Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11, 2001

Even though last year was the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, the main thing on my mind last year was how the anniversary would affect security in New York. In Penn Station, all week the cops were out in full force with their bomb-sniffing dogs. There was reason to worry. The previous year there were two bomb scares in New York that I was aware of: one false alarm in January, and one real incident in May. I was glad to get out of town for the 10-year anniversary weekend to drive to my friend's wedding in Maine, and though her guests were less thrilled to fly back on 9/11/11, the weekend was pleasant and uneventful.

Part of the reason I keep this blog is so that Kevin, James, and I can look back one day and see what was going on when he was little. One of the things that Kevin and I have discussed before is that James was born nearly 10 years after September 11th, so it will seem purely historical to him. To put this in perspective, ten years before I was born, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins left the Earth in Apollo 11 for the first landing on the Moon.

So here's what I remember. I was in DC at my first job after graduating college that year. My boss wasn't at work yet, and I was logged into AOL Instant Messenger while I checked my work email when I received IMs from my friend in Indiana and my friend in Japan to tell me that  a plane had crashed into the World Trade Towers. This had happened at 8:46 a.m., but I was hearing about it closer to 9 a.m., because shortly thereafter both of my friends wrote to tell me that a second plane had hit the towers.  I went on to the internet to look for news, but the New York Times had one paragraph with no additional information. I refreshed the browser periodically, but there was still no information.

At just after 9:37 a.m. my mother, who was working in New York and watching the news with her coworkers, called my work phone to tell me that the Pentagon "had been hit," and that I should leave DC. I called my boss to tell her I was closing the office and that she should go pick up her daughter from school, and to check the news. I then tried to call my roommate Janice who was working near the Pentagon. She didn't answer the phone because she had already been evacuated from her building. I didn't want to go home, because to get to my apartment in Virginia, I had to take the metro towards the Pentagon, and it seemed important to head away from it. I tried to call a friend in Maryland, but the phone lines were already dead because everyone was trying to call someone. So I locked the office and headed to Maryland without a cell phone or a plan.

As I headed towards the metro, I saw people going in the opposite direction towards work, and I wanted to tell them,"No, turn around!" but I was muted by the insanity of the situation. Nothing like this had happened before, so they were going to ignore me and go to work anyway. I didn't even really know what was going on. I sat on the metro for a long ride and I wondered whether my parents, who were both in New York, would be safe since getting off Manhattan in an emergency can be really difficult. The metro was silent, but as we stopped at each stop the people getting on the metro were more and more alarmed. Someone got on and announced to everyone that one of the towers had collapsed. Someone else dismissed it as "impossible," and said it must just have been a rumor.  People started talking to each other and the stunned chatter ebbed and flowed until someone else wondered whether it was a terrorist attack or an act of war by China and we all got quiet.

I know that I remember events from that day incompletely or incorrectly, because somehow my friend was there to pick me up in Maryland, if not right when I arrived, then shortly thereafter. We sat on the floor around the television with other people for the better part of the day staring at the news blankly. I think, but I again I might be wrong, that the more graphic images we see of the victims jumping out weren't shown on television that day. If they were, I blocked them out. I waited for the phones to work again, and for my parents to get home, so that I could hear that they were okay.

When I went home the next day, you could still see black clouds rising from the Pentagon. No one in DC went to work that Wednesday. The military took control of the entire city for at least a week.

2001 09 13 Post-Sept 11 in DC 296
A photo I took of Downtown DC sometime on 9/13/01 or after

2001 09 13 Post-Sept 11 in DC 297
A photo I took of Downtown DC sometime on 9/13/01 or after

I didn't go to New York until I went home for Christmas. I went to see "Ground Zero" where the towers had been. There was still black dust in the air and I took photos on my film camera.

2001 12 26 NYC WTC Area 394
Ground Zero in New York City, December 2001

2001 12 26 NYC WTC Area 395
Ground Zero in New York City, December 2001

2001 12 26 NYC WTC Area 396
Ground Zero in New York City, December 2001

One thing struck me today as I listened to the names of the victims read at the Memorial today. In 2001, though I recognized the horror of the attacks, I didn't view the individual pain of the families of the victims the way I do now. I had never lost someone I loved as deeply as these families loved their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, spouses, sons, and daughters. I still can never understand their pain because all great loss is unique to the individual and I could never understand how the horrific circumstances of this event impacted their pain. It's only in the last couple of years that I realize how much I didn't and don't understand.

For posterity, where were you on 9/11? What do you remember?

1 comment:

kclou said...

I was teaching my second class as a graduate student at the University of Iowa. I was 21. My students were 19. I read them a Tennyson poem and then dismissed the class. One student stayed after class to talk to me. Iowa felt very far from everything that was happening, but I walked home all the same out of some uneasiness with all forms of transportation. On the bus ride to class, when I first heard the news over the radio, the bus driver changed the station, probably obliviously, although it seemed strange then and continues to see seem strange now.

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