This will probably not be very interesting, but I needed to type it out for catharsis. An unpleasant and unrelated thing to return me to blogging, which I’m sure I’ll abandon again. This is jumbled and unedited and just my thoughts.
Today I’ve learned the stories of what dozens of my friends were doing on September 11, 2001. It occurred to me that I now know all these tales, and that I don’t know what my husband was doing that day. I didn’t know him then, and I’ve never asked him. But even people I did know… I have no idea what my sister was doing that day. Or my parents. I remember wanting to make sure they knew I was safe, away at college in Atlanta. Of course I was safe, but it seems like that day everyone wasn’t sure if anyone was really safe any longer.
A truth that I’ve come to is that experiences on September 11 were all so very personal, and we all put so much of ourselves into the way that we processed it. And yet we experienced them together. We all remember exactly what we were doing, and while it was a national experience akin to the Kennedy assassination (I very distinctly remember thinking that on the day: this will be our “Where were you when?” moment), it’s still hard for me to even fathom how people in Washington, or Maine, or Illinois experienced it. It feels like such a personal experience; and yet it was one that we all had together.
Everyone’s story seems to involve the fear that they would be next, regardless of where they lived at the time. For me, living at a college just a few miles from the Centers for Disease Control made me keep thinking about biological warfare. The many planned places of attack made us all start coming up with the place near us that could be next.
I hate that everyone’s memories are so banal, because we all had to live through it. No one’s story is interesting in and of itself, because we all were experiencing it together, whether we were on a couch in our living room or in a dorm room or a classroom. It all jumbles together when it’s a shared memory. Some of my friends or coworkers were so young when it happened that it probably feels to them the way that the Oklahoma City bombing felt to me – abstract, crazy, weird, hard to get your head around. Not that I was able to get my head around September 11 as a nominal adult.
My roommate and I had just gotten to the student center to get breakfast when we saw that a plane had hit. By the time we got our food, the second one had hit and it was clear something was up. We didn’t see it happen. I went to class as usual; I’m sure some classes were immediately cancelled but no one in my English class seemed to really figure out what was going on. By the time I went to my next class, the Pentagon had been hit. More importantly, the towers were gone. I remember it so distinctly, someone telling me, “Theyr’e gone,” and me just not getting it. What did she mean, they were gone? How did I manage to be talking about Jane Austen or whatever the hell I was talking about in my class while these buildings ceased to exist?
I didn’t cry until the church memorial service that I went to a few days later. But once I started, I couldn’t stop. I cried on the person nearest to me in the pew, someone I had a conflicted relationship with but who let me bawl on him for at least twenty minutes.
It took a really long time for it to sink in. Because I didn’t see any of it happening, because I wasn’t watching the news when any of the planes hit, or the towers fell, or when life as we knew it changed, it didn’t feel real. After that second class, I went to my dorm room and turned on the TV. I didn’t stop watching for almost 24 hours. I didn’t sleep much that night, if at all. I couldn’t miss anything again. My supervisor at my campus job finally made me stop. She made me go back to my dorm room and required me to go to bed and to stop watching.
Now, ten years later, I can’t watch. Every time I’ve watched a documentary about it on TV, or read a book about it (“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” made me want to throw up), I get that panicky feeling in my chest and put myself there that day. I have dreams where I’m in the towers. I have dreams where I know what’s going to happen and I keep trying to tell everyone to run but I don’t have enough time. I can’t watch anymore because I can’t relieve that again.
Ten years. It feels longer, and yet it’s forever present. I think about all the things that have happened to me since that day. And I think about all those people who didn’t get to experience those ten years.