Last night, at 11:30 p.m., an old classmate of mine called me.
Our common link in childhood was running for our lives as the towers collapsed on 9/11, blocks away from our school.
After the the black smoke cleared to give way to the ashy white of the evening of 9/11, and the next day began, life as usual resumed for many New Yorkers and Americans.
Thomas, on the other hand, was in a holding shelter, and would go on to live from hotel to hotel for months, as his home in Battery Park City had become unlivable. In November of 2001 he had the brief chance to see the entire side of his building burned off, like it had been eaten away by acid.
I lived in what had essentially become an abandoned war zone, without water or electricity, on the east side of Lower Manhattan, which, days later, became infiltrated with military personal, all sorts of chaos and threats of more buildings collapsing and more attacks.
To this day, people asked me why I didn’t move from my home three blocks from the World Trade Center after what I lived through that day and in the days that followed. Watching people kill themselves. Running for my life. Choking on dust. The perpetual pit that was Ground Zero. The police barricades. The short answer is because I was 12, and it wasn’t up to me. The longer answer is that we don’t let anyone chase us out of our home.
As we spoke on the phone last night, we expressed our disbelief but said, really, what we always said without saying every time we spoke, that silent bond survivors share.
I remember that as I ran through the streets trying to get home on 9/11, I was afraid that we were going to be thrown into cattle cars and shipped off to concentration camps. Thomas remembered hiding under a bench with his dog in his lap as the debris and smoke enveloped them, thinking, “I would be safer in Florida.”
The next year, Thomas did move to Florida, the state that seems to decide every election, especially the terrifying ones.
I watched the results unfold and remembered clearly the pain I felt at 12 years old hearing my grandmother fearfully predict that what happened would lead to war. I remembered being 15 and in a school full of mostly Republicans—my second high school where I only lasted a few months—and feeling like I was going crazy when George W. Bush was officially re-elected and everyone cheered. I remembered the fear I felt when North Korea threatened to kill us all if we released that movie with the guys from Pineapple Express, and how when everyone felt pride at having the film released, I felt the personal doom that only certain people with the firsthand experience I had could understand.
As I navigated my teenage years, which were ravaged by the complex symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, (PTSD), I feared people would hurt us here, again, because of our leader. Because of our country’s ignorance.
I can only imagine that the reason this happened was because people were operating from a place of fear and ignorance, the kind of fear and ignorance that fueled the fires of 9/11, which Trump has flippantly referred to as “7/11” and, along the way, managed to get in a dig at veterans with PTSD.
I can only imagine that the media, which was so confident that this could only happen if we were once again transported in a time machine to Hitler’s Nazi Germany, played some part by giving the spotlight to a man who wanted it so he could stand on his golden, bedazzled soap box and spew hatred, incite violence, ignorance, racism, and offer not a single tangible idea for us to hang our hats on.
To be sure, I would have voted for Hillary without the addition of the election-ad scare tactics that would affect a direct 9/11 survivor and shake her to the core. I voted for Hillary for many reasons, but that “Role Models” spot ultimately was what got to me, the one where he makes fun of the New York Times journalist who came to speak with us in college as we admired him and his work, and where he says he could take out a gun and start killing people on Fifth Avenue and not lose a vote, and calls Mexicans rapists.
Now, I’m just as afraid as any of us are that an impulsive, easily influenced bully has our nuclear codes. But this triggers the trauma that I lived with, and some days, still do, in a deeply personal way. Still, my concerns are everyone’s concerns: our civil liberties taken away, along with a woman’s right to choose, equal rights of all kinds, healthcare. Another recession. Deportation. Violence in the streets. But my biggest fear is one that governed my journey from childhood to adulthood as a teenager: War. Another attack. A slow nuclear death.
For today, I choose not to try to move away, though it’s an option many of us are likely considering—just consult the crashed server at Canada’s immigration site. But the fear that I feel is real, and it’s the fear of someone who, as a child, didn’t understand how 9/11 could have happened, and how one person could continue to drive a country into the ground and get re-elected.
My social media feed is currently filled with people sharing that they are crying and shaking in disbelief and fear. Teachers are saying they are heartbroken today and don’t know what to tell their students. My fellow sober women and men in recovery are struggling to hang on, quite literally. Friends are thinking about calling in sick, because that is how they feel. People are ashamed of our country and feel that our lives hang in the balance of a con man’s decisions. Others, especially women, are calling for unity, to get ready to fight the good fight, not to give up hope or feel totally defeated.
I have to tell myself the world isn’t going to fall apart and we are not all going to die. I have to, or I won’t be able to function. I have to tell myself that we will survive, as women who have survived sexual assault, as people who have survived war crimes, as those who have been on the other side of racist and bigoted comments, that we will be okay.
I have to, because the only way we can ever survive is through hope that no matter how bad things look, there is good in the world, and there is justice, and that people will somehow, in some way, be held accountable.