Whenever I think of that morning — Sept. 11, 2001 — I feel I'm reliving a terrible nightmare. Most Americans probably feel that way when they remember the images they saw on television. But I watched it all from my balcony! My nightmare was as real as they get.
From my New Jersey apartment, whose greatest asset still is my view of New York City, I saw the twin towers fall.
Although those images normally are not replayed on television — to avoid subjecting us all to additional pain — the images I saw from my balcony keep replaying in my mind whenever I think of Osama bin Laden and his criminally insane followers.
And when bin Laden's death was announced Sunday, I walked out on my balcony, took a long look toward the void left by the twin towers, and celebrated the void left by the man who caused the world so much pain.
Yes, I celebrated Osama bin Laden's death!
What's not to celebrate?
After more than nine years sending our troops across the world to hunt down our greatest enemy, who happened to be the personification of evil, some people now are questioning the spontaneous celebrations that erupted outside the White House, at New York's ground zero and in many other places where Americans felt the need to express their pride in what our Navy SEALs had accomplished.
Some have suggested that celebrating bin Laden's death was somehow unbecoming of the many young Americans who climbed lampposts, shouted from the treetops and jumped into lakes to express their pride, that we should not celebrate anyone's death — not even the demise of a monster like bin Laden. C'mon!
A whole generation of American children who were traumatized on Sept. 11, 2001, and have lived their formative years under the threat of terrorism — those are the young adults who are chanting "USA" even inside New York City subways.
They are releasing the frustration they have felt for almost 10 years, and the rest of us should celebrate their celebration.
When President Barack Obama announced bin Laden's death, he said he wished this accomplishment would help unite the American people the way we were united after Sept. 11.
"Let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11," Obama said Sunday. "I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people."
Well, we got what he asked for. Moments after his speech, crowds of young Americans of all races and political ideologies spontaneously joined forces to sing the national anthem, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and wave American flags.
The spirit of patriotism squandered by the Bush administration by taking us to Iraq instead of concentrating on al-Qaida is being recovered because we finally have struck back against real enemies who represent real threats.
This what made the view from my balcony a little more bearable Sunday. After all, it was there that I spent most of the morning of that Sept. 11.
For me, that day of terror began with a telephone call from one of my neighbors. "Look out toward Manhattan," she told me. "Is that smoke I see coming out of one of the twin towers?"
That's the first of that sequence of images I can't forget.
I was getting ready to head to midtown Manhattan, where I was due to host "Sin Censura" ("Uncensored"), my former Spanish-language talk radio show, but first I had to call The Record, the newspaper for which I wrote a column.
"We have people on their way there," I was told by the assignment desk. "But it looks like a small plane accidentally crashed into one of the towers."
I was told the newspaper had it covered, and I was free to go on to my radio show. Nevertheless, by the time I got to the Lincoln Tunnel, police had shut down all entries into New York City. I had no choice but to run back home to do my radio show via telephone.
I spent the rest of that morning broadcasting live on the radio as I saw the towers fall. When the second plane struck, I was among the first to announce on the air that "this can no longer be considered an accident. Our country is under attack."
You see, for me, as is the case for most New York journalists, the attacks of Sept. 11 are very personal. Even if we were lucky enough not to have lost a close friend or relative at the World Trade Center, we spent the following days and weeks interviewing twin tower survivors and the relatives of those who perished.
It was hard not to be overwhelmed by their sorrow, especially those who wandered around carrying large photos of their missing loved ones, hoping that somehow they would be found alive.
Celebrating bin Laden's death will not bring them back. But it sure is a nice way of telling them that we have not forgotten them. I spoke to them from my balcony Sunday — all 2,752 who lost their lives in the twin towers and their vicinity — and I told them they can feel free at last because justice has been served, and they would be proud of the way their country remembered them and responded.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.