(This story was published in 2001).

I was awoken this morning at 6:45am by the phone ringing. I always let early morning calls go to voice mail but, for some reason, I picked it up today. It was my brother from Miami.

“Did you hear the news?” Greg asked. I thought he was talking about him telling our parents that he’s having a baby. But, I played dumb and said, “no.”

“Two planes have exploded into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is on fire.”

Even at first word, it seemed like a movie. Needless to say, I leapt out of bed and ran to the television.

There it was on ABC, the image that will stick in my mind for years to come: the Twin Towers on fire, each with gaping holes in them. It was on CBS and NBC, too. And CNN. And Fox News. ESPN, Fox Sports and MTV were soon to follow. Baseball games were canceled. All flights in the United States and Canada were canceled. The Emmy Awards were canceled. Every highrise in the United States was evacuated. Every theme park was closed, malls closed, and the borders in and out of the nation. Closed.

As I sat there watching the coverage, I was speechless. What do you say? What more could happen? And when? In the United States, we’re afforded a luxury that no one else in the world has: we’re safe. We’re separated from the rest of the world. No one can get at us. Even the earlier bombing at the World Trade Center, and the Oklahoma City bombing, seemed like isolated incidents at the time.

Not anymore.

This many Americans have not died on American soil in one day since the Civil War. That was 140 years ago. Not only do I not know of a tragedy like this for this country, but neither do my parents nor their parents nor their parents nor their parents.

It all seemed so surreal this morning, like it wasn’t really happening. Even sitting there for that ten minutes, it seemed like a big deal, but not that big. Then the footage came in from the Pentagon, the symbol of American strength. It was on fire, having been attacked. But the clincher – the one that hit home the hardest – watching the first, and then the second, World Trade Center tower collapse.

It hit home then because it wasn’t just thinking about people dying or thinking about people trying to rescue others. It was watching a symbol of America disappear in one short hour. Gone. No more.

There’s a reason these terrorists chose the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The World Trade Center is the symbol of America’s economic dominance in the world for the last 50 years; the Pentagon the symbol of its military strength. One can only speculate where that fourth plane might have gone had it not crashed in Pennsylvania – the Sears tower in Chicago, the tallest building in the world, a symbol of America’s fortitude, comes to mind.

This afternoon, the Senate and Congress, after a joint press conference, spontaneously broke into “God Bless America.” And then I shed my first real tears of this tragedy.

Why is it that it takes something like this to stop us from our fighting? To make us realize that, Democrat or Republican, man or woman, white or black, gay or straight, it doesn’t fucking matter because we’re all fighting for the same thing in the end.

I hope we find the people who were behind this. I hope we do plenty of thoughtful investigation and really get to the core of who it was. Then I hope we take our time and plan and strategize and collude with every organization with whom we have to. And then I hope we strike the perpetrators and strike them hard. I hope we kill every one of them. I hope we strike fear in their families. And I hope we destroy the symbols that mean the most to them.

I’m no warhawk. I’m an American. Somebody came into my house, raped my boyfriend, killed my family, and tortured me. And, yes, I want them to pay.

In the meantime, we as Americans, and our allies around the world, need to be united as one. Yes, have anger in your mind, and have sadness. But keep our spirit alive in your heart. Be good to the people around you in the coming days. Help people around you. They’re your family, too.

The baseball games will be played at some point. The malls will open again. ESPN will go back to its regular programming. Because they have to. We have to go on, and we will. In its short history, this country has never backed down from anyone, and I imagine we won’t start now.

This afternoon I went down to my garage. I found my American flag, folded nicely and collecting dust. I don’t know why I didn’t have it hanging, but I didn’t. I put it in my window this afternoon.

No matter what they do, they cannot take away my freedom, and no matter how many planes they crash into how many buildings, they cannot take away my American flag.

It is, afterall, the symbol of America and the symbol of freedom.