AN Essay Contest HOSTED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
DOTDASH MEREDITH & REAL SIMPLE
14 Girls Write Now mentees share mini- and mega-moments of clarity in these personal essays.
By Liliana Colon
At least once each week, I find myself thinking about the day I was born.
I’ll often zone out of conversations. Sometimes the thoughts come out of nowhere. Other times, they are triggered by a word, a sentence, a number. Nine. Eleven. 2001. A simple question.
“When is your birthday?”
The day I was born is the day the twin towers fell.
After my mother gave birth, my aunt and her two friends whirled into the hospital room in a breathless frenzy.
“I heard a plane flew right into the Pentagon.”
“I’m telling you, there was smoke everywhere.”
The television outside the hospital room chimed in as well:
“A big flash of flames, fire coming out from all over…”
My mother kept her eyes trained on me. The voices grew louder. Though they told grim stories, it was better to be comforted by noise rather than suffocated by silence. My mother cradled my small body and squeezed my feet. Every so often she would look up and exclaim a simple sentence.
“Look at her tiny feet!”
Our world crashed and bled around us, yet there I lay in my mother’s embrace. Sheltered. Protected.
I used to think the towers fell the same way trees do. I thought they had simply grown tired of standing and had chosen to fall. The tree heaves a tired sigh, leans over, and collapses onto the ground. The tree dies but the forest continues to live, to thrive, to grow. When a tree falls in an empty forest, no one hears it fall. That was how I viewed the towers. I could not comprehend that thousands of lives had been lost. By the time I was brought into the world, the administration of George W. Bush was planning to invade Iraq, resulting in a war which would lead to even more death. I was too young to understand. So, I viewed the towers as trees in a forest.
On my fifth birthday, my mom took me to visit my grandmother, who lived two stops away from us on the A train. I ran down the stairs and pretended I was on a submarine, deep under the sea. I held my breath as I ran under the turnstile. On our way down the stairs, we passed a sign that read “We will never forget 9/11.” There were countless signs like this one. I turned to my mother and tugged on her jacket sleeve.
“They’ll never forget my birthday!” I exclaimed.
For the next few years of my life, I would point to them each time we passed them. I don’t exactly remember how my mother responded to me. She may have mumbled or smiled. Sheltered I remained.
The first time I saw footage of the towers falling was in 2009. I was sitting with my family on our gray couch across from our television. The screen displayed an image of the towers, which looked so tall and mighty. Then, a small plane approached the towers. Black smoke billowed and the towers collapsed. How could something that was so strong crumble so fast, as though it were made of sand? My sheltered life crumbled down with the towers.
I spend a lot of my time thinking about my birthday. I wonder what life would have been like if I had gone on believing that buildings were wise trees and cities were expansive forests. If a building crumbles in an empty city, has it even made a sound at all?
My Simple Realization: An Essay Contest & Story Collection
14 Girls Write Now mentees share mini- and mega-moments of clarity in these personal essays. This contest was produced in partnership with Dotdash Meredith and the team at Real Simple as part of the SeeHer Initiative.
Liliana Colon is a sophomore college student currently living in Brooklyn, NYC. She made the decision to take a gap semester to further explore her interests. Her passion for writing and desire to create during this break led her to discover the Girls Write Now community. Liliana is a visual artist, musician and committed writer, and hopes to pursue these dreams. Liliana enjoys taking walks throughout the city and draws inspiration for her music and art through observing the world around her, particularly in nature.