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A September Nightmare, 15 Years Later
By Leah Mueller
I awoke from a nightmare around 4 AM on the morning of September 11th. I'd had nightmares before, but this one was a doozy. In my dreamscape, I stood alone inside a tall, slanted building. The walls and ceilings were made of glass, and large panes shimmered above me. Suddenly, a tsunami-sized tidal wave hurtled towards the structure. I glanced frantically upward as the wave began its descent. For a moment, I thought I could make it stop through sheer will, so I remained absolutely still and prayed for the wave to evaporate.
After a few seconds, I realized my efforts were futile The tidal wave was going to hit the building, smash the windows, and destroy everything. “NO!!” I shrieked, as the glass began to fall from all directions at once.
When the first shards hit my body, I awakened. My bed was prickly and uncomfortable, and I was terrified. My heart beat so fast, I feared it might burst from my chest. I rose from my mattress and wandered into the kitchen for a glass of water. From the living room, I could hear my ex-boyfriend, moaning in his sleep as he lay on the couch. I had reluctantly allowed him to stay at the house for a month while he searched for a place to live. He'd been released from rehab after nearly dying from alcohol poisoning, and had nowhere else to go. It was no wonder I was having dreams about collapsing buildings. My entire life was a collapsing building.
I was still traumatized, but I needed to rest. In less than two hours, I had to get up again, jostle my kids awake, and drive them ten miles to their carpool pickup spot. I climbed back into bed and pulled the covers securely over my body. Once there, I remained immobile and dreamless until the clock radio clicked on, shortly after 6:00. In a surprisingly casual voice, a man announced the news- a plane had just hit one of the World Trade Center towers. What a bad navigator, I thought, reaching for the snooze button.
Ten minutes later, the announcer was back with an update-another plane had collided with the second building. His voice was different now, more concerned. I left the radio on, and listened intently as I dressed. “Officials suspect it may be an act of terrorism,” the newscaster said in a hushed voice. “This is a breaking story. Stand by for further details.”
I awakened my children, fed them breakfast like it was an ordinary day. Finally I drove them to the carpool pickup spot. The other parents sat silently in their cars, radios off, waiting. “Looks like some bad stuff happening in New York,” I said to one of the other moms. “Ssssshhhhh,” she replied. “Don't say anything. It'll upset the children.”
I felt irrationally angry-not with the still-unknown people who had perpetrated such a horrific act, but with this mother-her smugness, combined with her fierce insistence upon silence. Did she really think her kids would be protected by not knowing the truth? Obviously, they were going to hear the news, and they would have questions about it. It was a parent's obligation to assure children of their safety in the midst of crisis. Secrecy and obfuscation would only frighten them more.
Of course, her secrecy was as futile as my attempt to stop the wave through an act of telekinesis. By the end of the day, everyone had heard the news. Soon afterward, new policies began. Our nation's illusion of innocence was officially over. We could no longer go anywhere without consenting to a search. Armed soldiers flooded the airports. George Bush and his henchmen hastily assembled the Orwellian-sounding Department of Homeland Security. It's for your protection, they said. Go along with it willingly, or you could die. Or worse yet, you might be a terrorist.
What I remember most about my dream was the utter helplessness I felt when I first realized nothing I could do would stop the building's destruction. It is the same helplessness I feel now when I contemplate my impotence in the face of our country's demolition of other nations-Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan. I could scream endlessly, but will anybody listen? No, the buildings will topple anyway, because the demolition was planned long before I ever became aware of it. The structures will collapse into rubble, and CEOs will reap a profit. And, unlike me on September 11, 2001, their sleep will be deep and peaceful, without nightmares.