I have not had the distinct pleasure of being on the East Coast during a Sept. 11 anniversary. Every year, I’ve lit a candle, prayed the rosary and watched the CNN footage on YouTube. It’s a day where I’ve been alone, cut off from even my family, and remember what the day meant for us, for me. But I’m losing details. I can’t remember if I was in school, en route, or at home when the towers fell (I have to ask; I was en route).
We weren’t allowed to talk about it—which infuriates me to this day. There was traffic for the first time in my Podunk town next to Vandenberg Air Force Base. I was confused, but I could not cry. I felt guilty. This was One of Those Things where you cried. And I didn’t. I ate my Cheerios. I seem to be making up for time lost, because as I pen this on the bus, a week before festivities, I can feel my stomach clenching and tears coming to my eyes. But I can’t cry. Not like this.
While I did not directly change on Sept. 11—there was no cloud-parting, God-speaking moment; I was only 11—it certainly got the ball rolling. It became my soul mission beginning at 12 to join the military. I was going to listen to my dad (who attempts to recruit so many people in my family, it’s become an in-joke) and apply to the Air Force Academy.
As I pen this, you must understand how difficult it is for me to talk about it. This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about it, but it always feels like the first. I don’t think I’ll ever be truly “over it,” but here I am, telling this extremely sensitive story to a crowd of strangers and friends.
I applied for the Air Force Academy.
And I got in.
I went through Basic Training and completed a whole semester with a 2.2 GPA (while failing Calculus to-boot). I only completed a semester because I screwed up. If you get me intoxicated enough, I may be willing to share the details.
“Protect and defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic,” that’s what you’re sworn to do at the Academy, in all branches of the military. That’s what I wanted more than anything else since Sept. 11. It drove me, inspired me. When the bullshit (for there is no better term for it) required from four degrees was getting under my skin (breaking me), I put as my desktop a picture of the Towers collapsing and caption, “This is why you’re here.”
But I screwed up.
I was immediately placed on convalescent leave after the Incident That Shall Not Be Named, and formally released in December of 2009—so it is on a technicality that I am eligible for the slim benefits I get. And for three Sept. 11s, and for many more to come, I’ve felt nothing but despair, shame and regret. Since Sept. 11, I’ve wanted nothing more than to protect and defend. There’s nothing worse than hearing from your parents, “You had so much potential.” But it goes deeper than that. I’ve let down my former staff, my classmates graduating this year, my high school that had such high hopes for me. I feel like I’ve let you down, Reader.
So here we are at the 10 year anniversary. It’s a fiver, so it’s one where all the pomp and circumstance will be brought out. And I’m going to be in the heart of it. I’m going to have to go to the Pentagon, because that’s where I pick up my bus to get to work.
I once wondered what it would be like to be on the East Coast for Sept. 11. Somehow, I equated it to being at the Pearl Harbor Memorial. I’ve only seen one commercial on TLC and one magazine cover highlighting the event, and I already want to high-tale it back to Honolulu. I can already feel the tendrils of shame coming out from their year-long hiding place.
Since I’m legally allowed to drink, this year, you may just find me after work humming The Parting Glass and so far gone, I wouldn’t be able to tell you my name. Though—I would prefer it if you didn’t.