September 11, 2004

9/11/01: Where I Was

NOTE: I'm aware that September 11 is almost over now, but I was editing all afternoon, so give me a break, dang it!

All right, the blogosphere is covering the 3rd anniversary of 9/11 in a lot of ways. Some are just saying "remember," others are leaving tributes on the front page, and others are writing about how liberals have directed their anger at the wrong people since the attacks. I could try and do something similar, but what's the point? Plenty of other bloggers have done a much better job than I could.

Instead, I'm just going to share my memories of that day. I've been blogging for less than a year, so I've never really gotten a chance to tell this story. Plus, it'll fulfill my "obligatory self-centered weekend post" quota. Click the extended entry...

In September of 2001, I was still in high school. 11th grade, to be more precise. At the time, I knew next to nothing about politics, world events, and pretty much anything else outside my day-to-day life. I rarely, if ever, watched the news, and I hardly ever talked to people unless I had to, so calling me uninformed would be a massive understatement. Of course, since I was 16 years old at the time, I would've claimed to know just about everything if you asked me. But I was about to be proven dead wrong.

My memories of specific events, even those that happened after the attacks, are fuzzy, but here's what I do recall...

September 11 started out just like any other day. I dragged myself out of bed around 6:40 in the morning, grabbed a quick breakfast, and walked to the bus stop. I remember a couple things from the ride to school. First of all, I noticed that it was a really nice day. Blue skies as far as the eye could see. Thanks to this, I was in a relatively good mood. For most people, this wouldn't mean anything, but at that time, I was still going through the classic "the whole world sucks and I hate everybody" phase. I realize I'm still kinda in that phase now, but back then, I hadn't learned to focus it yet, so I was more or less the human equivalent of Chomps. Good days were something to remember.

September 11 was also school picture day, and for the first time in a while, I actually felt like smiling when the big moment came. This all led to a really, really strange moment that I've also mentioned in "105 Things About CD." As the bus was pulling into the parking lot, I said to myself (not out loud, obviously), "I have a feeling something really good is going to happen today."

I'm completely serious. I really did think it was going to be a special day. I've been pondering that moment for 3 years, and I still can't figure out what kind of reverse coincidence could've caused it. It's hard to put into words, so I'll just move on.

I don't remember much from that morning. First, second, and third period were uneventful. My fourth period class, Honors English, started around 10:00, so everything had already happened by then, but we hadn't heard anything yet. I went in expecting an hour of discussion about The Scarlet Letter. By the time I left, my world, and everyone else's, had changed forever.

As soon as I sat down, I noticed that everyone seemed to be talking about the same thing, but I couldn't really figure out what (remember, I was extremely antisocial at the time, so I was used to tuning people out). I eventually started talking to one of the few friends I had in the class, and he told me that the World Trade Center had been attacked. It took a couple seconds to register, and my first thought was "didn't that happen once already?" I thought it was kind of weird that the same place would be attacked twice.

Over the next few minutes, I found out that the towers had actually collapsed, and I also heard that another plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. However, people were saying that it was "near Pittsburgh," and since I was in a suburb of Pittsburgh as this happened, I started getting a lot more worried.

At this point, I still hadn't fully grasped what was happening. The entire school was having problems with cable reception, so we couldn't see most of the news coverage, and when we could, there was so much static that it was impossible to tell what we were looking at. I remember seeing a brief shot of one of the planes hitting, but other than that, everything was based on word-of-mouth.

After English, I went to my fifth period class, also known as "marching band rehearsal." I didn't expect to actually play, but the band director started class by saying something like, "I know this isn't a regular day, but we need to practice, so the best thing to do is remember those who have died and move on." So we still practiced, with plenty of conversation taking place in between songs. At this point, we had heard that more planes had been hijacked, so we thought it was just a bit stupid to be outside playing "Mr. Roboto" (we were doing a Styx show that month) as the country was under attack. In fact, one of my fellow snare drummers blurted out something along the lines of, "there are people dead, there's planes in the air, and we're out marching." Random, but a good way to characterize how we all felt. Luckily, we found out later that there weren't any more planes.

