The Night that Ended Our Innocence
I was home on “leave” from the Marine Corps and visiting my girlfriend when we decided catch-up with some friends at a local “Southie” Irish bar. It was a dark and dingy place that had a heavy pour and turned the other cheek when serving minors in the military. In their mind, if you were old enough to fight, you were old enough to drink. It’s rumored that this policy was a result of their infamous patron, Whitey Bulger. He was once a well-known “regular” here during his reign over the city. So we drank, we smoked and we laughed well into the morning hours. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life. I never would have guessed that it would be our last night together as friends. I also never would have guessed that it would be considered as the night that marked the end of our innocence.
The next morning, in the fog of my blistering hangover, I rolled-over and realized that she was gone. As I laid there naked and confused, wiping the sleepiness out my eyes, I tried to focus on the digital clock sitting atop of her white dresser. “8:45 AM”, the clock flashed. Suddenly it dawned on me that my over-achieving, pre-med girlfriend was never going to miss a class; hangover or not… I was so proud of her. After a sigh of relief, I laid back, closed my eyes and went back to sleep. After all, I was on “leave” and this was my vacation.
Think of that moment when your brain settles down, just before it begins the peaceful decent into R.E.M. sleep... that’s when the phone rang. “beep-Beep-beep” came the analog tone from my Nokia cellphone. Frustrated and tired I rolled out of bed, fumbling my way to the phone and growled, “This better be good.” Nothing could have prepared me for the words that were about to be spoken across the other end of the line, “Pack your bags bro – We are going to war!” It was my best friend Jim, and it was now 8:47 AM… the morning of September 11th, 2001.
My mother used to say that she could remember the exact moment in time when she first heard the news of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. I was not able to understand what she meant, until the images of the collapsing towers were forever seared into my brain. You could say that my perception of the world changed on that day, however, I think that everyone's perception of the world changed on that day.
The next day, President George W. Bush stood atop of the rubble and announced to the world, “I can hear you, the rest of the world can hear you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” I doubt that he anticipated the war-torn region to collapse into the chaos that it now has today.
Within several weeks after 9/11, we received our "stand-by" orders to arrange the company for deployment. Marine Wing Support Squadron - 472, like many military units across the country, spent the next year training for the mission. During that time I was injured in an exercise which permanently disfigured my right hand. As a result, I was forced to watch from the sidelines, undergoing reconstructive surgery, while my brothers fought valiantly. I suppose that you could say that I was lucky considering an Improvised Explosive Device killed one of of my buddies, and a dear friend later took his own life after the horrors and demons caught up to him after the war. As tragic as all of this might seem, it's just a drop in the bucket compared to the atrocities that the people of the region have continued to face since the aftermath of the invasion.
September 11th, 2001 is clearly the day that forever changed the world. The innocence of humanity was stripped and murdered along with the people who disintegrated in those towers. Fourteen years later, as I find myself retelling the story of the attacks to my nine-year-old son, it suddenly becomes clear… Now I understand how my mother was able to recall the moments, in complete detail, when President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.