Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
Weehawken, New Jersey
Erin O’ Neill is a sassy woman who speaks her mind. Erin, 23, was born in Redwood City, California, and was raised in Seattle, Washington. Today, she works as a field traveler for Toyota and lives in Weehawken, New Jersey – located just across the river from Manhattan. Erin loves horses and enjoys spending time with her “wonderful friends,” shopping in Soho and on Fifth Avenue and traveling the world. She spent her last semester of college in Dublin, Ireland, and has also visited Tunisia and Iceland. This summer, she plans to backpack through Italy with her 18-year-old sister. When terrorists struck America, Erin was at her desk in West Caldwell, New Jersey. She wrote her essay about a week later.
Everyone handles things differently. I don’t know if I am living in a fantasy world or what. I feel that I am a realist. But god, I seem to have no real emotion to what has happened. I’m numb – not angry or sad or enraged, just numb. I have not once shed a tear except for last Friday (9/14/01) when they had the candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. and they played “Proud to be an American” on the radio. I was driving home from work and I saw all of the people entering the streets in floods with candles, silent, tears in their eyes. I could feel their pain; it was real. As I would sit in traffic for the next few days following the attacks, I would look to the driver next to me alone in tears. Alone.
I don’t even watch the news (not that I ever did before). I turn the station on the TV and radio when they talk about what is going on, I avoid conversations about it at work, I leave the lunchroom when the topic looms. For some reason I want no part of it. I refuse to believe what’s going on or the ramifications of the attacks. I’m tired of analyzing it from every angle and coming up with the “what ifs.” I have pondered this over the last few days and the only time I can remember having this feeling was when my grandfather died and I seemed almost cold. Not that I didn’t care, but I refused to see him when he was on his sick bed and would not go to the funeral.
My only resolution to the current situation is that I live here NJ/NY is my home now, my friends and family are all in Seattle and I am here.
I have insisted on going on and not letting this alter my life in any way, shape or form. It’s not that I don’t feel that this is horrible or sad – I do. I’m sure many people can’t understand my reaction, and think I am a cold or self-centered person for acting like nothing has happened. But I am so sick of people e-mailing me or calling me and in a panic saying, “ARE YOU OKAY??” My reaction is, “Yeah, I’m okay. Why wouldn’t I be okay?” I think I’m the only person in America who is not sick over this horrible act of terrorism.
I am not a flag waver. And 9/11 has not converted me into an all American red, white and blue loving citizen gung ho for the military and apple pie.
In retrospect to what I just wrote … I do have feeling and emotion obviously and I do feel that I am a compassionate person … but for some reason I am not letting myself feel this one or don’t feel the need to. Maybe it’s too horrific for me to take in or comprehend. I feel I’m not reacting properly, having the “normal” sickening feeling that seems to have infected everyone else and this crazed addiction to the news …
Everyone, even people I don’t know, say to me, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” “I’ve been crying all day and I’m sure you have too” … etc. I’m just thinking, “Actually, no. No I haven’t been crying or going through much of anything out of the ordinary or feeling guilty at all.” Maybe it’s because I am afraid. Afraid to face the facts. Or does that make me stronger? Stronger to turn my head against this act of terrorism and not feel hate or anger.
This essay has gone full circle. I almost feel as though I have found my emotion through participating in this compelling collection of essays and am proud to have been able to contribute.