By Nicky Reid aka Comrade Hermit
Exile in Happy Valley
It’s such a played out cliché that it’s downright corny, but if you were born sometime before the mid-Nineties, you really do remember exactly where you were on 9/11. It was an event too cataclysmic to not happen on a normal day because everything before that surreal shit-show seemed almost Norman Rockwell normal by comparison. I was a 13 year old 7th grader at Saint John’s the Evangelist Catholic School. Hardly a simple time for a painfully closeted obsessive compulsive misfit, but a time before the heavy issues war, liberty and empire ran my life. I was too busy writing down Korn lyrics, washing my hands fifty times a day, and struggling to ignore the nagging suspicion that my feelings for Caitlyn Feelow were anything but heterosexual.
I was already a frightened little nervous wreck before some faceless administrator interrupted Mrs. Teeple’s English class to inform us that somebody had just blown up America, as the late Amiri Baraka once put it. Both Twin Towers, which I mostly knew from the second Home Alone movie, had been struck by commercial airliners. By the time I got home they were both gone, vanished into a volcanic cloud of dust. I remember my mother looking up at the sky and wondering aloud when the planes would stop dropping from the heavens like a Ballardian rain of ballistic machinery. I remember the near pornographic replays of the tragedy, the money shot of sinking skyscrapers, being played on Fox News over and over and over again. The news never stopped blaring. Twenty years later and it’s still on. The memory itself makes me want to wash my hands.
In hindsight, we should have seen it coming, especially our government, and shit, maybe they did. We spent decades repeatedly backing up over the Middle East with our colossal pick-up truck of a country, only stopping to syphon more gas from the desert to keep the party going. We had overthrown democracies and replaced them with dictators, armed those dictators to the fucking teeth, then declared war on them when they used our toys on the wrong neighbors. But on 9/11, none of this seemed to matter. Even the adults were too busy being traumatized by the evening news to think straight. Everyone was scared out of their minds and we were quite willing to vote for pretty much anything, pay any price, to anyone who appeared to be in charge, just to feel Norman Rockwell normal again.
So America wandered blindly into the on coming traffic of uncut tyranny. My parents and my teachers accepted the Patriot Act and it’s many shadowy tentacles like a booster shot, as they did the increasingly unhinged forever wars that followed. But somewhere along this line, something broke deep inside me. I couldn’t help but notice that the same people who spent their illustrious careers provoking this attack all seemed to suddenly have their shit together when it came time to react to it. None of their excuses added up and all of their solutions seemed to fulfill their long expressed desires to take an empire and turn it into an Orwellian global police state. I began listening to Rage Against the Machine a lot more than Korn and started reading books by Noam Chomsky. Soon I was getting into angry shouting matches with the various adults in my life on a near daily basis. But they were all just too damn scared to listen to a genderqueer brat with a head full of inconvenient contradictions.