I was born a little over a month after 9/11. The Twin Towers and I never existed at the same time. Since I was also born post-Columbine, every school I attended had regular “blackout” (read: active shooter) drills, where the thirty or more children in every class would huddle in a corner of their darkened classroom until the all-clear was given. It never occurred to me that this was odd in any way. We had drills in case of a fire, we had drills in case of a tornado, and we had drills in case of an act of extreme violence. It’s often said the United States changed forever that day; the normalities of my entire life are a testament to that.
I didn’t learn about the events of that day until I was eight or nine years old. I think my parents wanted to protect me. But we have to grow up eventually; my parents showed my brother and I the films World Trade Center and Flight 93. When I saw a character jump out of one of the towers, my stomach dropped. I didn’t like these movies; I was scared. I told my parents as much when the credits rolled. I’m sure they exchanged a glance before my mother finally said, “Sweetheart, this day really happened.” Later they would tell me about the timeline of events, the casualties, the response. Later I would learn that the World Trade Center had a daycare with forty children who were rushed out by barefoot caretakers. Later my mother would tell me how she and other workers in Charlotte were sent home for fear of their city being targeted next. But in the moment, all I could do was stare, horrified. I cried myself to sleep that night, unable to stop thinking about the people falling from the sky.
The memory of 9/11 would continue to appear in my life; on a trip to Washington DC I visited the Pentagon Memorial. My sixth grade English teacher read 14 Cows for America, the story of Kenyan Maasai warriors’ gift to our country. My grandmother showed me the pile of newspapers she kept in the aftermath, with headlines like AMERICA TALKS WAR. I discovered the photo of the Falling Man. Two years ago, I visited New York City for the first time. My mother showed me where the towers once were as we stood at the top of the Empire State Building. I saw the Liberty Tower. I stood beside it and I looked up at the clear blue sky.
Fifty-nine days after 9/11 I was born in a small Russian town. Thirteen months after that I was adopted by Americans. I often wonder what the woman who gave birth to me was doing when she heard the news. What was she thinking? Where was she? Because wherever she was, I was too. I didn’t watch the towers fall or the planes crash. I wasn’t yet born on 9/11, but I carry the story of that day with me, so that even future generations may never forget.