Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11

These are my memories of September 11th, 2001.

We are not morning people. So when the phone rang early that morning at our Lake Tahoe house, it woke us up. Ernst got it, and I heard him say, "Wow...really...hmm...OK...we'll go look." It was my sister from Connecticut telling us a plane had hit the Twin Towers. We imagined a little dinky plane such as a Cessna, so we stayed there awhile, trying to wake up. Ernst said he'd better go look to see what all the fuss was about, and then I heard for the first time that day "Oh My God!" By that time the second plane had hit and we watched together the replay over and over of the unfolding catastrophe.

I am the queen of asking unanswerable questions, and I asked many as we watched the news coverage. Can the people make it to the top to be rescued by helicopters? How can a plane just disappear into a building like that? Will the building survive? How come...? Why can't they just...What will happen if...? It was hard for me to comprehend the loss of life at that point, and for some reason I just kept focusing on the buildings themselves. To all my questions, my husband just kept saying he didn't know, he didn't know.

Then we watched in horror, as did everyone else, as the first one collapsed and then the second one. It was inconceivable to me that those fixtures in the skyline of my favorite city could just implode. It was then of course that the loss of life became the focus - the news media was coming up with all sorts of totals. I was worried about my brother and his wife living right across the East River; what if they start bombing, what if they send more planes? Who are "They?"  Then the news of the Pentagon plane and the crash in Pennsylvania came out and all my fears were intensified.
We talked to more friends and family that day on the phone than any other day in our lives. I spoke with all my siblings several times, my mom, who had recently moved back East, and many friends from Davis who were calling to ask about my brother. Eventually I had to tear myself away from the TV and go to work. My boss actually expected me to show up the day the world seemed to be coming to an end.

As I expected, my co-worker Jody and I didn't get any work done. How could we? There was no Internet or TV access then at my job, so we were just depending on the local radio station to keep us informed. Every so often my boss's wife would drop in and tell us some of the latest developments, which were scary and mostly all untrue. There were rumors that a fifth plane was heading for San Fransisco but had been shot down by the military, killing all the passengers. All this just made it worse since we hadn't even digested the reality yet, let alone the untruths.

I tried to get some drafting done, but all the clients were coming in to talk about it, each with some crazy new item of news. My work station looked out onto a drab little parking lot there in South Lake Tahoe, a small town filled with nature lovers and ski bums. To my surprise, up drove an open air Jeep with two young men in it. They had afixed two giant American flags to the Jeep, along with smaller flags. They drove in the parking lot and start doing doughnuts on the pavement. They were making those rebel yell cries, like something out of Gone With the Wind when the Tarleton Boys were excited to go fight the North. I got shivers up my spine, This was beyond patriotism, it was scary to see the fervor in their eyes, as if they were just looking for a confrontation.. A few days later, a woman came to all the businesses on Highway 50, demanding to know why some establishments were not displaying the flag and saying that those places would be boycotted by the town if they continued to not comply. What happened to our mellow little Tahoe?

I got home that night and like everyone, planted myself in front of the news to watch the footage over and over and over. After several hours, I just had to stop. I remembered how the defense lawyers in the Rodney King trial had desensitized the jury by showing the beating tape over and over and over until they were no longer shocked by it. I didn't want that to happen. It also bothered me from the beginning that people were calling it 9/11 and not September 11th. It was strange, but I thought by using the term that used six syllables rather than shortening it to four was the least we could do to show respect for those that had perished. I now call it the shorter name too, but back then the term 9/11 seemed a bit too catchy.

Late that night, after many more phone calls to friends and family, I went to check my email. I only had my account for a while then and was still much more phone based. All that day I had been in shock and had not cried. I felt so heartless, how could I not cry when all those people died? I switched on AOL and saw this little cartoon and burst into tears. All the interviews, all the images of grief stricken people searching for loved ones and it was this simple drawing that got me.

The next day, still reeling, I had to drive down to Sacramento for a doctor's appointment. I finally got some rational news from the car radio tuned to NPR. For the three hours up and back I got a meaningful explanation of the terrorists behind it and their organization. The first I had ever heard of Osama bin Laden was when we lived in Davis and our friend Erin had come home from work with some weird news. A man he worked with had been arrested by the FBI as a member of al-Qaida, and FBI agents had been swarming his place of work asking questions. Of course Ernst knew about them and was shocked to hear of them in Yolo County, but it was the first I had heard either term.

Even though I have lived most of my life 100 miles from San Francisco, it is New York City that I love and know. I have been there more times than I can count, have been on the subways alone and know the layout and my favorite spots. Since my brother had moved there in the early 80's that was my city. That day ten years ago, I took out my photo albums and looked through old pictures. There I was at Windows on the World, eating sushi for the very first time. There I was on the top of the WTC on a gorgeous blue skied day. There was my family with the skyline of New York as a back drop. I was putting my finger over the Twin Towers in the all my photos, telling myself  "they are gone, they are GONE." But what was gone was so much more than just the buildings.

Those are my memories of September 11th, 2001.