Friday, September 11, 2009

Where I was

In honor of 9/11 I'm reposting my "where were you" story, originally posted on this blog in 2007, and updated today just a bit:

I still get a catch in my throat reading or hearing about that day. I don't live anywhere near NYC, or the Pentagon, or that field in Pennsylvania. I don't know anybody who died, or even anybody 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. CST 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 flew 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, kept 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.

Dr. Solomon walked in, looked at us, and said, "You'd better go home. You need to be there to watch history in the making."

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 and often travels to the Pentagon, was 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 as a group of us gathered around the TV in my RA's room, watching the news all day long. It's weird now to remember how the horror of it all still hadn't sunk in. I had to tear myself away from the TV to go to biology that afternoon because class wasn't canceled, and the professor taught almost the whole hour. I'm embarassed now that my sorority even held the pledge swap we'd scheduled for that evening, though the reasoning at the time was that cancelling events that brought us together meant the terrorists had won.

That whole day, as we sat glued to the TV, we kept saying how much the footage of the streets of NYC looked like the movie Independence Day. I remember thinking we'd seen so many disaster movies like that, it didn't seem real to watch it on the news--like CNN had somehow come across a really good piece of CGI animation. It was hard 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 them sometimes.

I guess the true shock and realization came later. The next day it seemed more real. 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. 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 more present than others.

Here, some moving photos of 9/11 and its memorials.

I'd like to hear: where were you?


Natalia Maldonado said...

I was a senior in high school, and that Tuesday morning I was in history class. We'd been talking about war, and at one point the discussion turned to what, in that day and age, could cause us to go to war once again. Afterward the teacher asked, "why is this important?" and I remember raising my hand and saying that we have to learn so that history doesn't repeat itself.

That class ended at 9:30, and we always turned on the TV for morning announcements a few minutes before, and that day it was on the wrong channel, so the second we turned it on, there was the image of the first tower, and we were all silent, and finally one of my classmates said "Oh my God," in such a long, drawn-out way, the kind that carried real awe in the words (I can still hear it to this day). In my innocence I still thought it was a freak accident at this point.

When the bell rang there was a quiet sort of chaos in the hallways. I ran into a friend who'd just turned 18, and he was afraid we'd go to war. I went to my photography class, where the TV was on, and I went into the darkroom to take out some prints I'd left drying the day before. By the time I came out the second tower had been hit, and they were playing images of people jumping from them, and at that point we all knew this was the rare kind of day that stops everything you had planned and changes everything after.

I remember driving home from school feeling like I'd been living in a bubble my whole life, never realizing that this kind of hatred existed, or that it existed so close to us. It was as if I was only aware of that bubble once it popped.

Things that mattered before didn't matter after that day. I remember that afternoon we were supposed to have a volleyball game against one of our biggest rivals, one that we'd been prepping for all season. It was canceled, and no one cared. We were more concerned with donating blood and collecting food and donations for victims' families.

I remember thinking that I could finally understand why my parents can recall so vividly where they were when JFK was assassinated. That day time to slowed down, everything stopped, and history changed direction.

Thanks for sharing your story and for letting us share ours. I think that no matter where everyone was that day, we're all united by the fact that we don't ever want to forget, we owe that much at least to those 2993 people. Sharing is one way we can at least say: I remember.

Iapetus999 said...

When my clock radio went off at 7:47 PDT, it was set on NPR. The first words I heard were "thousands dead" and I literally ran to the TV.
The first tower had just fallen, and I watched live as the second came down.
A little while later I called my mom and she was walking the dog. She hadn't heard. I screamed something like, "They blew up the World Trade Center!"

Vivienne said...

I can remember being at home with my twin girls who were heading for their first birthday. I was talking to my friend on the telephone and told me to quickly put the television on. We are in England and the whole country stopped and stood still with America. My husband was working in London at the time and everyone was convinced that London would be the next target. Fortunately that did not occur then.

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Rickelle said...

Oh I think I was in your English class. Was it Great Books? I'm jealous of the details you remember like professors' names. I remember watching the footage in Gina's room now that you mention it, but I had completely forgotten it. My first memory is crazy suite mate Laura banging on my door saying there had been a bomb. Living on our own for the first time was a scary place to be that day.

Candy O'Donnell said...

Thanks for this!