I’m Lindsay Cook, a junior at Villanova.
I’m a 9/11 kid. Some kids have an aversion to the term. I don’t wear it like girls do an “it’s my birthday” sash when they hit another year. I think of it as an “if the shoe fits,” because the shoe fits. It’s a worn-in, size 8 pair of Reebok sneakers (occasionally an 8 ½ Sam Edelman booties).
My dad, Dennis Cook, graduated from Villanova in 1991. He and my mom met their senior year at Villanova. They got married in 1995, had my older sister Sophia in 1998 and then me in 2001. My dad died on 9/11, four months after I was born. My mom remarried a few years later and had my younger siblings, Kate and Aidan, in 2005.
The version of my dad in my mind is one that has been formulated from the stories people have chosen to tell me. I have about five good pictures to show for the four months we existed together. I continue to construct him as I move through life and pick up details I didn’t know before. I learned a few days ago he picked flowers from the Wendy’s across the street from my mom’s apartment and left them in her mailbox after they first met. It’s such a small story, my mom probably didn’t think to tell me until now, but to me it was a lot. The story added another layer to my dad. For the first time recently, I saw a picture of his key ring that was recovered from the rubble. There was a Wegmans membership tag dangling from it. Instead of seeing the tag as an indicator of where he used to purchase produce, I thought “He would’ve gotten along with my roommate, she’s a freak about Wegmans.”
I want all of the random little puzzle pieces. I want to know the stupid things he did in college. I want to know his Campco order. I want to know if he and his fraternity brothers took over Bartley exchange at 1:00 every afternoon. I want to know more than the things people tell you at a funeral or a 20 year anniversary. I want to take away the filtered glass people put over memories and to see them for what they were. I want to push past how proud he’d be or how funny he was, no matter how nice they are to hear. I will never get to know him, but I’d like to get as close as I can. As close to real as I can.
I grew up learning about 9/11. Isn’t that the weirdest thing? I would go to school every year, sit in a classroom with my hands folded next to my classmates and learn about the historical event my dad died in. Why was I in the classroom all of those years? I didn't need to hear the explicit details over and over about how my dad died. I didn’t need to hear the hundreds of radio recordings of the day. I didn’t need to see pictures on PowerPoint slides, pictures I avoid now. At first, I made the choice to stay in the rooms. I convinced myself I could be there. I was strong.
What I inadvertently did was desensitize myself to a lot of things. These things caught up with me later. I feel like it took me until the middle of high school to actually feel a deep comprehension for 9/11 in my life. Once I did have the comprehension, I felt uncomfortable speaking up in class and asking to leave, even when I really wanted to.
My shift away from being desensitized is why going on social media on 9/11 is so hard. People often choose to share really graphic pictures on the anniversary. I wish people would take a second and consider the photos they’re sharing to remember those lost on 9/11. There are so many other things you can share to remember the day.
I know no one has malicious intentions when they share those pictures. I think a lot of our generation has become desensitized to them in a way. We were all in the same classroom learning about 9/11 year after year, seeing the triggering images at a really young age. While we understand the events of the day and are saddened by them, I think the pictures lost shock value after a while. I obviously can’t speak for an entire generation of kids, but I think somewhere within my statement is a piece of truth.
I’m 20 on the 20th anniversary, I’ll be 21 on the 21st and so on. Each year I learn a little more about what it means to miss someone you never knew. Because you can. And I miss my dad a lot. Trying to put a word to it feels pointless because they are not big enough or “right” enough. Just because I miss my dad doesn’t mean I’m weighed down by a wave of constant grief or sadness. My family lost so much on 9/11, but we gained a lot too, and I’m constantly grateful for where I am in life.
The anniversaries are going to continue, 9/11 isn’t going anywhere. So all I can do is choose how I decide to live my life positively and remember my dad.