I rarely tell my 9/11 story, but some years, it feels like I should.
The key part of my story isn’t the shock of when I first heard… standing in the college bookstore, rushing before my first class to quickly read a chapter in a book I really needed but hadn’t been able to afford yet.
Nor is it the point later that night, 5 months pregnant, when I found myself in tears realizing that the world as I knew it had changed, and wondering how I was going to make it in this new one when I hadn’t been doing so well even in the old one. Let alone how I was going to do so for my child.
My story comes to be around 1 in the afternoon, during the short break between my morning of full time college classes and my 37 hour a week job, as I returned to the hotel room where we were living at the time.
I woke the father of my then-unborn child, a man who had spent the day sleeping instead of looking for jobs as promised, after having spent the night playing games online instead of sleeping.
The true shock of that day for me was not in finding that evil could overwhelm someone so with doctrine as to make them capable of normally unthinkable things.
My shock was in watching a child trapped in a man’s body respond to the attack with "Cool!" and proceed to watch the news coverage, totally enraptured as if this were the latest action movie from the big screen.
As I left for work half an hour later, he broke his gaze from the screen long enough to tell me "This is great!"
Even this many years later, my shock that someone could have that response hasn’t faded much.
I had already known long before this that he was capable of evil things against me. I’d already fled once. I’d discovered with a medical crisis just days before this that I was going to be just as alone as a parent with him in my life as without him, and that the "second chance for the sake of the baby" that had been resting solely on that fear was going to only make my life so much more difficult if it continued.
Like many that day, I realized what it really looked like to suddenly see true evil.
But my vision was not in the brainwashed terrorists, nor even in those who had done the brainwashing.
It was in realizing that this boy did not have within him any empathy, in any amount.
That day, I learned why there was a difference between actions taken as a result of overwhelmed anger emotion, which result in regret for the harm done to the other person once the situation has cooled, and those which instead seemed only to regret that there were negative consequences for him for having done so.
It’s a vital distinction to make sometimes. It’s the difference sometimes between hope and hopeless.
My lesson of 9/11 was in finally realizing that the things in my heart that I take as a given, that I assume to be human nature and common to all, are not necessarily so.
There is a such thing as true evil, of pure negative if you prefer to see it with that label.
Sometimes it finds itself in the form of indoctrination, but sometimes… sometimes it’s in the eyes of someone who just doesn’t have the capacity to recognize that hurt is not an emotion that is exclusive to only him.