Changed Forever

I watch a television show called “The Newsroom.” It was created by Aaron Sorkin, one of my favorite television and film writers.

A couple of weeks ago I saw the episode about the night the United States of America killed Osama bin Laden. It made me think, it made me laugh, and it made me cry. It made me think about where I was when I found out about the events of September 11, 2001 and where I was on May 1, 2011, when bin Laden was killed.

"Neon Patriotism" Times Square around 3:00AM in August 2010
“Neon Patriotism” Times Square around 3 AM, August 2010 by Austen Risolvato.

I was one week into my freshman year of college on the morning of September 11, 2001. I woke up in my dorm room at the Savannah College of Art and Design to the sound of my phone ringing. It was about 8:50 a.m. and my mother was calling to tell me that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York. I turned on the television and woke up my roommate, Patty. Patty was from Nutley, NJ, a bedroom community of New York City. Together, we watched the attack live on television and in complete horror as the second plane hit the second tower. Patty panicked and began attempting to reach her own mother, but cell service was out in greater New York City and adjoining areas.

I had a very hard time comprehending what we were watching as we saw the Towers and Building Seven collapse. We watched people jump from office windows rather than be taken down with the building they occupied. We watched, and we watched. We watched the footage of the burning Pentagon. We watched the footage of a field in Pennsylvania where Flight 93 went down. At about the same time, my high school friend Dave was frantically attempting to reach his sister who lived in the city, and his father, a pilot for a major airline scheduled to fly to Tokyo from JFK that morning.

I called my mother and told her I was scared. I was 17-years old that day.

Lil Wayne on stage at the Bamboozle, about thirty seconds before we found out about bin Laden.
Lil Wayne on stage at the Bamboozle, about 30 seconds before we found out about bin Laden. Taken with Instagram by Austen Risolvato.

By May 1, 2011 I was 27-years old, and with the artist, Porcelain Black at Giants stadium in East Rutherford, NJ for The Bamboozle Festival. We spent the day doing press as well as meet and greets. She did a signing and we headed back over to the Red Bull Artist’s tent. Porcelain is represented by a management company called Young Money; she and Lil Wayne share a manager.We had just finished Wayne’s I Am Still Music Tour and were celebrating that last day of school before summer begins.  Later in the night we were standing on the stage watching Wayne perform for a massive crowd. The set was winding down and Wayne and his band were running past us to exit the stage as Porcelain — staring at her phone — exclaimed, “Oh my God! Osama bin Laden is dead!”.

Cover of the Late City Final of May 2, 2011's NY Post.
Cover of the Late City Final of May 2, 2011’s NY Post. Taken with Instagram by Austen Risolvato.

Almost everyone around me was celebrating. World news was showing footage of people at Ground Zero shouting and dancing. I didn’t know what to feel. We spent the rest of the week in the City. I have two copies of the New York Post, one from the following morning that claims “GOT HIM! Vengeance at last! US nails the bastard!” and another from the end of the week, of President Obama laying a wreath at Ground Zero, saying “Promise Kept.” The world watched as New York celebrated on television, but that was not the New York I experienced that week. Ground Zero was the only place in the city that such exuberance was occurring, and I’d bet apples to oranges that most of the people celebrating there were not New Yorkers, but tourists.

All around me, the city was still, calm, it felt as though the entirety of the boroughs had been holding its breath for a decade, and could finally exhale. A deafeningly silent sigh of relief blanketed the city that day, and in the days to come.

Late City Final of the NY Post on 5/6/2011.
Late City Final of the NY Post on 5/6/2011. Taken with Instagram by Austen Risolvato.

I was staying in Times Square, as is oft the curse of those who work in entertainment and travel to New York. As the city prepared for the arrival of President Obama, it got quieter still. The sigh had been temporary, a terse calm pervaded down the narrow city streets. No one wanted to say it, but “would there be retaliation?” Could “they” organize quickly enough to attempt another attack, while our leader, and hero stood on the very spot where so many lives changed in one day?

