Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Remembering

I didn't post yesterday but I was just reading one of my favorite author's blogs and she was recounting her 9/11 experience. It's weird how I still get that catch in my throat reading or hearing about that day. I mean, I don't live anywhere near NYC, or the Pentagon, or that field in Pennsylvania. I didn't know anybody who died, or even really anybody who is related to anybody who died. But I almost got a little teary-eyed listening to a one-minute radio tribute yesterday.

I woke up just after 9 a.m. on 9/11/2001. I was 18 and it was my first semester in college. I never turned on the TV that morning because I didn't want to wake my roommate, who didn't have class until later. As I was flying out the door of our dorm, I saw a couple of people standing, watching the little TV in the lounge area by the front door of the dorm, but that wasn't unusual. I remember thinking it looked like there had been a plane crash or something on TV, which of course would have been sad in itself, but not momentous enough for me to miss my 9:30 Writing Seminar with Dr. Solomon, my most difficult professor. I got to class but Dr. Solomon wasn't there yet. Everyone was talking quietly, excitedly, even. A few people, myself included, were asking 'what's going on?' and the two or three people who had seen the news were telling us something about a plane, and the World Trade Center.

Our professor walked in, looked at us, and said, "You'd better go home. You need to be there to watch history in the making," or something to that effect. He didn't mean it in a callous way--he was dead serious and we all jumped up and ran out of class. I got back to my dorm and called my parents. Mom told me that Dad, who works for the government, had been supposed to get on a plane around 10 a.m. for D.C. Fortunately, of course, all flights were grounded before then, but I had to call him anyway just to hear him reassure me he was fine. I woke up my roommate, turned on the TV. That whole rest of the day was one long blur of a group of us gathered around the TV in my RA's room, watching the news all day long.

We thought the footage of the streets of NYC looked like the movie Independence Day. I remember thinking that we'd seen so many disaster movies like that, that it didn't seem real to watch it on the news--like it was somehow a really good piece of computer graphic work, even as I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that those little dots falling from the towers were actual people, individual lives. It still bothers me to think about those people.

I guess the real shock and realization came later. I don't think anybody that day, except maybe the ones who actually experienced it, recognized the true magnitude of what had happened. My university didn't even cancel classes that day--I had to pry myself away from the TV to go to biology class that afternoon. The next day I stood in a long line to give blood, and went to a campus-wide candlelight vigil that night. I've still got my little piece of candle, and the red band they used to wrap my arm after I gave blood. Those are my small pieces of history.

I mark that autumn as the end of childhood for me. Maybe it would have been anyway, since I was a new college student, on my own for the first time and all of that. But it was also the beginning of uncertain times. I'm not sure anymore of America's place in the world, or even of our absolute safety. That's not to say I live in constant fear. Most days I don't even think about it. But it is there, in the back of my mind. Some days it's harder to ignore than others.

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