Whenever the time comes for American Girl to make a new historical doll set at the turn of the 21st century, they should totally base that doll off of my 9 to 10 year-old-self.
I’m not trying to say that I was the perfect representation of the average American girl at the time. But my life did follow the natural progression of an American Girl book series. Each doll had their own series of books, each book featuring the same theme as those of the other dolls to show how they were each similar and different. I could certainly find a way to fit moments of my young life into the themes of these books.
Meet Charlotte – Meet me! I’m fun! And 9 years old!
Charlotte Learns A Lesson – Math is designed specifically to make me cry.
Charlotte’s Surprise – We’re moving to Pennsylvania! Yay?
Charlotte Saves the Day! – A book of blank pages.
Of all of the books in my non-existent American Girl line, I think the most important would be Changes for Charlotte. My life as a 10-year-old almost seems too much like a cookie-cutter American Girl Changes For… book. In these books, some major event (bringing a family of former slaves back together, trapping season) in the featured girl’s life coincides with a major event in American history (the end of the Civil War, Manifest Destiny, etc.). For me, these two events were my move to Pennsylvania and 9/11.
The first few days at my new elementary school were all right. My teacher was nice, I met a few nerdy girls who unfortunately were not in my class, and I was starting to get the hang of things around there. I was particularly looking forward to going back to my old neighborhood in New Jersey to celebrate my 10th birthday with my friends. I mean, I was having a freaking gymnastics party. How cool is that?
I don’t remember much of my school day on 9/11. It was awkward and unremarkable like the rest of those early days. Everything seemed all right until I noticed that my dad was home early from work. And my parents had made chocolate pudding. You know something’s up when the Dows break out the pudding.
Mom and Dad sat me down at the kitchen table and we dug into our pudding. They explained what had happened earlier in the day as calmly as they could, given the situation. They’d had a few hours to process it by then and I applaud the way they handled breaking the news to me. Had I found out on the news or at school, I would’ve panicked. At that point a good portion of my family was working or living in Manhattan. My aunt was actually one of the survivors of the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. The fact that my parents weren’t panicking told me that everyone in the family was safe and that I could rest relatively easy.
I remember feeling a lot of emotions when I heard the news. I was mostly annoyed. How dare such a tragedy occur two days before my birthday? Once that wore off (it didn’t), I was worried. The first words I said to my parents after they broke the news to me were “I hope this doesn’t start a war”. In other news, yes, I am psychic.
More emotions followed in the next few days: relief that my family was OK, grief for people I didn’t know and a place I’d never been, confusion, the works. Mostly I just continued on with my exciting 10-year-old life, not thinking much about it because I didn’t want to.
And yet, every year on this day, I feel so attached to the event. Not because I knew anyone who died in the attack. Not because I was there. But because that day represents a very challenging, confusing, and upsetting time in my life.
I moved to Pennsylvania from a small suburb in New Jersey that just happened to be about 45 minutes outside of New York City. My parents and I went to the city often to see Broadway shows, visit family, and occasionally be big fat tourists. That was my city, is still my city. Leaving was difficult enough. Seeing the centerpiece of the skyline go up in smoke was almost too much to bear. It didn’t seem real at all. Sometimes it still doesn’t.
But back to the Changes. What followed that day were some difficult years of trying to find my place in a new school and town. My family and I were very much outsiders to the community. My parents didn’t meet and marry at Penn State, we weren’t the third generation of country club members in our family, and my mom worked. It was difficult to break into the crowd to say the least. Eventually we did. We carved out a place for ourselves in this community. My parents worked hard to hide their Long Island accents and people started calling my mom Catherine instead of Cathy. Our post 9/11 world was drastically different from our pre 9/11 world. And while I wouldn’t trade the life I have now for anything, I just wish that it hadn’t come at such a hard time for the country. The stress of my own little world was enough to handle.
American Girl would never publish that book. Way too depressing.
Thus ends everything I’ve wanted to say about 9/11 for the past 10 years but haven’t had the balls or the emotional depth to until now. Yes. That sentence makes sense.