My 9/11 story.
We all have one. We’ve each been affected to varying degrees, but it has affected all of us. We remember the moment we joined in the national *gasp* of living through our own Hollywood-movie-turned-nightmare.
And I think it’s important for each of us to tell our own story, without comparison to others. Each story forms the community fabric of history.
I’m not a morning person. I never watch morning TV. Had I been at home that day, I may not have learned about what happened until it was mostly all over, sometime mid-afternoon when I finally turned the tv on. No one would have called me. My parents are equally turned off to morning television, although my mom may have possibly been listening to NPR that day and would have heard the news. But both my parents, and my brother as well, may have assumed I already knew about it. I’ve always been the one in the family to be “on top of” current trends and events. Besides, my family sees things through a slightly different filter. They wouldn’t have been so much “afraid” as detached. They keep to their own little community. The world is outside of them, and by not participating in much of it, it doesn’t affect them like it affects others.
But this morning, ten years ago, I was in a room at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, staying for a trade show. I shared the room with a friend who kept the tv on, constantly. So, that morning, I woke up to the sound of the CBS Early Show, as I had each morning since arriving.
One of the main reasons I don’t watch much tv is because I can’t tune it out very well. When I hear sound, I have to pay attention. So tv is mostly a distraction that keeps me from getting anything else done, which is why I have to limit it.
This morning, ten years ago, I woke to the sound of The Early Show, and as I woke I started to pay attention. I don’t remember whether they had been interviewing someone, or had just featured a recipe of some sort, or what. All I know is that I was awake and alert, paying attention to the tv, when the program was broken by a Breaking News alert.
A plane had hit the tower in New York.
We all know the story from there. But what’s important for me was that I was there for the initial confusion, the belief that it had been a small plane that may have somehow lost its way, perhaps a single pilot on board a plane that had hit an office that had hopefully been mostly empty. I heard the interviews with people who had seen it happen, who thought the same thing. I was listening as a caller was interviewed and, as she spoke, saw the second plane attack. I was there to see the live helicopter footage of the second plane flying into the second building. I experienced the whole gamut of emotions.
Shock and disbelief and fear set in. My roommate and I took turns shouting news updates to each other as we continued getting ready for the trade show. After the plane hit the Pentagon, it became clear to me that the trade show meant nothing to me anymore. Humans love to discern patterns and I am a human. It seemed targets around the country were going to go down one by one, and being in the shadow of the Sears Tower I felt myself in eminent danger as well. My roommate continued getting ready as I looked out the hotel window at the lake, contemplating whether jumping into it when they hit Chicago would save me from the flames, smoke and debris.
We couldn’t just stay in our rooms, isolated. So once we were ready, the entire company converged downstairs in varying states of mind. One of the partners had lost his head, was convinced that the terrorists were going to target the Drake Hotel, ran around in a panic, shrieked mindlessly. The other partner settled back and sternly chided that America deserved this, it was to be expected, and we should ignore the tv and go back home and forget about it. Others discussed it, tried to make sense of it, worried aloud. I just wanted to get home to my son.
Stuff happened, the day unfolded, attacks seemed to stop and the panic gave way to conversation, people trying to understand what had just happened. My roommate and the salesman went on to the trade show to conduct business as usual. I felt on edge the rest of the day, waiting for “the next thing” to happen. But everything seemed to have calmed down a bit, so I did too. I called my son and decided he was OK. He was ten years old, staying with family. He was in good hands. I made it home a few days later.
I can’t remember when I stopped feeling like each time I’d turn the tv on, I’d see some new “Breaking News” with a new attack somewhere. It was years, if I’ve even completely lost the feeling at all.
And I think that’s why the event means so much to each one of us. Yes, lots of people were killed in the attack, but lots of people have been killed before and since.
This event took our innocence.