The New York City skyline before 9/11. Photo credit: Clipart.com
By Aman Ali
14 years ago today, I almost beat the living snot out of a kid in my high school. It was the last class of the school day, and everyone was glued to the TV in the room trying to wrap their heads around what kind of psychopath nutjob could fly planes into the World Trade Center and murder all those people.
At that point it was clear it was a terrorist act and talks about the U.S. bombing countries in retaliation were already happening. The teacher walked out of the classroom for a second to make some copies of a homework assignment, and when she did, a kid in my class stood up and said “Man, I hope we bomb Afghanistan back into the Middle Ages where it belongs.”
I remember every word and every moment.
I turned around and looked at him and said “Why? They didn’t do anything. Yes, let’s go after who did this, but why do you want to bomb thousands of people who had nothing to do with it?” He looked at me in disgust and said “Are you seriously defending them?” as he pointed to the footage on the TV of the planes hitting the buildings.
I said “Of course not. I’m just saying what good does bombing all those innocent people do?”
Then he goes “I bet it was your father flying that plane.”
And as if it was some kind of Pavlovian reflex, I grabbed him by his shirt and came inches away from punching him in the face so hard that I probably would have altered the structure of his face. The only thing that stopped me milliseconds before doing it was the look he gave me.
He had a smug smile on his face as if he was telling me “Yep, I knew it.”
I froze when I saw that smile. I knew I had lost this argument because I essentially reinforced everything he believed that I was trying so hard to passionately counter.
I let go of his shirt and pushed him away from me. He continued to stare at me with that smile telling me again and again “Yep, I knew it.”
Thankfully the teacher wasn’t in the room when that happened, otherwise I probably would have gotten suspended. But the fact that nothing happened to me physically didn’t take away the pain and regret I still have from that moment.
To this day I randomly have nightmares about this incident, thinking about his smile telling me “Yep, I knew it” again and again and again. What if I was the only exposure to Muslims he ever had? What if that’s the opinion he carries about Muslims for the rest of his life? What if he goes around at dinner parties and tells others “Those Moslems, man. I had a class with a Moslem once and the dude tried to punch me for no reason at all.”
And in unison, everyone at the party would go “Yep, I knew it.”
I woke up this morning realizing what the date was and uttered “Oh God, here we go” to myself. I pull out my phone to see what I missed while I was asleep and noticed a facebook message. It was from the kid I tried to punch. I haven’t spoken to him in 14 years ever since that moment. What the hell was he messaging me for now?
He told me how difficult it is to think about that day because he can’t forget all the hurtful things he said to me and he profusely apologized.
I was like “Whaaaaaaaaa?” and gave him my phone number and asked him to call me.
We talked and I asked him what he’s been up to since high school. He said he spent two U.S. army tours deployed to Afghanistan and got to interact with hundreds and hundreds of people that were nothing but warm to him. Night after night, he said he’d be invited to the poorest of poor people’s houses for food eating some of the best things he’s ever tasted. The endless supply of love, hospitality and goodwill he got from people there were a constant reminder of that hateful moment as an ignorant teen he wanted to bomb this country mercilessly and the hurtful things he said about my dad.
“I deserved to be punched.” he said. “Sometimes I really wish you did.”
And that’s when I realized I’m really glad I didn’t. Because we never would have been able to have this conversation 14 years later.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Facebook at fb.com/amanalistatus. The author’s views are his own.