A Brief History of Forgetting
A Brief History of Forgetting paris stories

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I don't remember 9/11.

A Brief History of Forgetting

I don't remember 9/11. I was five at the time, and oblivious to everything except myself and my family. I don't remember being taken home early from school.

I don't remember my father being in Boston or my mom going out to buy gas and bread. I don't remember any of it.

I do remember when Pope Saint John Paul II died. April 2nd, 2005. I accidentally tell people it's April 10th, but that's not the right date.

It was April 2nd when my dad drove us home from Mass, my mom in the front seat crying silently, and my siblings and I in the back, staring at each other.

I remember telling my mom that we could write letters to him in heaven. My mom replied that you couldn't write letters to heaven, and at eight years old, I realized what death was.

The next day, I went to school without a thought about it.

I was always oblivious to horrible things. It took me five years to realize I was being bullied at school, and by then I was already in high school.

I remember feeling nothing when my brother first told me our friends had been in a car accident, that one of them had died, and we didn't know which one.

I remember, in my French class sophomore year, somebody saying, "Someone shot up a kindergarten class in Connecticut."

And instead of asking anything, feeling anything, saying anything, I walked out the door and went to meet a friend by my car before I drove home in silence.

Within a few months, we had moved on to some other horrible thing.

When I came home one day, and my little sister said, "Boston has been bombed," I said nothing, but I went to the pantry and pulled out a jar of Nutella and began to eat it by the spoonful.

I watched the news on the TV without a single emotion, not even for my big sister, who lived in Boston with her husband.

It was a full ten minutes before I said, "What?"

And when Rolling Stone put the bomber on its cover, we all drew a collective breath and waited for somebody not to get angry before we started making jokes about how cute he was.

I don't remember where I was when Ferguson happened.

I remember nobody wanting to talk about it at school and I remember being filled with a constant, steady rage before I slowly succumbed to their indifference like a mental patient being smothered out of her misery.

When the Paris attacks happened, I was at home, and I didn't know about it until the next morning,

when the world woke up shocked that so many things could happen at once and all we could feel was terror and sadness and nobody joked.

But we all passed around vague references to it in the months to come until we forgot the name of the bar and we realized we'd never known the names of any of the victims at all.

When my dad told me that my grandmother had died, I said, "Okay," and felt almost nothing at all.

Until the funeral, when I remembered that she'd never met my sister's child, and would never meet mine.

My family spent the funeral weekend watching Pitch Perfect and playing euchre, but we did not forget. Even now, two years later, we still make pitzales with her ancient griddle.

All the instances of police brutality came at me so fast, I had no time at all to feel anything.

I wrote posts on social media, I talked to my family, I attended vigils, and stayed away from protests and marches at the orders of my parents and my anxiety.

I knew it wasn't enough but I couldn't feel most of the time, and when I did unlock that door,

the only emotions I could feel for days or weeks was rage and despair until I corralled them back into their cage. Hashtags on Twitter kept their names alive.

I remember the day before Orlando, I was at my first gay pride parade in D.C. and I cried when the Catholic LGBT float passed.

That night, my friend and I walked through a demonstration outside the White House, and we held hands with strangers and recited the names of the victims of police brutality.

I was in bed when I got the New York Times notification on my phone that a gay nightclub had been attacked by a gunman, and 20 people had died.

I said nothing and felt nothing and thought nothing of either, but I dressed quietly and went to Starbucks. Once there, I received another notification that 50 people had died.

And I felt a huge emptiness open up, and I texted my mom to let her know that I was okay, and that night I played a game with my friends without thinking or feeling or caring.

But when my roommate knocked on our door with her hands full of cooking supplies,

I mistook her for a gunman and I hid under my bed until she finally came in and coaxed me out and patted my shoulder while I sobbed huge, raking sobs for what felt like hours into the night.

I pinned a list of the victims' names on my bulletin board.

I jumped at every sound for a month, and sometimes I still do. I avoid crowds and concerts.

When the riots in Charlottesville broke out, it shouldn't be a surprise that I felt nothing. I was boarding my plane from D.C. back to Georgia, and I received a notification on my phone.

White nationalists had gathered and a fight had broken out. I thought nothing of it; we have a white nationalist in my town, who sells Confederate flags for a living.

We live minutes from Stone Mountain, where the KKK was revived in 1915 and where gatherings have been rumored to happen.

So I thought nothing of a few white nationalists gathering and fighting counterprotestors. By then, I knew I had grown complacent.

I landed and celebrated my birthday with my family and knew nothing of what had happened until the next day, when I saw my Facebook full of it.

I discovered all I could, wrote a post about statues (but of course that's not at all what the protest was really about) and sat for a week boiling over with rage, finally feeling all the things I'd been keeping locked away for two long years.

I tweeted vehemently, wrote profusely, and faxed my senators over and over. I argued with my friends and my family and anyone else who dared to challenge all the dead in my mind who called me to fight.

I prayed for guidance, sought advice from a teacher, and wept for the history I studied and loved, because it had become my reality.

And after it all, after years of attacks and terror and desperation and confusion, I kept a quiet hope.

The hope that I will remember this when I get old, and tell my children proudly what I had seen and what I had done about it.

The hope that all the dead— Pope St. John Paul II, my grandmother and my friends, but especially civil rights leaders of the past and victims of the present— could see what we are doing to keep their lives and deaths from having been in vain.

The hope that everyone would remember this, remember where they were and what they did when it all happened and that they would remind each other in the years to come.

The hope that we do in fact live in a second civil rights era, and that maybe, just maybe, this will be the end of centuries of forgetting.

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