Even now, when I see or hear some joke at the expense of “9/11,” where it is a punch-line of some kind, I still think “too soon.” I don’t think it will ever be funny to me.
Maybe it’s because I know people who were deeply, personally brutalized by the loss of loved ones.
Or, maybe it’s because even though it’s been 12 years, I can still remember that morning so vividly. My boyfriend at the time waking me up – which unless I NEEDED to be woken up for some reason, well he damn well knew better; it was expressly forbidden. Not to mention stupid. Waking Marnie up for no good reason is about as safe as sticking your hand into the cage of a starved tiger while wearing your new burger-scented cologne. So I immediately knew: this is bad. I was sure the building was on fire. I guess, in a way, it was. Just not the building I was in.
All he said, as far as I can remember, was: “Baby, wake up. It’s… it’s bad.”
It’s bad. An understatement, sure, but how else to wake me up? Screaming? “GET UP! THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT WILL NEVER BE THE SAME!”
I could hear the TV going in the living room. He turned on the TV in the bedroom and it was immediate. The images, being played over and over, were like an ice-cold terror punch hitting me in the gut. Something really did change inside me forever then. It was like my nonchalant and pretty surface-level knowledge of the world (the non-America parts) stood up and demanded I take notice. Say what you want about “Murrrica!” – we’ve still had it pretty easy compared to others. But every time I watched those towers go down, I felt my own American smugness dissipate. I felt like this was the moment, in the Movie of the Week, where the bully finally gets his. I worried that some countries would think we had it coming. Maybe we’d harassed one too many nerds, objectified one too many of the less popular girls and stolen our last batch of lunch money. Maybe it was time. Maybe we deserved a comeuppance. I felt a collective guilt. America had been the biggest, baddest bully on the playground for a long time. What now? Did we deserve a beat-down of this magnitude?
But I also felt frustration and helpless angst as the body count rose, and there was nothing, absolutely nothing we could do about it. I knew, deep inside me, that as trite as it sounds, things would never be the same. Reflecting back on the last twelve years, I can say that sentiment is exactly right.
I travel a lot. I did before 9/11 and I have since. Things have changed. A lot of people insist that everything we go through at the airport is “necessary;” it’s the “cost of freedom,” and “freedom isn’t free.” Some people actually feel safer about traveling now – safer, taking off their shoes, throwing away their water bottles, being scanned and groped, and putting shampoo in Ziploc baggies. I don’t feel safer. I feel a lot less safe. And it’s not just because I was naïve before, and now I know what horrible things may befall me. It’s because it’s all so stupid. I watch the TSA agents – many of whom are frankly, power-hungry jerks, and some of whom are really well-meaning people who just need a goddamn job in this shitty economy, and I don’t feel any safer. And god knows, I wouldn’t want that job for anything. It would suck – even worse than being a meter maid. They have to make decisions about which of us they will frisk, search, ask to step aside, and then dig through our dirty underwear. If they search the guy with the turban, they are racial profiling. But I’ve watched them drag a woman who must have been over eighty years old out of her wheelchair and force her to walk – which she could barely do – through the scanner while they swabbed her chair for explosives. I’ve watched them pull crying babies out of their strollers for the same reason. Sure I guess it’s possible “the evil terrorists” could be smart enough to avoid looking “too Muslim or Middle-Eastern” and are instead planting explosives in granny’s wheelchair, or that the real terrorists here are white babies and their prospective MILFs, but I can’t help but wonder if we are really winning the “war on terror.” How can we? When all we’ve done for the last 12 years, is give more and more into terror?
One thing I’ve learned about Americans in my life is that Americans love fear. They fucking love this shit; love being afraid. Thrive on it. We love war. We go to war on goddamn everything. Blacks, women, gays, Chinks, Japs, Gooks, drugs, Commies, and I apologize for the racial slurs – but it’s a lot easier to fight a war on something you’ve stripped the humanity from, isn’t it? And when we finally ran out of things to go to war on, we just started a War on Terror! If we have nothing to fear but fear itself, how does fearing fear make fear stop? It doesn’t. It doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. How can you fight a War on Terror and expect to win? You can’t. The second you fight fear with fear, you’ve already lost.
And now, as we face this bullshit situation going on in Syria, I think well, fuck it. Here we go. When all else fails, and you run out of wars, just go to war on war! That’s it! A WAR ON WAR! GOD BLESS AMERICA!
Now I’m not just some hippie that believes violence never solves anything. Sometimes some people need to be punched in the face. But most of the time, you are creating a bigger problem.
I’m also not so anti-American that I can’t remember after 9/11 all the amazing people who stood up, here and in other countries, held each other up and stripped away all the things that defined them as individuals and acted like truly compassionate human beings. For a few short moments, we cried together, we prayed together even if we didn’t believe or know who we were praying too or were praying to different versions of God. Religious and political affiliations took a backseat to our own humanity. For a few moments, we stopped criticizing the President and the government and searched our hearts for answers. “Where do we go from here?” we asked, and never really got an answer.
After that, the War on Terror started, and every time I go to the airport I remember. The terrorists have won. They made us afraid, not just of what’s “out there,” but of what could be lurking inside our own borders, inside our very own toiletry bag.
When I flew back into the States via Miami about a year ago, and went through one of the numerous security lines, the TSA agent groped me without asking, in a way that was intimate enough that I felt a cold shiver of violation. Sure, it was a woman, but so what? Someone, from behind, just unexpectedly grabbed the flesh on my hips, exactly the way a lover might, and moved up and down the sides of my body with unknown hands, and I couldn’t do or say anything about it. If I objected I would probably be detained, maybe even arrested, if I was vocal enough about it. I was exhausted, angry and helpless. I just had to endure it. I started to cry as I walked away and felt stupid and ashamed. And weak. I did not feel safe. Or free.
Maybe freedom isn’t free, but it should be. Or maybe freedom is free. Maybe this idea that we have to constantly fight some scary OUTSIDER for freedom is total bullshit. Freedom starts in your own mind.
Freedom is the reason owners didn’t allow slaves to read – it might give them the idea that they could be free.
Freedom is the reason women needed to stay home in the kitchen – being out in the world might give them the idea that they were just as capable as men.
Freedom is the reason people who are captive or being assaulted can still imagine themselves somewhere else in order to survive.
Freedom is an idea that can only give up when you do.
Freedom is the reason I refuse to believe that I have to do everything I was told I had to do in order to have the life I want.
It’s the reason I’m writing this blog instead of working as an administrative assistant.
I’m not saying nothing ever takes a fight or any effort, but I am saying that without the idea, freedom cannot, and will not exist.
Go to a place, right now in your mind, where you are free.
As for now, I will continue being a twisted pervert that makes all sorts of inappropriate jokes about all sorts of shocking things, but 9/11? Still not funny. Not to me.