I remember the horror more than the details, even though I saw it all played out in techni-color September 11, 2001.
At the time, we didn’t know it was terrorism. The first hit, maybe a tragic, terrible plane crash, an accident. The second, it started to feel like war. As the attacks continued, the sense of war intensified. What was going to be next?
It’s interesting in hindsight how the whole tragedy is wrapped up with a beginning and end, a definite narrative in between.
At the time, there was no end. The narrative was muddled, a thousand tangents the television couldn’t capture.
I tell the story, snippets of it to my stepson, he was only 1 at the time. He’s the post-911 generation.
I don’t think I could truly — or anyone can — convey to him the absolute confusion and horror my generation felt at the time. It’s just a story to him. It’s simply American history that’s not quite a holiday. I felt the same frustration trying to explain to him what it was like to see the Challenger explode.
Not everyone saw the 9/11 attacks in real-time like I did. I have no idea why I was up that early. I had no reason to be, I didn’t teach my freshman writing class that day, my graduate classes I took were at night. The normal thing to do was to sleep in.
I’m not sure why I had the television on. Back then people didn’t have the window to the world glued to our hands. I had to sit in a chair and squint my eyes at a box if I wanted to know what was going on.
I called my mother, a public school teacher at the time, and told her what was happening. She reminded me yesterday that I did. She said the school told all the teachers DO.NOT.TURN.ON.THE.TV. I guess they didn’t want another generation scarred by tragedy in real-time like mine was with a shuttle explosion.
I need to ask my sister where she was. I assume we talked that day, but I don’t remember. My dad died this year, so I can’t ask him. I have a vague memory of calling him and him watching it unfold as I did.
My husband, soon-to-be-met-boyfriend, was sleeping in. He didn’t see it at all until it was in re-runs. And really the recaps didn’t show every horror in detail, the networks sanitized much of it. There was no YouTube to capture the morning for everlasting rewind.
I was to meet my husband, before he was even my boyfriend, a couple of months later after 9/11. In hindsight, I wonder if that tragedy helped spark a romance. The atmosphere was electric with fear, a horrific kind of aphrodisiac, but certainly bonding. We had a frame of reference to unite us. Where were you when….
My husband (boyfriend at the time) and I travelled together fairly soon after 9/11 and the airports were military zones, fatigues and guns all around. At that point, we knew there was a an irreversible shift in American consciousness.
I still feel that fear every time I go to an airport, sit on a plane. My step-son will never know air travel as a relaxed, easy affair. He’ll never have his family sitting by his side past security, waiting for him to get on a plane, waving to him goodbye.
So, on this anniversary of 9/11 I think of these jumble of memories and thoughts.
How am I defined by this tragedy?
Not personally, immediately — no one I know was lost. I was more a witness to inhumanity by proxy, witnessing the end of an innocence via television.
But, I became part of the 9/11 generation that day. Perhaps more poignant than saying I’m a Gen Exer.
I can never forget, this day can’t come and go with a little flag waving.
(I wrote this in September 2019 and thought I’d share it with y’all).