Already preparing myself to sit and watch “102 Minutes that Changed the World” with my daughter, I’m aware that this is something she will never experience as I had experienced it. The profound loss I felt for all the people that died that day is more than words can describe even 14 years later. I, along with millions of others at that time, was a mess of emotions. I still can’t think about that day without tears welling up in my eyes, which I’ve come to accept as an involuntary reaction not to be suppressed.
My 9/11 story (we all have one)
At work, figuring out what I didn’t want to do that day, my wife called on the phone as she usually does so we could go get coffee (we worked in the same building). This time it wasn’t to head down. She almost screamed “A plane just flew into one of the Trade Center buildings in New York.” I thought it was a joke and laughed. I told her I would meet her at the steps, as usual, to go get the morning coffee. I focused on an email that just came in and then received a phone call. I never got to the steps as around 20 minutes later she called again, crying, and said “Another plane just flew into the second tower. I saw it, the fireball, what’s happening!?” This wasn’t a joke anymore.
I told her to meet me down in the conference room with the television as it had cable access. Surprised to be the first one in the room, I turned on the television to one of the news stations to see both towers on fire. I literally said out loud “What the fuck?” just before my wife walked in, still crying. I sat down and just watched. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t feel anything, didn’t talk. Others had come into the room and there was now a standing crowd in the back as all the seats had been filled. Some were crying but most were silent. We were all in a state of disbelief.
As the morning progressed, we learned about the Pentagon attack and the crash in Pennsylvania, however the majority of coverage was obviously on the towers in New York. We had friends in New York. Were they okay? Neither my wife or I could reach them as the island was practically isolated from anything related to technology. We could see people jumping from 100 stories. Clearly see people jumping. I thought to myself how bad is the situation up there that jumping out the window is actually the better choice. The room started to light up, people were now getting angry as more details about potential theories started to emerge, despite them being fantastical.
Then it happened. The south tower collapsed. We were watching ABCNews, I remember because Peter Jennings didn’t say anything. I’ve been watching him for years, since I was a pre-teen, and never NEVER had he ever been speechless. He cleared his throat, and said just “I have no words.” I was numb, couldn’t focus, the room was disturbingly silent to the point all I heard was my own breathing. I turned to my wife, tears rolling down her face, and took her hand. It was the only thing I could think of doing at that moment that felt familiar.
The news started talking again and it snapped my focus back to the television. The helicopters were pushed back to 5 miles so the Airforce jets could patrol over the city. Would they shoot a plane out of the sky over New York I thought? Did this have the potential of getting so bad that the President would authorize a plane, with American citizens, out of the sky over a populated city? Then they said it with certainty, it was a terrorist attack. The United States of America was attacked on their own soil. Anger welled up inside me.
I thought what couldn’t get any worse just as sure as hell got worse. The north tower collapsed. The news we were watching was trained on the spire at the top of the north tower, it was almost as if they knew it was going to collapse. My heart stopped when I saw the spire start to tilt and then disappear below the smoke. Seeing one tower fall was devastating, seeing both of them fall was too much. I lost control of my emotions and tears started flowing down my face. I couldn’t take the silence anymore. I got up and left the room. My wife followed. I told her we were leaving and to go get her things. I went upstairs, sent an email to my manager that I was leaving, logged off then packed up my things.
The drive home was surreal as neither of us said anything the whole ride. No one was speeding, no one was aggressive, no one did anything but pay attention to their driving. Everyone was as shocked as we were. I don’t remember the drive home other than noticing how calm everything had been. As my wife and I got home, I turned on the television and started my three day obsession with all things related to this tragedy before returning to what would be the new normal. America was no longer immune to this type of horrible violence.
“Never forget” became the single most important statement in recent American history. It summed up, in two words, the entire event as it unfolded. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I know with every fiber of my soul, I will never forget and always use September 11th to reflect and revisit the events and emotions of that day until I die.
I’ve tried several times to explain how I felt and still feel about that day, but my words always fail me. Words aren’t enough to describe the loss, the pain, the anger, the pure hatred I felt. All of those emotions have tempered over the years as I’ve learned to accept and express my thoughts. For those of us that didn’t experience this first hand, its hard. For the ones who did experience this day, all that is required is a single look and both “just know” how the other feels. Schools don’t routinely teach or talk about this day. Perhaps its too soon, who knows.
As we get one, two, three generations away from this tragedy, will we start to forget? Not if I have anything to do about it.