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The Girl in the 9/11 Bubble

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The problem with camp, of course, is that it ends. Each year, returning home with the 9/11 anniversary approaching, Emma found that the buzz wore off quickly and she would revert to her pre-camp self. Not that she was aware of it. “I was trying to hide so much—I thought I was fine.” Julia had another assessment. “Starting as early as the start of eighth grade, I felt she was way too controlled. And she would never talk about David. If I talked about it, she’d be like, ‘Okay, fine,’ but I’m not sure she processed it. There was a sadness that emanated from her that hadn’t been there before.”

By the beginning of tenth grade, Emma felt she was starting to lose control over her life. “Other kids feel invincible; she always thought about what bad could happen,” says Julia. Emma had an especially intense year at camp that summer, but when she came back, her friends couldn’t understand her attachment to camp, nor to her friends and counselors. “My friends were like, ‘There are two guys you hung out with all week who are ten years older than you?’ I remember them making fun of it. And I’d try to show them dances, and they’d be like, ‘What are you doing?’ ”

Emma had a boyfriend, a boy named J.J., but that relationship was complicated by 9/11. “I know that I get very attached to men,” she says. “I’m more afraid of losing them than I am of girls. It’s not like I’m trying to replace my dad, but I feel like I need that presence.”

Her soccer coach that year also gave her a hard time, at first, for missing practice because of America’s Camp.

“All of a sudden, my home life and my camp life and my 9/11 life were all meshing and mixing and bumping,” she says. “I was constantly upset. I would cry easily. And I was convinced everyone would die. My mom would leave the house and say she was coming back at this time and she didn’t and I’d think she was dead.” Emma says she didn’t want to live. “I’d be crying and I’d be like, ‘I’m sick of this.’ I thought about slitting my wrists.”

One day in the car, she told her mom she wanted to go to counseling. “I didn’t want to feel that way,” she says. “I didn’t want to never have a happy feeling.”

Emma began seeing a counselor. She began to accept that what happened to her on 9/11 did put her in a unique group; her camp friends were, in a sense, the only ones who could understand her. At the same time, she says, therapy helped her see that she’d eventually have to normalize her relationships with others.

Emma and J.J. broke up last spring. Emma says he never ultimately got her. “Once he was like, ‘Sometimes I forget that your dad died in 9/11.’ I was like, ‘What?’ He was like, ‘No, it’s just like, I don’t think of you that way.’ And that’s good, but it’s such an important part of me that it’s also weird.”

But in her final two years of high school, Emma grew closer to her mother than either of them had ever expected. “Since I came to college, we’ve talked every day,” Emma says. Emma even came to accept that her mother met someone new. She spent months not talking to him. “Hostile is an understatement,” says Julia. “She wouldn’t make eye contact or talk to him at all. She was mean to him, actually.” But when the family all went on a trip to Europe the summer after tenth grade, Emma managed to melt a little. “I was feeling a lot better,” she says, “and I think a lot of that was because I was willing to accept Gregg and his family.” Julia and Gregg Richardson married last June, and Emma was in the wedding.


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