The relationship between our perception of the passage of time and our age is something that I’ve never been quite able to grasp. I mean, while I know that one second in 1991 and one second in 2011 are supposed to be the exact same amount of time, my mind somehow convinces me that they’re unequal, and I’m not sure why it does this.
For instance, I’m 32 years old. On Sept. 12, 2001, I was 22. 10 years before that — Sept. 12, 1991 — I was 12. When I was 22, it seemed like there was an eon of distance between my age then and me being 12. It may have only been 10 years, but being 12 or 13 or even 16 seemed so foreign and distant to me that it felt like my teens happened an entire lifetime ago.
Now, though, the distance between 22 and 32 seems much, much, much smaller. I remember everything about being 22. I remember what my apartment smelled like (Guardsman, Curve, bbq sauce, sneakers, and condoms). I remember the color of my roommate’s girlfriend’s hair, and I remember trying to find a subtle way to ask him if that was her natural color. I remember exactly how I felt when first learning I’d been betrayed by two of my closest friends. I remember riding to some party with my boy and seeing the face he made as he listened to Eminem’s verse on “Renegade” for the first time. (Any diehard hip-hop fan knows this face. It’s the exaggerated squint/”I just smelled the worst smell on Earth” combo face you make when first hearing an outstanding verse. It’s almost like you can’t believe what you’re hearing.)
I’m bringing this up because of the psychological disconnect currently going on in my head regarding the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. It doesn’t seem like it’s been 10 years already because I (think I) remember everything about that day.
I remember my roommate waking me up to tell me that a plane flew into the World Trade Center, and I remember my half-lucid response. (“N*gga, stop playin. I’m still not letting you hold my watch.“)
I remember the shared collective consciousness of everyone on campus. (People use always use “surreal” to describe this feeling, but to me the best way to explain it was that it seemed like we were all extras in the same movie.)
I remember not wanting to talk or even think about anything other than what the hell was happening.
I remember not being able to reach my parents until early in the afternoon, and manufacturing anxiety even though I knew they were probably just home, watching the news like I was.
I remember that the two or three people I knew who were actually able to get service on their cell phones became rock stars that day.
I remember wondering exactly how “big” this was going to get. How many planes were hijacked? 4? 10? 24? How long would this continue to go on?
I remember watching CNN and trying to put myself in the shoes of a person near Ground Zero¹ to try to imagine the fear they must have been feeling. I also remember failing at this, becoming annoyed with myself for not being able to produce that level of empathy, and then wondering whether the people around me who seemed completely distraught were genuine or if they were hysterical because they felt that the moment called for hysterics.
But, despite the fact that 9/11 almost seems like it happened 10 months ago instead of 10 years ago, it doesn’t feel that way. The memories are still vivid, so you’d think that when watching a 9/11 related news story or tribute or memorial with footage from that day interspersed, the same feelings I felt that day would come back. But, although I remember how I felt, I can’t reproduce those feelings. I watch the 9/11 footage now, gripped and transfixed by the imagery and the sounds the fact that I remember seeing much of this before, but surprisingly unmoved.
It’s almost as if my heart is outsmarting my brain, convincing me that it’s useless to actually feel the feelings associated with those memories; emotionally downgrading 9/11 from “an event that left everyone shook in some way” to “an especially intense thing that happened on TV a decade or so ago” — really no different than the first 20 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan.”²
I think I understand why my mind does this. While remembering important events helps us make judgements, decisions, and predictions, continuing to go through the emotional rollercoasters associated with those events would probably make us insane. Still, while watching a few of these tributes last weekend and seeing the tears roll down the eyes of people in attendance, I wonder if I’ve gone too far, if becoming as emotionally detached as I seem to be is dangerous. Hmm. Maybe I’ll figure it out by 2021. Seems like a while to wait for an answer, but if the last ten years are any indication, it should be right around the corner.
That’s enough from me today. People of VSB.com, what are your 9/11 stories? How did it make you feel, and how much of a disconnect is there between how it made you feel then and how it makes you feel today?
¹It’s also interesting how my mind continues to think of 9/11 as just a NYC event, even though I’m very aware of what happened at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, PA — a city maybe 60 minutes away from where I’m sitting right now. ²I didn’t say this in the entry, but I do also realize that if I personally lost a loved one that day (or even was in NYC or the Pentagon or Somerset County) my feelings about this would probably be much, much different. And, for those who did actually lose someone, I don’t mean to be flippant or minimize any pain you might be feeling.