MANHOOD: September 11th: Where Were You?
I have a pretty poor memory, generally speaking. I often wake up on Wednesday and can't remember what I did the previous weekend. I often leave the house to drop my daughter off at her grandparents', and realize all but too late I've forgotten some important pillow case or teddy bear that magically triggers docility in her, in times of need. I piss my wife off when I forget the things that are important to her.
But, some memories are as vivid as they could possibly ever be. Losing one of my skiis while going downhill and failing to impress some older woman in the process. Seeing Allie come through the airport gates for the first time after we'd decided months prior, over the phone, to start dating. Laying by her side during the birth of our daughter. Seeing American's first-not-completely-white president get sworn in. Vivid. So it isn't totally shocking that I remember, as clear as day, the mental overwhelm of realizing our country was in a state of terror over the events of September 11th, 2001. I was twelve years old.
Cartoon Network's action-oriented block of anime, dubbed Toonami, was my go-to immediately after school and immediately before my homework. For years, since our family first got cable television in 1999, Toonami was my anime fix. Nothing was more important to my carefree child brain. After all, watching Goku and Vegeta battling for the fate the world in Dragonball Z, Tuxedo Mask egging on his romance with Sailor Moon, the Ronin Warriors transforming into their battle armors right in their moments of desperation, and watching my favorite brave teenagers suit up for war in Gundam Wing were the only things that mattered. Of course, my obsession with Gundam nearly dwarfed my passion for any other anime.
Released in Japan in 1995 but premiering on Toonami in 2000, Gundam Wing changed my pre-teen perspective on animated media, music, portrayals of war, and the value of life. All with giant robots fighting each other. With such juggernaut success and repeated syndication of both the show and its stylistic film-sequel Endless Waltz, Toonami only saw it fit to bring in the show that started it all: in the summer of 2001, Mobile Suit Gundam, the original 1979 giant robot space opera, premiered on American television. This was what I'd read on the internet about for so long...the very beginning! I never thought this series would reach American shores.
On September 11, 2001, I remember coming home from school eager to watch the latest episode of Gundam, in all of the glory of its funk soundtrack and outdated 70's animation. But it was nowhere to be found. What? What time is it? Did I miss it? Oh, I was so confused. Cartoon Network did a wise thing on keeping on with their cartoons to keep kids like me distracted that day, but I couldn't let the fact go that Gundam was missing. No other channel to my knowledge was immune to the effects of the unbelievable actions that occurred in New York. There wasn't any other channel that wasn't showing the footage of the Twin Towers crumbling into the earth below, human beings jumping out of the building to their certain deaths as a giant plane headed towards them. Death. War. Reality.
Three recurring themes of Gundam....huh. It took me a long time to realize that, following the events of 9/11, Gundam had been immediately cancelled by Cartoon Network. After all, this wasn't Robotech, Power Rangers, or Voltron--humans fighting aliens and giant monsters. For an anime, Gundam was strikingly on-point at observing the realities of war. So, instead of showing the footage of the horrific act of terror, Cartoon Network contributed by cancelling the one show I looked forward to each day after school. My feeble child brain was so torn between the non-tangible East Coast terror and wanting my favorite show back, but thankfully, it didn't take long for the reality of what happened in New York to sink it. I'll never forget those chills. This wasn't Gundam--we were really at war.
Like any child, I was scared. The concave bubbles in my stomach found their way to my chest. I prayed heavily over our house, for New York, and the nation. That living room couch simply never was the same. But I reached out, more than ever, for more escapism. That being said, the Gundam franchise was soon revived on Cartoon Network's then-new adult-oriented Action Adult Swim block on Saturday nights, which featured mostly new and unedited anime. Its original lineup consisted of Cowboy Bebop, Pilot Candidate, YuYu Hakusho, and Gundam 0083. Episodes of the original Gundam would later re-run on Action Adult Swim, and the block would end in 2003 with the special premier of the film Gundam: Char's Counterattack, which took place 14 years after the original Gundam and concluded the epic rivalry between the now-grown protagonist and antagonist from the original series.
It's crazy how intertwined my life has been with geekdom, Gundam in particular. Through pain and persistence, horror and heartache. So that's where I was on September 11th. Wishing I were in the cockpit of a giant Gundam mobile suit, defending this city, my home, and my family. This article was not written to make light of one of the most violent acts of terror on this nation. It only goes to show who I was back then, where my mind was, and how these events helped shape me into the person I am today. As the son of an ex-soldier--heck, as an American--I'm proud of where we've come from and how far we've come along.
We still have a long way to go. But with enough respects to the brave men and women who rest eternally in the grave, harsh reminders from intelligent media (everything from Gundam to South Park) about the good and evil in humankind, and Christ's overwhelming love being placed above all else, we'll get to where we need to be. The road to loving those who don't look like me, think like me, live like me...it can begin today, if we can just remember.
I pour out deep veneration for our nation's resilience and for the bravery of every man, woman, and child who passed that day, and the soldiers who risked their lives for the right to right this post while listening to iTunes. Thank you. I love you.
Where were you on 9/11? Never forget.