Archives for posts with tag: september 11

Disclaimer: Some of the times given in this article are factually incorrect. That is because it is a memory from ten years ago. Also because the information that was available and disseminated on that day was not always consistent or accurate. So before you begin to conflate normal human forgetfulness with disrespect for what happened, sorry if it ruffled your feathers. But not really.

That is where I was on September 11, 2001. I was 15 years old, and I just started my 10th grade year at the Seed School of Washington, DC. Terrorism was not a word I knew. I used it, generally in regards to my little brother and my father, but I didn’t really know this word. We were not on personal terms. I had seen the word in the cafeteria or in the hall on my way to class. Maybe even sometimes in DuPont Circle on Sunday right before I went into the Ginza shop to dreamily adore overpriced Japanese imports that I still can’t afford. We’d even had pretty good elbow rubs at Oriole’s games waiting to get through the ticket takers and go to our seats. But we had never been formally introduced. That changed.

One of the best men I know is John Ciccone. You can not argue with this guy. Verbally, sure. But you can not look at this man and think “Oh, this guy’s a douche. No thanks.” He is short, a little round, and all kinds of cool. He’s one of those guys that made me more convinced in high school that I should have been a boy so I could wear pinstripe suits, silk ties, and have an incredibly intelligent, tall and beautiful wife. So we were very perplexed when Mr. Ciccone walked into Mrs. Starnes’ English classroom about the same color as a well done egg white. What could possibly shake the unflappable Mr. Ciccone.

Among the ten minutes or so of a very pale and calmly speaking Mr. Ciccone, who probably was pushing up his shoulders to repeat the same thing to another class, it was mentioned that “At approximately 9am this morning, two planes crashed into the twin towers in New York City…Another plane hit the Pentagon…” What was said after or in between that becomes a wash. I don’t have a memory or a time line for that day. I have a general feeling of emptiness. Something was wiped out of me that day. I’m sure Mr. C mentioned that we should stay calm, that news was forthcoming. That our parents were notified and on their way to get us. Or maybe we were told to stay at school because it was safer. I can’t remember. And I would feel foolish asking. Because isn’t that something I was supposed to remember? What I had for breakfast, what I was doing, who I was talking to. I can tell you what i was wearing; my school uniform. What I wore everyday.

Eventually I saw footage of one side of the Pentagon knocked over like the side of a sand fortress. One minute, people are making photocopies, signing forms, going up and down stairs, waiting for elevators, talking on the phone, all this mundane shit. And then maybe you’re walking to another office, or the bathroom, or to get some more staples, or to see if there are donuts in the break room and then suddenly there is a noise you can’t quite place, but you know it’s getting closer and before you can turn to that lady next to you , or that guy you just passed, before you can hopefully comically ask the nearest possible person, “Hey? Do you hear that?” Nothingness. Then fire. Then smoke. Then ash. Then smoldering rubble.

To my knowledge there isn’t footage of the third plane hitting the Pentagon. We knew it was there but it wasn’t exactly a highlight of our cityscape. D.C. doesn’t have tall buildings, so any movie that shows you otherwise is fucking lying. There are no skyscrapers. I don’t even think there’s anything over thirty stories, if that. We are a low building city. We have the Washington monument, the Capitol Building, and the Old Post building if you need to look down on someone. So losing five stories of a five sided building hurt, goddamnit.

There was footage of the towers. The same thirty minutes stuck on repeat. All of our heads became VCRs that day as it was rewound, slowed down, sped up, and replayed. Over and over and over. But I didn’t actually see it. Someone put a tape in my head. I was downloaded with it. But there were people who saw it with their eyes. People who know these images without glass screens or wire or audio. People who felt the whine, the rumble, and the reverberating boom of thousands and thousands of lives falling apart somewhere between their lungs and their hearts. Where I have emptiness in my memory, what do they have? For the people who evacuated in time. For the people who were just about to walk down that hall in the Pentagon but had to go back for a paper, or wanted to use a bathroom before that meeting. What is in your eyes when you close them that will never be on TV?

The worst worst thing about this…For me, the worst worst thing about this was the footage of those who were trapped. Those we could not reach. Those who suffocated and went blind before they were taken. Because for every person who jumped there were a few who couldn’t move, couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t call for help. The cameras are trained on the slender windows, and we are watching people forced to suicide. In the background are the low yet bright voices left on answering machines professing love. But what we can not see, what we can not hear right before the towers fall, before they implode into a wound in our brains, before we are all branded with this, are the people trapped inside. The ones we cannot see is the worst worst thing.

