“It’s difficult to imagine the world the same way as it used to be”

This Sunday, as I’m sure has not escaped your notice, is the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington, DC.

By pure coincidence, I spent yesterday going through boxes and boxes of my childhood things as my parents prepare to sell our house here in Sydney, and I came across the diary I kept in 2001. I was 13, and in ninth grade. On the morning of September 12, 2001, we woke up to the news about the attacks, which happened shortly after we had gone to bed the night before.

Here is the entry dated September 12, 2001:

Today is a dark day in US and world history. The World Trade Centre and the Pentagon have been attacked by terroists. Four American Airlines planes were hijacked, two were crashed into the WTC, one into the Pentagon, and one crashed in a field near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Thousands of people in New York are presumed dead, and many more injured or traumatised. Not only did the two towers collapse, but the supporting buildings lie as rubble. Nearly 24 hours after the first attack, the Pentagon remains alight.
Today was a truly awful day to get through; no one talked of anything else, nor thought of anything but the pain and suffering going on so far away, yet so close to home. All my concerns and worries, my occupations of 24 hours ago seem vapid, shallow, superficial and insignificant. I feel ashamed for worrying about my hair when I think of what others are going through.
The miraculous news is that all our friends are family in New York are fine. Here at home we are severely shaken but perfectly healthy.
The constant media coverage and discussion is almost unbearable, but if it wasn’t there, we’d go crazy without it.
It’s difficult to imagine the world the same way as it used to be when so much has changed. Suspects have been named but no one has been caught yet. It has been reported that 3 Australians are dead and more unaccounted for. America has declared war on the terroists but with no suspects, how can they begin to seek retribution?
It’s late, and Mom has ordered me to go to bed.
All my love, hope and prayer,

All spelling mistakes above are as they are in the original diary entry, but I’m guessing this was the last time I would misspell “terrorist” – it was a word I would read so many times in the following months and years that there’s no way I couldn’t have learned how to spell it right.

It seems that I disobeyed Mom’s orders, because the next entry is also dated 12/9/01:

I know this isn’t a dream, but it certainly feels like one. I wish I could wake up and find the world just as it was, before “the second Pearl Harbour” happened.
The constant news reports are discussions go on and on into the night and will continue as more and more information and intelligence is uncovered…
… It seems surreal that we should go to school, eat our lunches, do our homework, have showers, brush our teeth and go to sleep when so many people are suffering, dying and weeping on the other side of the world.
It’s all people are talking about or watching on TV. The usual raucous and distasteful radio programmes are somber and are interrupted by half-hourly news reports. A giant screen has been erected in Martin Place and constant news reports are being watched by quiet crowds. Another has been put up at Circular Quay so people can’t miss a second, even if they want to.
Our group had a moment of silence at lunch, as did the group next to us. So many girls were crying or on the verge of tears at school today…
… It makes me insecure, frightened to lie in bed at night, even though I know I’m in no true danger.

In the intervening years, I had forgotten about the giant TV screens that were put up in Martin Place and Circular Quay, two giant hubs for foot traffic in the center of Sydney. They were probably the same screens that had been up during the Olympics barely a year earlier, but this time around, the atmosphere could not have been more different.

I am the daughter of a New Yorker. I grew up in Sydney, Australia, but we visited New York at least once a year, and I always felt a strong connection to New York City, and to the US more generally. When the attacks happened, the world suddenly felt a lot smaller, and New York City suddenly felt a lot closer. In the years that followed, Australians would sometimes comment that Americans thought they were the center of the universe. But in the days following 9/11, New York really was the center of the universe. Did New Yorkers know that, thousands of miles away, on their lunch hours in Sydney, people were watching them, praying for them, crying for them? Or did they feel instead that the world had grown bigger, and more dangerous, with more dark corners than ever?

Now, I live in New York. I’ve been there for the last two years, and in the US for the last six. Again, it’s sheer coincidence that I should be in Sydney on the tenth anniversary of the attacks, in the same house in which I woke up on the morning of September 12th, 2001. But it seems sort of fitting. This September 11, as on September 11 a decade ago, I’ll be in Sydney, but I’ll be sending all my love to New York.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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