Sunday, September 11, 2011

ten years

On September 11, 2001, I was a freshman at the University of Georgia. At 8:50something that morning, I was riding a UGA bus en route to my 9:00 Calculus class. The bus was somewhat quiet-- not because anything special had happened, but because it was fairly early on a Tuesday morning. The radio was playing on the bus, but suddenly the music stopped and a breaking news segment began. We've just been informed, the radio news reporter shared, that a plane has crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  He might have said something more, something about more details when he had them, but that was the gist of it. And I remember exchanging confused glances with my fellow bus-mates. A plane? Crashing into a skyscraper? It was just a little too weird. I'd never been to NYC to see the WTC in person, but I was fairly certain that it was pretty...huge. And so I'm ashamed to admit that my very first thought about the event that had just occurred was this: I bet that pilot feels like an idiot. How do you NOT SEE A SKYSCRAPER? 

That was the extent of my thoughts regarding the news I'd just heard. I briefly considered whether or not the people on the plane and the people in the building would be okay, and immediately decided that of course they would. In the world I was accustomed to living in, of course they would be okay. The pilot made an error. He would probably lose his job. But everything would be okay.

I went to Calculus. I didn't really know anyone in that class, but I had talked to the boy behind me a few times. Did you hear about that plane? I asked him. He hadn't, since he walked to class. I let him know what had happened. And that was it. The class wasn't all a-buzz. We simply sat down and listened as our professor droned on and on about derivatives and other boring Calculus things. We had no idea that in the time we'd spend sitting there, being alternately bored and confused about math, that the world outside us was swiftly changing.

We didn't know. We couldn't. We were stuck in a million-year-old building on the University campus. There wasn't a TV in the room. There wasn't a computer. Most of us probably had cellphones, but they didn't have texting or internet on them, so we had no way to find out that more craziness was happening. It wasn't just a fluke accident. Things were getting worse.

Class let out a little after 10. I walked back to my dorm instead of riding the bus this time. I decided to use my precious cell phone minutes to call my dad and see if he'd heard about that weird plane thing. I couldn't, though. No service. All towers were busy, it seemed. A little weird, but I walked on.

I had to get back to my dorm because some repairmen from Dell were coming to fix my laptop. I'd had a post-it note stuck to my desk for a few days: 9/11, 11am- computer guys coming. That was my plan for 9/11/01. Go to class. Come home. Get laptop fixed. Big plans.

When I got back to my dorm, there were roughly a million people crowded around the TV in the lobby. In my month at school, I had never seen this before. We all had TVs in our rooms. Who would sit in the lobby to watch TV? At 10:30 am? I tried to push through the crowd of crying girls. I got where I could see, and then I saw. I saw as they replayed the footage. I saw as they pieced together the various flights. I watched when the North tower collapsed.

In a daze, I went up to my room. I flipped on the TV in there. I sat, shell-shocked. Moments later, the two computer guys appeared. I don't know how they got through the security in my all-girls dorm, but somehow they got up to my room. Wordlessly, they joined me on my futon and we all watched as our world changed. We cried. Me and these two strangers. We sat and we stared in disbelief. There is no way this is actually happening. It can't be. This isn't the world I know.

The rest of a day was a blur. I remember being frantic to reach my parents. To know that they were okay. To let them know that I was. Just in case they were wondering. Just in case they'd thought those planes crashed into a dorm in Athens, Georgia, instead of New York City. I don't know why I was so frantic to make sure they knew I was okay. Nothing made sense that day, so why should I?

I remember the fear permeating our lives for the weeks and months and years following 9/11. Despite being a thousand miles away from Ground Zero, in a town that probably held very little to interest terrorists, we walked around in fear, like there was a target on each of our backs. I kept trying to tell myself that there is nothing to be afraid of. And then I would remember that that's what those people in New York thought that morning, too. They were regular people, just like me. People going to work and to school. People grabbing a cup of coffee and gossiping about last night's TV. They didn't have anything to worry about, either. Until they did.

I also remember the unity. I remember the stories of heroism. I remember learning about the heroes on board Flight 93. I remember feeling so thankful that no one I personally knew was affected that day. And simultaneously feeling guilty for that very same thing.

I find it so strange that 9/11 has become THE defining point, in so many ways, of my generation. I remember for the first few years after the attacks, you didn't even have to say 9/11. It was the understood pause in your sentence. "Well, I used to do such-and-such, before...but now I..." I can't describe it, but you probably know what I'm talking about.

I hate that 9/11 ever happened, of course. But for some reason, I find myself thankful that I was old enough to understand it when it did. I happened upon a copy of the Red & Black, the UGA newspaper, last week. They were doing a 9/11 tribute, of course, and they interviewed a lot of students to get their "where were you then?" stories. Unlike me, these now-college-students were just children then. In elementary schools. Most of them had few vivid memories, only a knowledge that something important had happened that they didn't fully understand. And I pity them that. I am thankful that I knew. As awful as it was, I'm glad I could fully 'experience' it. I saw, in the most second-hand of ways, of course, the deepest, darkest parts of human depravity. And I also saw the most selfless. I saw the good in my country. I saw a nation brought to its knees and drawn together by tragedy.

I was proud of that America. It's the America I like to remember. The one where-- for a brief minute, we really were all brothers and sisters, joined together for a common goal. I was proud to see my fellow college students pulling together, despite myriad differences in politics and religion. There was something so warm and safe about that time. Not safe because I knew nothing bad was going to happen-- that illusion had been shattered. But a feeling of safeness that arose from knowing that even when the bad did happen, that beauty would rise from the ashes.

My story is nothing special. But it is a story so deeply rooted in my mind and emotions...I often think there's no way I will ever forget the details. My selfish first thoughts. The way I sat through Calculus, barely even thinking about the strange news I'd heard. That post-it note, which remained stuck to my desk for the rest of the year. 9/11, 11am: computer guys coming. I couldn't throw it away. It was my 9/11...before 9/11.

I wanted to write down my story, just in case. I know I will never forget. But I just want to make sure.


  1. You have such a better memory than me!! I could have sworn I journalled all through college, yet the earliest one I could find was beginning August 2002. Thanks for sharing.

  2. great post girl... thanks for sharing

  3. It's interesting to me that our very slight age difference made for very different experiences that day. This was beautifully written.

  4. I was setting up Christmas displays at Pier 1 in PA. I immediately called my best friend who was in school at Nyack College across the Hudson from NYC to see if she was ok. I remember some ladies who came in to shop saying something about being told by news people to "keep shopping to stimulate the economy." Well, we closed early that day since no one could think straight and we only had a pathetic little radio to keep up. You're right, it's so burned into our memories that we can never forget that day.

  5. I was on campus too. But on Augusta State University and not in class. I had a break. It was a very strange feeling day, indeed.


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