I’m a day late to everyone reminiscing about where they were on 9/11. I was in history class. Coach Marshall checked the computer and said a plane just hit the World Trade Center. When I got to whatever science class I was taking that year (Chemistry?), the teacher there had the news on. A second one hit. In Language Arts, I remember Tom Clancy being on CNN and saying we shouldn’t rush to judgment that muslims did this. I remember someone in the back scoffing.

That night, I listened to the radio as I fell asleep. 99X’s hosts were trying to explain to the audience of millennials what was actually happening. Sixteen year olds were calling in and saying their parents are probably going to have to go to war.

I remember all that, but none of it is a particularly strong memory. What I remember about 9/11 was a week or two after. We had the school-wide moment of silence. The president had said we shouldn’t rush to judgment of any muslims. I thought, at the time, that any danger had passed. I fully believed this until I went to the restroom during Language Arts and a skinhead with glasses and a black t-shirt came behind me with a piece of a pipe.

I got hit a few solid times in the gut — enough to leave bruises, and to hurt when I breathed. He said various racist platitudes, none of which I remember, most of which I blocked out. He probably could have hurt me a lot worse, I was just so unable to resist that I could have been killed if he wanted to do it. I remember sitting on the bathroom floor, rolling up my t-shirt, and seeing the red marks bulging on my gut, things that would soon become black and blue but just felt like piercing heat right then. Someone walked in and asked if I was okay — I lied, said I was fine, and no one told anyone about it. I thought I did something wrong. I worried no one would believe me. I told some friends in theater that day that he just pushed me against the wall when they asked what was wrong.

I think back on that day a lot. People get beat up in high school, but I wasn’t beat up for being the head of the anime club or for saying something dumb in class. I was beaten for something I couldn’t control. I didn’t choose my religion, I was born into it. I didn’t choose my skin color. No one in my life ever cared about these things, at least no one significant, and here was this guy willing to assault me over it. I didn’t know how to handle that and, to a large extent, I think my personal suppression of my racial identity has its genesis in that moment.

I think I forgave the guy a long time ago — not in person, of course, I never saw him again after that. I think I needed to forgive him in order to move on. I don’t know what he’s doing now and don’t care. I like to think he got his life together, that maybe he feels bad about that day, maybe he’s volunteering his time to help people. Who knows. But when I do think back to that day, I think of how scared I was to tell people, not how scared I was of him.

That’s my 9/11 memory. Fifteen years later, I am a happy person. I hope that all of us can be motivated to be better and happier people, too.

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