9/11. Southeast DC, 4 minutes from Bolling Air Force Base. I’m a 17 year old, underemployed psudo-college freshman attending Art Institute of Washington. I had gone to sleep the night prior with plans to officially drop out of college. Something about not wanting to draw for the rest of my life. Something else about not wanting to go to college anyway. I sleep on the top of a twin bunk bed set. I’m an only child. My mother, pops, and grandmother were each in their rooms resting before workdays, while I slept thinking of severing ties and skating the streets.
Something woke me up… seemed like a loud thud. As an only child sleeping on the top bunk, I had a history of knocking my remote control off the bed; the thump of plastic and carpet functioning as a self-made alarm. I figured that must have been what woke me and peek over the edge of the bed. No remote. “Welp… I must have dreamt it” – and back to sleep I drifted.
Later when I arose, in what can only be described as a brilliant act of procrastination, I decide to postpone dropping out of college so that I can visit my old high school and tell my friends to meet me after class to skate. I could always drop out the next day. I eat a bowl of cereal, shower, grab my skates, (Yes, I was an aggressive inline skater. I hold no shame, though I probably should) and head out the door. At no point did I turn on the TV; completely oblivious of the news that was breaking.
I arrived at Anacostia Station with my headphones on. I usually have headphones on when in transit. Sometimes listening to music, sometimes listening to the ramblings of the people around me, always trying to be left alone. Outside of the Metro entrance, I overhear a woman saying “you can still see the smoke” as she points towards the highway. I’m looking for a car accident; didn’t see any smoke. So I went about my business.
I arrived at Washington Math Science Technology Public Charter High to see a closed school. I thought to myself “now who the hell pulled the fire alarm on the one day I decide to come back.” I see our school security guard who is equal parts happy to see me and on edge. I ask where everyone had gone. “You don’t know? The Pentagon blew up!”
My mother works for the Patent and Trademark Office, minutes away from The Pentagon, which in my 17-year-old mind has completely blown up. I’m envisioning chaos, pandemonium, and my mom caught in the middle. My cellphone was out of minutes, so I tried to use a payphone to call her. All of the phone lines were tied up. Metro had closed while I was receiving the information so I walked through the Waterside Mall looking for any spot that I could get more information. At the end of the mall was a Blimpies sub shop ran by a Muslim family. Though we aren’t very close, they have known me for years – between my mom attending South Eastern University across the park from their restaurant and me attending the nearby school. They had a small TV mounted on a shelf in the corner. We all watched as the news said it was an attack.
I left their shop decided to skate toward the bus stop so I could just ride home. While skating I noticed how quiet the streets were. No one was on the road. No one in the streets. No buses. So I skated with no plan. The weather was perfect. A sunny early autumn day. Slight breeze as I rolled past the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. No tourists as I glide through the National Mall. No cops telling me to move along as I jump the steps at Freedom Plaza. Suddenly I realize where I’m at – next to The White House.
Planes were flying over regularly and I had this fear that anything could happen. What if another plan is hi-jacked and they aim for The White House? What if they end up in a dogfight over DC. What if planes were the beginning and bombs were next. While my anxiety spiraled, Cingular Wireless figured something out and I received a text from my friend Euphema. They went by a different name at the time, we all were living different lives. The whole skate crew was together playing N64, PS2, and watching the news and footage.
It was surreal connecting with the crew. In retrospect, I was probably in shock, but in the moment, there was so much joy in the room. We were happy to play games together and know that everyone is safe (I called my mom from someone else’s cell phone). But as we watched those planes crash into the towers – if felt so unreal. Eventually we all decided to take advantage of the ghost town DC became and skated the streets late into the night.
In the following weeks, I committed to my vision and dropped out of Art Institute. The fear went into overdrive across the country. Anthrax was being mailed out, and I learned a new word – Islamophobia. People began to blatantly attack people who appeared to be Middle Eastern. The Muslim family that ran the Blimpies near my school moved. The folks they had served for years stopped supporting there business. Combined with the harassment they faced, it wasn’t worth it to stay. With all of my fear of “crop dusters with chemical weapons”, I kept thinking about the countries around the world that felt this fear constantly due to US weaponry. I still think of the Islamophobia people held.
It’s that same hatred that gets cycled regularly. Sometimes its Blacks, sometimes its Gays, sometimes it Muslims, often it’s Femmes – but it’s all hate. And don’t even think about the intersection of these communities. Every marginalized group has a turn. On September 11th 2001, this country had a very small taste of the fear and struggle that many people face on these soils and abroad. 2020 has been a reminder of the fear mongering and bigotry that America often produces and benefits from. Again, it’s based in hate and sometimes I wonder if the hate will ever end.