I have never felt safer in my life. I maintain that during the week of May 1, 2011, I was in the safest city in the world. We would not let that happen, we simply would not allow it.

I spent a lot of time in thought and wonder that week. Why wasn’t I celebrating? What was this feeling I had? My stepfather pointed something out to me in a context in which I’d not yet thought. Collectively, we as a nation sought to, and succeeded at murdering another human being. Do I feel safer walking out of my door each day now that this monster is dead? Absolutely. Do I feel that the world is a better place without him in it? Without a doubt. Did I too finally exhale? Yes. Do I feel justice was served upon him that day? Sure. Do I rejoice in wanting another human being dead? Never.

Walking through Times Square late on May 1, 2011.
Walking through Times Square late on May 1, 2011. Taken with Instagram by Austen Risolvato

It is simply not a part of who I am to rejoice in taking a life. Make no mistake, I wanted him gone.  I suppose I anticipated that when the day finally came that he no longer posed a threat to my safety, and that of everyone around me, I would rejoice. I was wrong. The death of one man does not resurrect thousands. Osama bin Laden,  and a few other people changed so much about the world we lived in that day. We are more fearful today. My nieces and nephews have to grow up in a post 9/11 America. I come as close to feeling hatred as I am capable of toward bin Laden for changing their lives. The ramifications of September 11, 2001, political, emotional, physical, fiscal, and intellectual, are endless. We are a more divided nation than we were on September 10, 2001.

I don’t remember much about September 10, 2001 or May 30, 2011, but I can tell you that we were different on those days than either of the days that followed. It’s as if our brains sacrificed the memory of the day before to hold on to every detail of the one filled with horror or relief.

On October 7, 2001 I turned 18- years old.  It was a memorable day for me. I got my first tattoo; I had lunch with a friend; I went to dinner with my  boyfriend at the time at my dad’s restaurant, and the United States declared war on Afghanistan.  I recall thinking then that I would never forget my eighteenth birthday because that was the day the lives of everyone my age who had military aspirations, would change.  Sadly, it turned out to change for those even younger, too.

One of my Los Angeles friends shocked all of us when he enlisted in the Army a couple of years ago.  Just two days ago I was sitting at the local coffee shop where my friends and I all hang out.  I was editing video at the time and lost in headphone land, when I was tapped on the shoulder by a friend who pointed outside.  When I saw who he was pointing at, I jumped up and ran outside so fast I almost knocked over a table.  My friend, Pfc Christian Sanchez ,newly home from Afghanistan, was standing on the sidewalk.

The sun rising over Times Square. Photo by Austen Risolvato

I was grateful to see my friend standing in front of me — alive.  It was a type of gratitude that I don’t know that I can accurately describe, but I believe my gratitude is one of the ramifications of the aforementioned days.  There were so many more days that followed these milestone dates, so many stories that don’t have caffeinated happy endings, so many that make us sad and sick and tired.  I think we started to see some hope on the horizon on May 1, 2011, but people are still going to war, including kids who are the age I was on the day the war began.  I can only hope that my friend, and others simply get to stay home this time.

My mother took me to New York for my tenth birthday. It was my first visit to the city. It was a dream come true. I saw all the sites, including the Twin Towers. I remember my little brain trying to wrap around their magnitude. My nieces and nephews will never know that feeling. They’ll never know that New York City. The city has changed forever, but at least now, they can breathe again.

Editor's Note: This story also posted at
Austen Risolvato

Austen Risolvato

Austen Risolvato is a Los Angeles based, Atlanta born Photographer, specializing in music and celebrity photography. Her free time is spent watching the Los Angeles Lakers, at Disneyland, at her favorite local LA coffee shop, or hanging out with her amazing collection of friends.

  1. This is a powerful and thought provoking piece. Thank you for expressing what so many feel.

  2. thanks for providing such a unique and lovely perspective.

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