But the best thing. The best thing is coming. It’s not fucking Bush sitting with his thumb up his ass. It’s not the record media airtime and coverage. It’s United 93 telling evil men that they will not prevail this day if it takes every life on that plane. The best thing is us. It’s what we are capable of doing in the face of murder and trauma. It’s firemen and police officers pouring in from all over the country. It’s donations and volunteers. It’s the United States’ flag everywhere. EVERYWHERE. It’s erecting a flag on the rubble. A big red, white, and blue band-aid that said we are digging in our heels and we are pulling through this and leaving no one behind. That we are doing whatever it takes.

Sometimes I really hate this country, or at least vast parts of it. Certain groups of people. Certain religious beliefs. Certain cultural practices. I have a seething hatred for them. I will mock them. I will openly disrespect them. And when the appropriate opportunity presents itself, I will use logic to educate them and rub their faces in their own shit if they decide to be willfully ignorant of facts. But bringing physical harm and violence against these people is not a thing I will do. Not even a thing I consider when I am at my most enraged with their inability to treat people like people. Their inability to see truth instead of the mind numbing fiction they spin for themselves. I am not a soldier, nor do I think I am capable of being one. But I have one weapon in my arsenal that is stronger than my hatred, stronger than their hatred. And that is my belief that no matter who I am, and no matter who anyone else is, that we protect our own. If you were born in one of these fifty states. If you have sworn to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. If you take seriously “E Pluribus Unum”, “We the People”, and “Give me liberty or give me death”. If you believe in all that corny, cheezy, home of the brave and land of the free crap as much as I do, then we raise flags, we turn our faces into the wind, and we choke on the ash together.


By Jade

It was my second day of work.  I was trying to find my footing at a new job on the 24th floor of a Madison Avenue highrise, when out of nowhere everything started to shake.  My CEO came out of his office and insisted everyone evacuate, but also insisted that no one take the elevator.  So there we went, down 24 flights of stairs.  No one wanted to say it.  But everyone was thinking it.  This was New York City, after all.

Safely on the ground, we made enough phone calls and Google News searches to figure out that we’d just experienced the aftershock of a 5.8 earthquake; epicenter, Virginia.  A Southern California native, and thus no stranger to earthquakes, that should have been my first inclination when things started to shake.  But again, this was New York City–not California. 

One morning. Four planes. Two towers. Two hours. Three thousand lives.  Two numbers, burned into infamy.

Nine.  Eleven.

Ten years pass.  What we’re left with is something of a dusty halo, a fraught valence.  We are a “post-9/11” world, grappling with what that’s supposed to mean and how we’re supposed to feel.  We remember, have promised never to forget, how we felt that day.  And if memory failed, even for a moment, Osama bin Laden’s recent assassination sent waves of sensation over us, made sure we never could.

One of the unintended but inevitable consequences of a moment like the September 11th attacks is the deluge of story generation.  No matter where you were when the planes hit and the news hit, you’ve produced a narrative around the experience, one you’ve repeated in times of sober reflection.  A month after the attacks.  Six months.  Six years.  Today.

I watched the towers fall from the tiny TV on our kitchen counter, in the house where all my other important memories to date had been formed.  I was two weeks into high school, and we were on a condensed Tuesday schedule, with classes starting around 10am Pacific.

I stumbled from bed to the kitchen, with still sleep-set eyes, to find my mom sitting at the kitchen table.  Dazed.

“Jade, I think something really bad just happened.”

At school, the student government classroom that had been abuzz with talk of pep rallies and school dances only a day before became a locus for our tears.  None of us really knew what had happened, or what might happen in the future.  We just knew we were vulnerable.  And people were dying.  Our people.  On our soil.  In a city as American as apple pie and jazz.

If you had said to me that morning, “Jade, in ten years, you’re going to call that city home…you’re going to spend the weekend going for cocktails and shopping on 5th Avenue for your company’s star-studded product launch party,” I would have commended you for the vividness of your imagination and the depth of your faith in me, but I also would have thought you slightly delusional.  I didn’t know then that I’d feel more a part of the New York City community than the one where I was born and raised.

But here I am.  Spending 9/11 getting a pedicure and running errands as if it were any other Sunday.  And in a way, and with abundant respect to everyone who was directly or indirectly affected by the events of that day or its bellicose aftermath, I feel like treating this as any other Sunday is the best message we can send.

