Sept. 11, 2001, was the day before my ninth birthday.

I don’t have many memories of the day itself  – I remember a friend of mine, precociously smart in the way an only child often is, saying it was Osama bin Laden (the first time I heard that name but certainly not the last). I remember several of my classmates being picked up from school early. I wasn’t – my parents decided very quickly to keep the day as normal as possible for us kids. They did an amazing job of it, too, especially considering that my aunt and uncle worked in government buildings in Washington, D.C., and my mom didn’t know for several hours if her sister had gotten home safely or not. (She did. We were a lucky family.)

I do remember seeing the pictures the next day, my birthday, Sept. 12. In the corner of our kitchen counter we used to have a little radio-and-TV combo (a location now occupied by an Amazon Echo – same function, same location, different tech). It had been silent, like the skies, for the past 24 hours. But that evening, right before cake-and-presents time, I went up to the counter, which was barely eye height to me, and the day’s newspaper was laid out in front of it. I don’t remember if it was The New York Times or the Portland Press Herald – we had subscriptions to both – but I do remember the big, above-the-fold pictures of the planes hitting the towers.

For the next 16 years I used to thank my mom for holding on one more day before giving birth to me, since it would be really awkward to have to celebrate my birthday on a national day of mourning. Mom would usually point out that it wasn’t exactly her choice and that, like everything I have done since, I arrived on my own schedule.

And then 16 years later, against all odds (to be specific, the odds of 1-in-365), my dad died on Sept. 12, 2017. My 25th birthday.

So this week will be a week of mourning. There will be the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which America will mourn. In fact, my brother, who was 6 years old at the time the towers fell, will be observing this anniversary from his position aboard a Navy destroyer, deployed in the waters of the Middle East. He’s 25 now. Enough time for a whole new generation of American children to grow up and go to war. I’m just about the last generation to remember 9/11 (and remember flying without having to take off your shoes or go through the full-body scanner). My sister’s freshman class did a high school play about the day of the attacks, and some of the actors hadn’t even been born in 2001. That was trippy. (I assume that as I continue to get older and older, these weird moments involving cultural touchstones will only increase.)


And then the day after, there will be the second anniversary of my dad’s death, which will also be the day I turn 27. I still haven’t decided how I feel about Sept. 12. My dad would have wanted me to be happy and to celebrate, I know, because Sept. 12, 1992, was the greatest day of his life (tied with the dates when my siblings showed up). But – well, it’s hard. On Sept. 12, 2017, as we waited in the hospice for the funeral parlor to come collect his remains, my cellphone kept dinging in my purse with “Happy Birthday” greetings from Facebook. It was a little macabre.

Last year was better. I was sober, and living in a new apartment. And while whoever said “time heals all wounds” was definitely lying, the scar tissue does get thicker. And this year, I’ll still be sober.

“Sober” is a good word to describe the coming week, as summer gives way to fall. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the adjective as meaning “marked by sedate or gravely or earnestly thoughtful character or demeanor.” That seems about right. There will be a lot of red, white and blue community commemorations this week, and a lot of gray-tinged private ones. But there will still be a thousand little joys in life – leaves turning color, freshly baked cookies, an unusual bird in the front yard, what have you.

And I hope that you will find a moment to savor them.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

Twitter: MaineMillennial


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