at it, but…  We also depended on it.  We depended on the safety of its existence.

My own father died when I was 19.  I was a spoiled brat, a horrid child that always got her way and always did what she wanted.  I was fortunate, I guess, in that my father was able to provide for my every whim.  When he died, unexpectedly, life most certainly did NOT go on as before.  Turned out my father had debts left and right, and the wealth I’d taken for granted all my life had, behind my back, skulked out and disappeared.  I was left alone in a huge house — which had been run by a nicely balanced team of maids, cooks and gardeners — with no money and no clue on what to do next.  My father’s family showed up one day and said the house wasn’t mine, it hadn’t even been my father’s; instead, it belonged to a corporation of which they were now at the head, and I had to move out.  They would, they said, lend me the money for a moving truck to transport the furnishings.  Those, apparently, were mine after all.

My father would never have allowed this.  Of course, they had to be wrong.  But I was a very naive and very incompetent little girl, and my father was not around anymore to fight for me.  I’d have to do this on my own.  And, God, I missed him.

The feeling was very much like what Mexico, as a country, felt in September of 2001.  The invincibility, the sheer untouchability of our neighbor to the North was shattered.  If this could happen there, it could happen anywhere.  The whole world was at the mercy of… well, anything.

And that was, perhaps, the final step for my generation towards an adulthood we’d been only flirting with.  I was twenty-eight then, no longer a child, certainly.  Still, this took away the last veils separating us from the monsters under the bed.  Yes, they were real.  And, no, there was no Daddy around to come and shoo them away.  We’d have to do it on our own.  

Come on, you chicken-shit.  Turn on the light.  Peek under the bed.  Do it.

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