I’m always laughing about how weird my life is, and my friends and colleagues enjoy whatever wackery abounds in my presence, but let’s be honest: it’s not my life that’s so odd, it’s the world itself. It’s the history I’ve lived, seeing everything change after a few strange events. I’m not that weird, I’m just responding to the absurdity around me.
I grew up in West Germany, surrounded by the remnants of and memorials to the war and the Holocaust. This was in the ’80s, during the Cold War, and we were so very close to the demarcation point. We ventured through Checkpoint Charlie and saw East Berlin; since my father believed he was James Bond, he took 6-year-old me past the “public” parts that were designed for Westerners to see, and we wandered through the parts where real Communism left its scars.
I’m old enough to remember Pan Am 103, the terrorist bombing over Lockerbie. We were supposed to be on that very flight that very day. My father was on holiday leave, and we were originally going to visit his parents in NY. After our plans were made and the flight booked, he decided he couldn’t bear dealing with his mother over Christmas, so we cancelled the second part of the flight. We flew from Frankfurt to London, and stayed in England instead.
I remember Waco, vaguely, and the Oklahoma City Bombing, watching the news and crying. I was a preteen, hormones just starting to kick in, so the tears were intense, and to this day the image of the firefighter carrying the bloody body of that little toddler breaks me in half.
I remember the first time terrorism struck the World Trade Center, the truck bomb in the lower levels in ’93. And as a young adult in college close to D.C., I sat in my friend’s dorm room and saw the second plane hit the tower in 2001. I then had to go downstairs and wake my roommate, whose father was ex-Army, active CIA, and tell her the Pentagon had been attacked. He was supposed to be there that day. Thankfully, he hadn’t yet arrived, and I held her as she wept with relief when she finally got to speak with him late that afternoon.
But with all of these flashbulb “where where you when…” moments I grew up in, the one that impacted me the most and stands out the strongest in my mind is Columbine.
Unpopular opinion: 9/11 didn’t have quite as profound an impact on me, as I grew up on military bases, I understood war and the symbolism of the targets far more easily than I did Columbine. I even remember a few of the school shootings that happened before April 1999, but they were such strange anomalies they never really registered with me. They still don’t. But Columbine… That’s the one that truly shakes me, even now. I never really spoke about how it hit me, because I never had the words. I still don’t have the words, but I’m ready to talk. I need to talk.