Everyone was looking forward to getting their Junior Cert results, and had been for quite a few weeks. It was going to be really exciting – the first big exams we had ever taken, and ones we would depend on as we made our way to the Leaving Cert and beyond!
It was meant to be exciting. It was meant to be full of nerves. Once we got our results we were meant to doss off school for the rest of the day and have a laugh with our friends in a local diner (or sneak off later that evening to rebelliously sample a few mouthfuls of forbidden drink).
The day was dark and gloomy. We stood in the room waiting for our names to be called out to get our results. Even our Year Head was distant.
I grew up the day before I got my Junior Cert results. Not only was I punched in the face by Real Life, I was kicked about by what was so unreal.
I was in Geography class, trying to get the hair I had been growing for a several months out of my eyes. I can’t remember what I was doing: I was either dicking around with my friend sitting beside me (although this is unlikely, such behaviour was usually reserved for Friday afternoons) or I was learning about the finer points of meandering rivers and pool formation, or something along those lines.
The school’s best-known Art teacher burst into the room and made her way to the surprised Geography teacher.
“New York was attacked!” she exclaimed.
“What?” our teacher asked, confused.
“Planes attacked New York; they used planes!”
I think both teachers left the room at that stage. My imagination went wild. What the hell were they talking about? This sort of stuff didn’t happen in the real world so I imagined fighters and bombers firing bombs and bullets around The Big Apple.
That was just after 2pm in the afternoon. Over the following hour and a half my imagination calmed down and reality took its place. I paced home when school finished at 3:40pm. I’m sure my mind was full of thoughts and confusion, but ten years later, I can’t remember what they were.
Usually I would have greeted my Mam as I came in the door with that teenage nonchalant attitude we all know. Not that day.
I got in the door and made my way quickly to the living room and switched on the television, flicking frantically to the first news broadcast I found.
I stood there, right in front of the television trying to work out what I was seeing.
I guess like many people when they first saw the images, rather than any other emotion or feeling, I was rather perplexed. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t distraught. But I was shocked and confused. These images weren’t even to be seen in the movies of the most imaginative of scriptwriters. I felt pure disbelief.
It was the following evening, I think, when I saw on the news that the USA had crossed into Afghanistan. I remember seeing it from the garden (I had stepped out for a few minutes for some reason), looking in the window, where my parents were engrossed in the newsflashes. This was war, and again, I was in a state of disbelief.
I knew what war was. I knew that one country fought against another, for whatever reason. But I had a simplistic view of being ready for war. It took me a while to realise how the US military could cross the Afghani border so quickly. I know now that the superpowers have military stations based around the planet, close to potential aggressors. Aside from the how was another how: how did the US know that Afghanistan was the culprit? Again, learned about international intelligence and that governments aren’t as surprised as a 16 year old by these things.
In the following years I became more and more interested in politics and current affairs. I became interested in international relations and social issues. I undertook projects in a small attempt to help make the world that little better and more equal. I became very realist (some may say cynical), while still being very idealist. I was able to define myself socially, economically, and politically. I made good friends who felt the same.
And still, any time I see those images and videos I’m still shocked; maybe even more so, now that I’m in the real world. Ten years later it’s only beginning to make sense to me.
That day in Geography was the day I grew up.