It’s a given that we’ll never forget.  And it’s a given that the memory will continue to inform our instincts and reactions to shaky situations.  But if we’re to have genuinely gained anything from the grave deeds of a decade past, it should be an awareness.  An awareness that we are vulnerable, but also that we are strong.  An awareness that the things that give us pause are also the things that propel us forward.  An awareness that even though everyday life looks vastly different for each of us decade-over-decade, the point is that we are living life in the context of our new normal every single day.

Ten years.  Three thousand miles.  One life.  One day at a time.  Always remember.  Remember to live.

By Brittney

On September 11, 2001, as would be the case with about 85% of the following decade’s major events, I was asleep. When the first tower was hit, I was a thirteen-year-old high school freshman in Aurora, IL, drooling on my desk in my darkened second-period World History class while my erstwhile teacher, Ms. Ferkenhoff, dutifully read her overhead projector notes, slurped her Diet Coke, and attempted (unsuccessfully) to scratch herself discreetly. I’d just gotten out of gym class at an ungodly early hour, our class’ swim unit well underway, and I was exhausted from doing laps.

When class ended and I wiped the drool from my face, preparing to go to my next class, the hallways were eerily silent. I entered my choir class and it was Mr. Degroot who told us that something terrible had happened. He explained that someone had bombed a building in New York City. He turned on the TV as the second airplane crashed. I remember that there was a girl whose father was in NYC for a business trip. She began sobbing hysterically, convinced that her father had died. The girls nearest her comforted her and urged her to call home. (I never found out if her father was okay or not.) The rest of us began quickly mentally running through our list of acquaintances and family friends, anxious to make sure that everyone was accounted for.

By the time third period had ended, everyone in the school knew what had happened. The hallways were abuzz with rumors and hearsay about what was going on. There were rumors that there were planes headed for LA and DC (we would later find out about the crashed plane at the Pentagon). Rumors that we were under attack, in a war, that Chicago was next on the list. Just all kinds of reckless rumors come up with partially by shell-shocked sensationalist journalists…and also by really stupid teenagers (No one could tell the difference in the chaos).

I honestly don’t remember much else about the day. The teachers were just as shocked as we were and no lessons were taught. We simply went from classroom to classroom on our schedule, to watch more news coverage. I remember watching people jumping from the towers to substitute a fiery death for one much more final.  We saw the blood-stained cement and couldn’t comprehend what could produce that much blood – until we realized that’s what probably happens when you jump from over 100 stories high. I remember seeing the footage of people struggling through the ashes of downtown New York. I remember feeling perpetually nauseous, light-headed and wishing that I could cry so that some of these feelings, many of which I couldn’t even begin to name, would go away.

One thing that I remember though, is a conversation I’d had with some of my classmates in 2000. We were in our classroom across the street from what would be our high school, ruminating on the possibility of a nuclear war. Our logic was this: We lived in a suburb of Chicago that was, at best, about 40 miles from the center of the city, which, we reasoned, was far enough away that we would have mild radiation poisoning but ultimately live. Though Chicago is a major city, our main export is local government corruption, therefore making it much less likely to be a target. We would be safe.

On September 11th, even knowing this information, facing the fact that our country, the United States of America, which hadn’t been attacked in almost 60 years, was vulnerable to acts of terrorism that would take thousands upon thousands of lives, made us wonder: Would we be next?

9/11 didn’t really hit home for me until 2003. We had just moved from our cramped apartment in Aurora to a cozy house in Plainfield, IL and I unwillingly transferred schools in the middle of the second semester of my sophomore year. My father, caught up in a whirlwind of financial straits and civic-minded duty, rejoined the Army and was deployed with his Reserves unit to report for duty in Georgia as a training post on their way to Iraq. For reasons that are as hilarious as they are sad (that both my father and Homeland Security would probably kill me for sharing), their mission was scrubbed six months after my dad left and he returned home, never having left American soil.

Saying that I was “one of the lucky ones” implies that I was ever in any danger, which is completely untrue, but on September 11th, underneath all the confusion and the anger and the fear and the sadness, I felt lucky. Lucky that I didn’t live in a major city. Lucky that I had never been collateral damage in the wrath of faceless, terrifying terrorists. Lucky that I was able to go home and all of my family was present and accounted for.

Lucky that when all was said and done, I could go to sleep at night. Or in World History class.

Lucky that I would wake up.