I certainly did not become an adult when I was six years old. But it is important I talk about a certain day when I was six in order to make sense of the day I did become an adult.
A while ago, a freshman at my high school was sitting at my lunch table and began talking about the happening of 9/11. From the way he was discussing it, that day was like something he read about in an outdated textbook, something he expected no one at the table to remember first hand.
I closed my eyes in remembrance:
It is my fourth day of Kindergarten at P.S. 88 and the principal announced a sudden assembly. My class piled into the auditorium like sloths. The principal told us something awful has occurred a few blocks away at the World Trade Center and before I could settle this in my mind, my dad rushed into the building, completely in a state of panic. He grabbed my older brother David, and me, and together we raced out of the school and I was frightened. Looking up, I could see a skyscraper I had seen every day, now with a massive, smoky hole. It seems like I was looking at a picture, except I knew my younger brother Andrew went to preschool at the World Trade Center. The cops would not let us go north to get him–we started walking, then running south. I was not crying yet. I felt I was outside my feelings. The air was dense with something: soot? Debri? My dad tried to rip some of his Polo shirt into squares to cover our mouths, but it would not rip. A stranger that passed near us ripped his own shirt to aid us. Now we were full on running, me on my dad’s jagged shoulders. Now we were next to a lady we know. Now we were on a strange bus being given construction masks, which I did not want to wear because they made me feel like I would suffocate.
Now it was late night. We still had not heard from mom or my little brother, and it was 11:30pm and we could not go home, if our home was still standing in Battery Park Town. We were staying with the lady we saw before. I was watching TV on a dusty mattress when she finally called: mom. She and my younger brother were evacuated by the Army Corps and were safe at home. She had a late start and by a miracle, had not dropped Andrew off.
Back at the lunch table, I opened my eyes slowly. Someone had clearly mentioned that I had been there that day. The freshman looked at me with wide, curious eyes. He asked what it was like to go through all that.
I could have noted my fear, the horror of losing my possessions, the nightmarish dread of wondering whether my mom and little brother were alive. Instead, I instinctively had myself talking about the man who ripped his shirt for our aid, the construction worker who made me wear a mask so I could stay safe, the giving nature of the woman who provided us with a place to stay. As a result of that day, my life path was totally altered. I still wonder what direction it would have taken had I not been forced to leave the city I was born in.
And yet the day I became an adult was not that day in 2001. It was not when I was six. It was in that lunchroom when I was 18, when I realized I could decide how to remember something. I can choose to find meaning in that day, not in the calamity but in people’s kindness. I can decide how to remember.
Maybe I am not an adult as of yet. But something changed in me that day and I feel palpably different—I look forward to continue to shift my consciousness, to share my experiences, and to learn what people have to teach me.
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