I remember nothing from lunch. Literally, nothing. However, I do remember my sixth period speech class. The television in that room was actually getting a half-decent picture, so I saw the attacks clearly for the first time. Up to this point, I had felt somewhat disconnected. I didn't think it was possible for something as terrible as this to happen, so I had blocked any emotional response from entering my mind. However, when I saw the footage of the second plane hitting, something snapped.

That image triggered a sinking, nauseous feeling that I didn't experience again until I saw this picture last week. In other words, it takes a lot to get an emotional reaction out of me, and this did it. I couldn't stop thinking about the people in that plane. Did they know they were milliseconds away from destruction? Were they aware that they had become pawns in a plot to destroy the United States? Were their eyes open when they hit?

In other words, I wasn't feeling too great anymore. I wondered how I was going to smile for my picture, but that wasn't a problem, because they ended up rescheduling it for a few weeks later.

Seventh period was cancelled, although we still went home at the regular time. Those of us whose parents hadn't come to get us, anyway. On the bus, I demonstrated an ability I still have today: Making really, really, really, really inappropriate comments. My brother originally had a golf practice scheduled for that day, but it was cancelled due to the attacks, so he had to carry his clubs onto the bus. As he went by, I said something like, "Look out, he's armed! He's gonna hijack the bus and drive it into the Administration Building!"

Yeah, I'll give you a second to digest the extreme stupidity of 16 year-old CD. Everybody good now? Then let's move on...

When I got home, I turned on the TV and watched the news. Then I watched it some more. And more. And more. I think that's about all I did for the rest of the night. Around sunset, I remember going outside and looking up at the sky. I lived within 40 miles of an airport, so a lot of planes usually flew over the house. However, that night, it was completely silent. It was peaceful and disturbing at the same time.

I have a few more memories of the events following that day. For example, on Friday the 14th, our school erupted in a spontaneous display of patriotism. I did my part by taping a paper American flag to my Trapper Keeper (after that, I put it on my bedroom door at home, and it's still there to this day). That afternoon, the entire school, faculty and students, gathered around the football field, held hands, and sang "God Bless America." It was a powerful moment.

In the following days and weeks, I watched hours and hours of news coverage as President Bush vowed to bring the terrorists to justice. I still remember my mother knocking on my door one afternoon to tell me that we were bombing Afghanistan. That prompted me to watch even more coverage. This continued for quite a while.

I've told some of this part before. After 9/11, I started watching the news every single day, and President Bush's inspirational speeches eventually sparked the interest in politics that would lead to the creation of Semi-Intelligent Thoughts 2 years later.

It's weird, isn't it? If we hadn't been attacked by Islamofascists, you might not be reading this now. Like many other people, 9/11 was my introduction to the real world, and it opened my eyes to the fact that there were bigger and more important things out there than my relatively meaningless life. Before that, I hated anything that even contained the word "politics," and I knew nothing about liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, or anything in between. For example, in the 2000 election, I didn't really care who won, but I was leaning toward Gore just because I thought Bush was "dumb." Way to go, mainstream media. It's a good thing I couldn't vote when I was 15.

My last 9/11-related memory happened in 2003, when I went to New York City for the first time and actually stood at Ground Zero. Until I saw that huge hole, it had never occurred to me just how big the towers were, and how horrifying it must have been when they fell. Of course, not everyone was thinking along those lines.

You see, at Ground Zero, there's a big wall where people can and do write just about anything. As I've also related in "105 Things," one of my brother's friends decided to write "fuck the middleast." And he did actually spell it that way. I'm sure visitors will appreciate that.

I think I'm rambling now, so I'll end it there. This pretty much covers everything I remember about September 11, 2001 and how it changed my life. Your story is probably much different, and I invite you to tell it in the comments. It doesn't have to be as long as this (if you actually read this far, by the way, I both congratulate and pity you), but since so many people are telling us to "remember," I think it's good to remember how the worst terrorist attack in history affected you personally. Because it did affect everybody somehow.

