When Morgan asked me to write this piece, I thought, eh. I really hate talking about September 11th. It makes me angry when I’m forced to listen to other people’s experiences, so why would I want to make people hear mine? What I have realized over the last ten years though, is that while my experience on September 11th and the days after were one shared by many, the way that I have delt with that experience seems to be different, and that’s probably worth sharing.
My story is no different than most other people who lived downtown that day. September of 2001 was the first month of my senior year of college at NYU. I was living in a 5th floor walkup in alphabet city with my then boyfriend and two best guy friends. The morning of September 11th my roommate woke me up mumbling something about a building on fire downtown. The four of us climbed up the ladder to the roof and saw the plane hit the second tower, both towers fall, and all of the details that only those of us who were that close are forced to remember.
We were lucky. We found all of our friends and eventually got in touch with our families. We stayed in the city for a few days but when the wind shifted and the soot and smoke and smell descended on the village, we left for my mom’s house in Westchester. The next week felt kind of like a vacation with the people I loved most in the world. We cooked and ate a lot, we went swimming every day, we listened to music, but mostly we just pretended that September 11th didn’t happen. Eventually, we went back to our apartment, we cleaned the soot off of our windows, tried to wash the smell out of our clothes, and we started our senior year.
When people ask me where I was or what it was like, or if I feel like my senior year was overshadowed, I mostly just shrug. They probably think it’s too traumatic for me to talk about, but honestly I have spent the last ten years doing my best to forget. This has worked well for me. Since then, I have graduated from college and gone on to two post bachelorreate degrees. I have carved out a professional life for myself that is spiritually and personally fufilling. I have fallen in love deeper than I ever imagined for myself and together we have created an even more extraordinary love in our daughter. And I know that if I had chosen another coping mechanism, like actually dealing with what happened, I would not be living my life that I love in New York City today because I would be paralyzed with fear.
I’m not delusional. Clearly I know that September 11th happened. When I walk downtown past ground zero, I don’t think “I wonder what that giant hole in the ground is from”? I think, “there’s ground zero” and quickly continue on to Century 21 because really, there’s no other justifiable reason to go down there. I simply choose not to be reminded of how close I was or how bad it could have been because then I have to start thinking about how it could happen again. While other people find comfort in “never forget” by watching hours of media coverage every year, going to tribute concerts and memorial services and telling their stories over and over again, those things just make me angry because I have survived by forgetting.
I plan to spend the 10th anniversary of September 11th the same way I spent the days following the original – spending time with the people I love most in the world and doing my best to forget so I can continue to live with out being afraid.
Keeley McNamara is a Nurse Midwife living in New York City with her beautiful daughter, and her partner Evin…whom she met in 2001 at NYU. She is a force to be reckoned with.