Yesterday was a pretty shocking and tragic day for so many people. I am lucky that I don’t know someone personally who was injured. But I have a friend from high school who was running and even though I haven’t spoken to her since graduation in 1999, I was still worried about her and her husband. As annoying and ridiculous as Facebook is, it is also a life line during these tragedies. I found out she and her husband were ok, but that their friend was severely injured. What a horrible thing they are dealing with now. This girl, woman now, is someone I once confided my “deepest, darkest” teenage secrets to, whose J. Crew pastel striped sweater I wore for junior year picture day, whose mom totally made us leave a house party in high school by telling us her dad had “cut is hand while slicing carrots” so that we had a valid excuse for her to pick us up within minutes of getting dropped off without looking like losers. To know she and her husband and their friends are in pain because some hateful person decided to inflict pain on innocent people is heartwrenching.
But in all of this, I know there is love and support for her and everyone in her situation. I see it on Facebook, Twitter, in article comments, and whatever other internet outlets there are for expressing one’s opinions. And as much as social media is sometimes invasive and stupid, in times like this, it becomes an emergency check-in for some many who can’t reach out to everyone or maybe can’t get through on the phone.
I only bring this up because I was thinking about 9/11. There was no Facebook or really much social media at all. Not in the way it’s used today. If you wanted updates after 9/11, your primary source for “up to the minute” news was the TV, not the internet. I think about how horribly isolated I was as a Junior at Smith College. There is no question that 9/11 was a horrible, tragic, sad, and scary day. And I felt these things. I remember trying to call my mother and not being able to get through. When I finally did, I got her answering machine. I was all the way in Western Massachusetts, far away from my family in NJ and worrying if they had decided to go into Manhattan that day. It was not unreasonable given my mother lived in downtown Jersey City at the time in the house I grew up in, a mere mile and a half away from Ground Zero. Perhaps she had to take the PATH train to the WTC get to a doctor or dentist appointment? Or decided to go to Chinatown to do grocery shopping? I was a wreck.
And there was no one who understood what I was going through. It didn’t help that on 9/12, I was rejected from all of my study abroad programs. I was a mess. And I had no one. Looking back, I realize I was going through PTSD, but back then, I felt like I was going crazy. While I was sitting in my room depressed, unable to go to class, crying and feeling so scared and drained, the girls in my hall acted as if nothing had happened. I seemed to be the only person affected by the tragedy. My “friends” stopped talking to me and asking me to go down to dinner with them. Once I did get to the dining room, they conveniently “finished” their meals and left me. What seemed like ages, was really only about a week after 9/11.
One afternoon, I got pissed at my “friend” living across the hall from me. I started asking her why she was ignoring me. She asked me if I was still depressed. Of course, I screamed. Do you even know what happened? Are you blind?
Her response was that I was from New Jersey and no one I knew was hurt and that I should just get over it and that they, my “friends”, didn’t want to be around a depressed person.
This became a screaming match. She tried to slam her door in my face. I put my arm out to prevent her from doing that. I screeched, “No! You are going to talk to me! You are supposed to be my friend and you’re ignoring me!” I wouldn’t let me slam the door in my face and she backed into her room. I stepped inside and we were both shouting. Campus security was called.
And this is the part that I hope no one ever has to go through (as if having your “friends” ditch you in your time of need wasn’t bad enough): This girl told campus security I was threatening her and she was scared of me. They wouldn’t listen to my side of the story. I was crying in my room. They came in and forced me to leave. They told me I was danger to other students and that I could voluntarily leave with them or they would restrain me and force me to leave. I left with to campus cops on either side of me, holding my arms like I was a criminal as everyone in my dorm watched. It was humiliating and made me feel like what I was feeling about 9/11 was not acceptable to anyone.
I was driven to the campus mental health people. The counselor told me that my behavior was unacceptable and that my behavior was extreme given I didin’t “lose a loved one”. She also said that if I continued to feel suicidal, that she would have no choice but to commit me to the mental health hospital down the road.
So of course, I said what needed to be said. I was not upset anymore, nor was I depressed or suicidal and promised to stay away from the girl across the hall.
I immediately left the counselor’s office and walked straight to the Administration where I withdrew. I asked to come back for the Spring term and I was told that the school policy was that a student take a “full semester” off, and since the semester had been in session for about 3 weeks, I couldn’t return until the next Fall. Also, I was asked by the administrator to not look or speak to anyone in my house while I was packing up to leave the next day. Yes, I had to pack up and leave the next day. So for the next 18 or so hours, I was not allowed to say goodbye to whatever friends I had left. If I looked at anyone, they could call campus security and have me “removed”. It was horrible.
And the events of yesterday brought back these painful memories. I wish I had Facebook back then. Just knowing that someone out there is feeling the same way you do in a time of crisis is comforting. To see the outpouring of support from around the world would have been enough, maybe, to help me.
To those who are suffering unimaginable pain right now: I feel for you and so does the whole world. You are not alone, nor should you be.
To Smith: I hope you have better procedures and resources in place to help students deal with tragedy and you show those students who are suffering as a result of the bombings at the Boston Marathon more compassion than you showed me after 9/11. One need not suffer the loss of a loved one in order have real, true and painful feeling about yesterday’s events. Just the thought of your beloved city, or an event that means so much to people, or simply because you are scared is enough “justification” for having legitimate feelings about yesterday.
I like to reflect on the happy times I had at Smith, especially my senior year when I lived in Morrow House and met the some of the best women I have ever known who would never, ever have let me languish in my room the way I was left by my “friends” in the other house I lived in. My time at Smith is defined by my senior year. I don’t really think about my first two years there much, nor about the events that lead me to withdraw my junior year.
I like to think about my friends. My real friends.
Peace to you all.