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9/11 Birthdays Are Bittersweet [PHOTOS]

patriotic cupcakes
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Today is my 30th birthday. 12 years ago today, I awoke to adulthood and a happy household. A family friend had come by early in the morning to drop off two special birthday gifts. I had recently discovered art. This particular friend was well-read, had traveled the world and was starting to share her wisdom with me.

She gave me poster prints of the pieces below, Edward Munch’s ‘The Scream’

Munch's The Scream
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and Vincent Van Goh’s ‘Starry Night’.

Van Goh's Starry Night
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The two prints were wrapped and leaning against my car when I left for school that morning. I quickly unwrapped them and took them inside excited to hang them on the wall later that day.

During first period, the band director led everyone in ‘Happy Birthday‘ after our marching practice on the blacktop parking lot. There were plenty of jokes from the drum line about how now I could buy cigarettes and adult magazines. They all knew I didn’t smoke and wouldn’t purchase such tacky literature, but it was all in good fun.

As I made my way into the journalism lab to gather my books for government class – I chose to use my editor’s desk for a locker – I noticed our photo editor leaning against the wall listening intently to a newscast on the radio. When I greeted him that morning, I expected, “Happy Birthday” and more adult humor, but got, “The Washington Mall is on fire.”

Ignorant me, thought he was talking about a shopping mall and vaguely wondered about arson. He then said, “New York has been attacked, a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.” The day immediately and permanently changed.

For some strange reason on that particular Tuesday, Channel One in our high school was unavailable and we didn’t have access to a cable or satellite provider to watch the events unfold. I quickly gathered up my radio from the journalism lab and carried it to government class so that we could listen to the news.

One of the local radio stations had already switched to ABC News radio and we listened as reporters tried to accurately tell the tragic story as it was unfolding. We listened to sirens and frightened voices huddled around a boombox on the floor terrified of what was next.

Shortly after class, I realized that as a journalist it was important to document this event. I signed out, drove home and returned with my cannon rebel camera and began photographing students’ reactions. I was a whirlwind of energy, moving from class to class and campus to campus photographing all ages and faculty.

Later that morning, someone was able to get our television connection established, and I found myself in psychology class with friends that I had started school with at White Oak Elementary wondering if they would be drafted into what could be World War III.

I became incredibly overwhelmed with the emotion of it all. I didn’t know how to deal with such a combination of feelings. I wanted that Tuesday to be a normal birthday, a day on which I could be a little selfish and enjoy the beauty of the day with family and friends. I had been looking forward to a family dinner at Texas Roadhouse that night, and was excited about becoming an adult. All of that changed Tuesday morning when I walked into the journalism lab and it will never be the same anymore.

I went home early and found myself sitting in my bedroom staring at my new poster pondering the irony of the gift. I tried to watch anything else, TRL on MTV anything that was more tragic news.

That day, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives, and I will never forget it. It was really difficult to go out later that night and try to celebrate something that felt so incredibly selfish as a birthday. The mood at Texas Roadhouse was so somber it was almost surreal. We had dinner, the staff attempted to a give a birthday “Yee Haw”, but no one was really into it, and we left for dessert a friend’s house.

The same friend that had given me the incredible art posters, had gone above and beyond and showered me with a basket of incredible gifts. She gave me a book on Astrology, ‘Carrie‘ by Stephen King, and Alanis Morissette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill‘ on CD.

From the scream poster, to the horror novel and the sound of ‘You Oughtta Know’ ringing in my head, the irony of the gifts that she gave me sill haunts me.

To further enhance the gravity of the day, I felt guilty. I had know about the Taliban and the trouble in Afghanistan. I had just represented that very country months before in a Model United Nations competition. One of the tasks we had been given was to write resolutions to solve social and environmental problems that affect our nation. I had written a resolution requesting that the UN use military forces to remove the warring factions, the Taliban for example, from our country.

My resolution had been overlooked. I had only received three signatures. Students from other countries had been more concerned with Stem Cell research and the problems cloning presented.

Every year, my birthday rolls around, and every year I still experience a strange combination of feelings. I look forward to celebrating with family and friends, but deep down I also carry a painful burden of guilt knowing that nearly 3,000 people were lost on 9/11/01, and their families don’t get to celebrate birthdays with them anymore birthdays with their friends and family.

On a much lighter note, my mom always made a big deal out of birthdays during my childhood. Here’s a look back at my third birthday when I received my first car:

Mandee's Third Birthday

 

 

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