Thank you.

Posted by CD on September 11, 2004 11:03 PM
Semi-Intelligent Comments

I was at school (it was a weird alternative school-long story) and we were in a "group session" discussing things. Then the head of the program opened the door and said, "Both of the Twin Towers have been struck by airplanes." Someone was crying in the backround.

My mind didn't operate correctly. I was usually suppose to be the smart one around (I guess) in regards to politics, history, and current events, but I don't think I digested the information properly. "Maybe one of them crashed into the building...and another one got lost in the smoke." I think I asked a question about the weather. Eventually it became clear the size of the aircraft, and I got out of my haze and things became more clear. We all went into a room with a television.

There were maybe 10 people in the room, the station barely transmitted. The tried to improve it but it didn't work. Everybody just watched, astonished. When they reported a fire at the Pentagon I whispered to a friend a couple of times, "This is war." He nodded. Eventually we had to go to school, but we were permitted to bring a radio.

Nobody wanted to do any work, and the teacher didn't force us to. One of the girl's said she didn't want to listen to the radio so it was shut off. I didn't like that. So we discussed matters. The teacher and I dominated the discussion (not the insult the others). Someone asked who had probably done it? "Probably some Islamic group? Possibly Osama Bin Laden." What about that Timothy McVeigh thing a few years ago? "The anti-gov't folks aren't well enough organized, but I wouldn't completely rule anything out this early."

Eventually the program head came in and said: "Both of the towers have collapsed." I wonder what the difference is seeing it and hearing it. No emotion in her voice. I don't remember any other emotions then how very wrong those words felt. I said something along the lines of: "Thousands of people must have been in those buildings."

I don't remember much after that until I got home. I just watched the news. I remember WTC7 collapsing. It was all so horrible and unreal.

Posted by: Jim at September 12, 2004 11:01 AM

I woke up to Imus In The Morning on my clock-radio, and Imus and the gang were talking about the plane that had crashed into the north tower. They didn't know for sure just what kind of plane it was, and I envisioned that old photo of a small plane that crashed into the Empire State Building around 1946. I jumped into the shower.

When I returned to my bedroom the second plane had already hit. Imus said - and this is seared, seared into my memory - "Well, this is the worst attack on America since Pearl Harbor". I went into the living room and turned on the TV -- probably MSNBC (I hadn't discovered FoxNews yet).

They showed the tape of the second plane hitting the south tower from several angles. Holy fucking crap. All of the passengers on the planes, and the people in the towers on and above the floors where they impacted, were gone.

I don't remember my motions very clearly, but I suspect that I was stunned. I do remember being agitated and wondering if I should drive south to New York for some reason.

I had just been in NYC the previous weekend to see my friend Dave, who works very near the WTC. I nearly phoned him at work, but I guess I figured that he wouldn't have free time to talk. I didn't know that he'd be evacuating at the time.

I had to get to work, so I shut off the TV and headed out to my truck. In the short time between turning off the TV and starting the truck and turning on the radio, the south tower had collapsed. Knowing that there were probably thousands of people still in the building, (especially in upper half of the tower), and probably hundreds of firemen in and around the tower, I knew that the loss of life was huge.

I takes me about 25-30 minutes to get to work, and just as I was approaching my destination the north tower collapsed. I remember hearing about the crash in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon, but I can't remember exactly where I was when I heard about them. I must have been in my truck, but maybe I'd heard of the Pennsylvania crash while still in my living room. Not sure.

I arrived at work and phoned Dave, but all I got was his voice-mail. I left a brief message telling him to "get out" of Manhattan even though I knew that he must've evacuated an hour earlier.

Without a radio or TV at work, I learned very little more until I got to my evening job. My friend Joe and I listened WFAN. WFAN is a sports talk radio station and the afternoon hosts, Mike Francesa and Chris Russo were still on the air that evening. They did a great job of covering the story. Two sports guys interviewing "real" guests: public servants, not atheletes.

