I remember the moment when I realized I was no longer a child. But I know a few things about memory and I know that we make mistakes. Recall is often error-filled. It is malleable, fluid, heavily influenced by context and those around us. Yet, I would like to think that this moment existed as I remember it. And even if it did not, even if it’s entirely a figment of my imagination, it frames the beginning of an era that was significant to how I understand myself, others, and the world we share.
I am part of the American generation that finds commonality in where we were on September 11, 2001, the beginning of a time in which the US entered wars that are still ongoing. I remember where I was and what I said, or I think I do. But that is not the moment when I realized I was no longer a child.
I remember my dad watching TV in my parents’ bedroom and I remember asking him to explain to me what was happening. He talked about people doing terrible things and I asked why. I can’t remember what he said, but I walked away understanding, for the first time, that hatred and war don’t only exist in books.
That moment, I knew I was no longer a child.
There is a clear separation in my mind between life before and after grade 6, a separation that I knew existed but one that I did not delve into until a handful of years ago. When my parents split up for just under a year, I learned that adults are people, that love takes work, and that bad things really happen. They don’t only exist in books.
It is hard now to think about the anguish I felt as a not-quite-child at that time. It is hard to think about how awful I was in my actions towards people who were deeply hurting, even as I knew I was screaming only because there was something ripping me apart and I couldn’t make it stop.
The opening line of an essay I wrote when applying to university: “I used to make him cry and I did it on purpose.”
I was 11 and my world had shattered.
I was 11 and my world had shattered, which meant that I knew worlds could shatter. I knew impermanence, disappointment, fear, and a thousand emotions I could not name then and cannot name now.
But I learned, I think we all learned, lessons that I would not have learned any other way. I have always known that relationships are a choice. They take work, they take communication, they take people who care enough about each other to do something to be together. Love is a verb and sometimes the word itself is not enough. I have understood this for a long time.
Suicide bombers flew into Manhattan’s Twin Towers. Two months and two weeks later, my family lived in two houses and I watched adults cry. I cried with them and I was no longer a child.
However, it is one thing to understand and another thing to do. It is one thing to be aware and another thing to act. Lots of walls, lots of work, and so much safer to rebuild the walls than to stand tall without them.
We’re all afraid of being hurt, aren’t we?
And I have never wanted to hurt anyone. I do believe that most people feel this way. And this is what makes it hard to not only know what the right thing is, but to do it.
When I learned that the world and my world could change in seconds, I was no longer a child.
And there was no turning back.