The strangeness of normalcy hit me today while walking home from work. It's been seven years, but it feels like just yesterday my co-worker helped me escape the collapse of the World Trade Center by a fraction of a second. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be here to type the words I'm writing today.
A quietness of disbelief hits the air as soon as people hear I'm a 9/11 survivor. I can see in their eyes they want to hear my recount of the day, but don't know the appropriate way to ask. I usually take control of the awkward silence by strolling through the vivid pictures in my mind of what happened minute-by-minute between 8:45 and 9:59 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
Those minutes are about all I remember, and I can't describe much after catching the last train of survivors out of the financial district of Manhattan. Only bits and pieces of the blurry details have come back to me over the years. I get flashes of conversations on the train, phone calls from worried friends and relatives, and the consoling of my roommate and her boyfriend who helped me while I sat more or less catatonic between anxiety attacks for almost a week.
I've read news stories about me from local papers in my home state of North Dakota who interviewed me that day, but I can't for the life of me remember anything I said or the questions they asked. It's almost like reading a news story about someone else, but it's me. And while many people today will glance at the headlines and images of different memorials around the country, myself and other survivors will turn our heads from having to see or hear what replays in our mind over and over again.
For me, the internal loop of images and sounds has slowed down over the years, and almost seemingly stopped until a mention of that day starts it rolling over and over again. It took me about a year to stop having panic attacks, three years to stop waking up abruptly from nightmares, five years to get control of the asthma caused by the debris I inhaled, and seven to get to the point where I don't think about it on a daily basis or have flash backs anytime I hear a plane fly overhead or a fire alarm go off in a building.
It's also taken me seven years to find the answers to two questions I get asked repeatedly after sharing my story - do you feel safer today and do you think our country has recovered.
Do I feel safer today?
No. Our military has been weakened by a disastrous diversion in Iraq. More than 4,000 of our soldiers have been killed, and those lucky enough to come home have been wearied by several extended tours of duty. With enrollment struggling and suicide rates on the rise, I can't help but wonder if the invasion of Iraq has compromised our country's ability to respond to another 9/11 within our borders.
And what about Afghanistan? Osama Bin Laden, the man responsible for taking nearly 3,000 lives in the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and downed airplane in Pennsylvania, is still at large. Violence is surging, our soldiers spread thin, debt climbing by the billions, and yet there's talk of invading Iran - unless we hit North Korea first.
Even though there is just cause for uniting in curbing terrorism, our relations and support from foreign countries is waning. More than 2,000 soldiers in coalition forces and 42,000 Iraqi civilians and special forces soldiers have been killed. Scandals over the use of torture and inhumane treatment of detainees at Abu Grahab and Guantanamo Bay have tarnished our image. Not to mention the halls of Congress fighting to keep the use of water boarding and other extreme measures as legitimate interrogation practices, all the while pointing fingers at other countries for abuses of power and violations of Geneva Conventions.
Do I think our country has recovered?
No. Personal income has stagnated, corporate profits have sored, and pretty much everything from the roofs over our heads to the food we put on our table has increased in price.
Every September in the six years following 9/11, the increase in personal income after taxes slowed down an average of 5.9 to 5.2 percent per year as compared to the six years prior.
While disposable income grew at a sluggish pace, the average rate of increase in corporate profits accelerated to an astounding 22.2 percent per year. Why do I say astounding? Because the average rate of increase in corporate profits was only 3.1 percent per year for the six years prior to 9/11.
The massive increase in corporate profits after taxes wouldn't be so startling if the theory of trickle down economics played out in reality as it does on paper. But there's a little thing called human greed that gets in the way.
Enron, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. I was once taught that a series of three is proof of a trend in my pop culture journalism class at Hunter College. It turns out my professor was right. While corporate profits surged the past six years, employee compensation during this same time period has only increased an average of 4.6 percent per year as compared to 6.6 percent the six years prior to 9/11.
Adding to the stagnant income angst is the fact that food prices have increased 16.5 percent from September 2001 to 2006, as did rent at 17.2 percent, and utilities at 15.5 percent.
And economic indicators aren't the only things making my stomach churn. For a country that was bound in unity in the days following 9/11, it has been heartbreaking to say the least in seeing divisive politics pull us apart.
At a time when our national security is at grave risk, millions of Americans are without adequate health care, national banks are failing, and Artic ice caps are melting - partisan bickering and bashing dominates our decision making at the polls.
If we can't find common ground to stand on soon, I fear Osama Bin Laden and the men who attacked our country seven years ago will be able to claim a victory in destroying our nation and our spirit.
All statistics on deaths since the invasion of Iraq were taken from icasualities.org.
All economic indicator statistics were taken from an analysis of reports for the months of September from 1995-2006 as prepared by the Council of Economic Advisors for the Joint Economic Committee.