Asia Cottom and I were good friends in elementary school. I was bullied a lot, and she was one of the few who liked me and played with me. Back then you could choose whether you wanted to start 6th grade in middle school or “graduate” from elementary school by completing 6th grade there. I wanted to “graduate.” Asia wanted to start something new. I remember being sad when she told me that she was going away to middle school bc that meant one less friend I’d have in elementary school.
I remember being pulled out of class that morning for an emergency “assembly,” which was really all of us kids sitting in the auditorium waiting for…? No one would tell us. They just told us that we were going home early. I was happily confused. It would take a few hours for my mom to come pick me and my siblings up. My mom wouldn’t explain to me what was going on. In retrospect, I don’t think she COULD… I remember getting home and seeing the footage of the towers falling, and thinking how UNreal it all looked on TV.
When I heard that Asia was in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, I didn’t believe it. I COULDN’T. My rationale was that bc there was no footage like the Twin Towers, there HAD to be survivors at the Pentagon. So for WEEKS, I prayed that they’d find Asia. I prayed that they’d find my friend; she was only 11! Sadly, those prayers were not answered in the way that I had hoped…
Today marks 20 years since Asia’s murder. Like me, Asia would’ve been 31 this year. Sadly, I can only imagine what life would have been like if she were still alive: College? Kids? Would we have grown apart, or would she be like a sister to me by now? I’ll never know.
Life has indeed moved on: I’m not a little girl anymore. I certainly don’t get bullied anymore. I’ve done more things I’m proud of than things I regret. But it’s days like today that I wonder: is it for the better? I will never know the answer to that question, either.
All I can do today is say rest in peace, Asia Cottom. Thank you for the time we shared; thank you for teaching me how to love people, even when they don’t love you back. I hope to one day see your smiling face again.