It wasn't until I got home around midnight that I saw tapes of what else had transpired that day. The thing I remember most clearly was Peter Jennings, with the smoldering ruins of ground zero in the distance, and the Empire State Building in the foreground, he said something to the effect of: "And so, night has fallen upon the east coast of the United States; the World Trade Center is no more; the airspace above America is empty save for military aircraft; and the Empire State Building, for decades the tallest building in the world, stands tall once again taking it's place as the peak of the New York skyline."

But, the most memorable words I heard that evening were from George W Bush, during his address from the White House:

"We make no distinction between those who committed these evil acts and those who harbor them."

My worries about a "soft" response were immediately eased. The headlines the next morning screamed ACT OF WAR!, and I knew that my faith in America was well-founded.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at September 12, 2004 07:41 PM

Without getting into too much detail (because I can be reeeaallllyyy verbose)...

I had just gotten to work. Same place I work now, as a matter of fact. Somebody said that someone flew a plane into the WTC. I was thinking Piper Cub, and said that they better fix it quick, 'cuz I had plans to be in NYC for New Year's. Work started. Our commander told us to form up out front. Hmm... odd... it's 0900 on a Tuesday. Usually formations don't just pop up in the middle of the day. He came out and said both towers are just about destroyed. BOTH towers? DESTROYED? Oh, we goin' to war. Gimme my rifle. Somebody came out from inside and said another plane crashed into the Pentagon.

That's when time stopped.

The Pentagon. Not only are these... whatever they are... killing CIVILIANS... but now they wanna blow up my FRIENDS? You're actually dumb enough to kill American soldiers ON THEIR OWN TURF?

Spent the rest of the day watching the news. Almost fell out of my chair when the second tower collapsed. That made it real. Only thing that kept me from sobbing was the fact that the rest of my company was with me and I wasn't gonna fall apart.

Audible comments in the unit were along the lines of "Aw, y'all done f***ed up now," and "Let's go f** 'em up, big George."

End of the day and explosions were heard in Kabul. Newspeople said well, bin Laden IS in Afghanistan, but this doesn't have anything to do with the United States.

Riiiiiiggghhht. Never heard anything else about that but we all figured the Green Berets were already IN Afghan. The general consensus was that bin Laden was trying to figure out what all these flashing red dots on his chest were.

And I'm with Tuning Spork on the words of my President. I can't remember anything specific he said on 9/11 but I do remember we were all cheering that we had a President who had some cojones, and we were about to finally get to kill some people. (a la Buck the Marine)

But the one thing I still remember and always will is this (I'm sure you remember the scene):

SOME GUY IN THE CROWD: We can't hear you!

PRESIDENT BUSH: I can hear you! ...I can hear you, the world hears you and the people- (cheering) the people who knocked these buildings down will hear ALL of us soon!

My answer to that was, Amen, Mr. President, let's go get 'em.

Okay, I guess I can't help but be verbose. And rambling, in this case. But I'll leave you with a quote of my own: As long as there are evil people in this world and stupid people to follow them, the U.S. Army will always have people to kill.

Posted by: Army NCO Guy at September 12, 2004 08:57 PM

IIRC, NCO Guy, you were in Afghanistan.

Thanks for making sure that the terrorists could hear us.

Posted by: CD at September 12, 2004 09:10 PM

It's weird, isn't it? If we hadn't been attacked by Islamofascists, you might not be reading this now. Like many other people, 9/11 was my introduction to the real world, and it opened my eyes to the fact that there were bigger and more important things out there than my relatively meaningless life. Before that, I hated anything that even contained the word "politics," and I knew nothing about liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, or anything in between. For example, in the 2000 election, I didn't really care who won, but I was leaning toward Gore just because I thought Bush was "dumb." Way to go, mainstream media. It's a good thing I couldn't vote when I was 15.

You and I were the same person, though I was eight years older. And I could vote, and I did vote for the wrong guy. Thank goodness my vote didn't change anything. And thank goodness both you and I opened our eyes.

Posted by: Sarah at September 13, 2004 03:49 AM
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