Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Memories of September 11th, 2001

I was away the last few days taking a deposition, so did not have time to write about my memories of 9/11. Two days ago, on the 5th year anniversary, I was in a hotel room in Texas checking over my documents and depo outline as I watched CNN's coverage of the memorial ceremonies. I wanted to stay and watch and think about that day, but instead I had to go to work, which seemed wrong. Bean did an excellent post, and I wanted to add my thoughts to hers.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in law school and had biked in to school for an early class. I had been in a rush that morning, which was not unusual, and had woken up and raced to class without turning on the TV or speaking to anyone. Sitting in the class, waiting for the professor, Catherine MacKinnon, to appear and begin lecturing, nothing seemed amiss.

MacKinnon started her lecture by saying in a monotone voice, "Two planes have hit the World Trade Center and another one has hit the Pentagon. We may be under attack, but we will go on." Then she started her lecture. My friend and I glanced quickly at each other, as if to say "what the fuck?" It didn't cross our minds that what MacKinnon had said was true, and happening in those very moments. Instead, we thought that MacKinnon was trying to make some point about gender inequality - the focus of our class - and male domination. I remember feeling uncomfortable and like her comment had been in poor taste, particularly since I think we were discussing something like Title IX that day - a subject not directly related to male domination.

It wasn't until an hour later, when MacKinnon finally concluded her lecture and a girl behind me turned on her phone and gasped, that I realized something was wrong. Seconds later, as more people turned on their phones, we all realized that what MacKinnon had said about the planes hitting the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was true.

By the time I got out into the hallway, TVs had been set up and their were crowds of shocked students gathered around staring at the two towers and the gaping holes that had been ripped into them. All three planes had crashed and air traffic control was grounding all planes. I immediately tried to call my family and anyone I knew in New York. I remember thinking that we were under attack and wondering how that was possible. Who could be attacking America? That was nuts. I couldn't find my Dad at first, and was terrified imagining that he might have been flying that day, but eventually I found him and confirmed that he, and everyone in my family was ok.

Classes were cancelled for the remainder of the day, and the school set up a large screen TV in a common room so that students and faculty could watch the coverage. I wanted to be with people, so I watched CNN for a few hours in the common room. While I was there, I saw Professor MacKinnon. She looked shocked and was sitting in silence watching the coverage. She stayed for hours. I realized that she must have been in shock that morning when she began lecture, and tried not to be angry with her for keeping us in the dark as these events were unfolding.

Later, alone at my apartment, I watched CNN late into the night, and then all day the next day. I couldn't move or think about anything else. I don't think I showered and I didn't eat much of anything. I remember the confusion, the images of the dust, and watching as the numbers of estimated dead went from zero, to 40,000, to several thousand. Gradually, we learned about individuals who had been on the planes, who had been in the buildings, and who had been sent in to rescue them but not yet made it out. I saw the video of the planes hitting the towers over and over again, and could not look away. I couldn't believe it.

I don't remember if I cried during those first few days. But, I do remember a couple weeks later, when I went in to talk to my Dean about grades and instead ended up sobbing and hyperventilating, talking in broken fragments about the people who had been used as weapons,and how I couldn't understand it. A small part of me felt embarrassed about my emotional reaction because unlike many people that I knew, I was not from New York, I had not been in New York when it happened, and I - thankfully - had not lost anyone that day. I felt like I did not have a right to be so upset, but at the same time I found the attacks devastating.

I couldn't handle the fact that they had used human beings on planes as weapons against other human beings. It was too horrific to comprehend. I kept thinking, "what if that had been my brother, my dad, my mom, my sister?" on the planes or in the buildings. I was overwhelmed thinking about the tragedy and the injustice of the loss of each of those lives. And when I think about it today, I still am.

A month later, I had to decide where I wanted to look for jobs, and though I had been torn between D.C., Seattle, Boston, and New York prior to September 11th, I decided to look for jobs only in New York after the attacks. Part of that feeling was as Tracy described it, a feeling of belonging to New York (a feeling shared, perhaps, by many people who grow up in Connecticut like me and refer to New York as "the City") and wanting to be there to be part of the healing process. There was also stubborness, pride, and yes, a little patriotism. Those terrorists were trying to scare us, and I was going to be one of those people who didn't let them scare me.

* * *
Five years later, I am now a part of this city, and the blank space in the sky where the towers used to stand is a constant reminder of the tragedy of that day. I grew up with those towers and remember one time, in particular, when I was driving with my Dad and he pointed them out to my brothers and I from a distance. I think we were leaving the city after seeing the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.

It's also a reminder of the tragedies that happened in the months and years after the attacks. How the Bush administration went haywire and decided to become the administration that was going to bring "democracy" to the Middle East, come hell, high water, torture, or war. How America went from having much of the world's sympathy behind us, to becoming one of the most (if not the most) hated and feared nations.

I'm more scared now than I ever was before September 11th, and not because Al Qaeda is apparently everywhere, not because Osama is still putting out video tapes, and not because I have to walk past armed police, soldiers, and German shepherds every day on my subway commute to work. I'm scared because since September 11th, our government has given all the people who hate the United States, even more reason to hate us. And it doesn't look like they're planning on stopping any time soon.

Killing the leaders of Al Qaeda, going to war on every country in the Middle East, along with North Korea, and stopping people from bringing any form of liquid or gel onto planes is not going to make Americans safer. What's going to make Americans safer is joining with the rest of the world, uniting with them as equals, and building a basis of common understanding.

It makes me sad. The tragic loss of all those lives, and how far we are from ensuring that such a senseless loss of life does not happen again - on American soil, or anywhere else.


Gypsy said...

Great post.

I had a conversation with my 83-year-old grandmother this weekend about whether we're safer than before. She feels like we are -- I feel like we're not. But then she has 3 big wars under her belt. She remembers rationing. Her perspective is a bit different.

Tracy said...

Hi Buttercup,

Instead of commenting here, I just sent you a long e-mail. Thank you for linking to my blog in this post. :)


Candy Minx said...

What an amazing recollection and how it affected your carreer and choice of where to work/live in the country. I was woken up by my daughter when the first plane hit, and was watching Regis and Kelly when the second plane hit. I went to a freiends house, and like you stayed in front of the tv for days, no shower eating a bit and chainsmoking! We were in Cananda but very afraid for what ever might happen. I remember families of victims in wtc centre saying they did not want war.

Well, I came by looking for your TT but this was an incredible post, thanks for sharing.

Just for the record, here is my Thursday thirteen for this week...

Bean said...

Buttercup, your recollection is very vivid. It's strange because I don't think we ever talked about where we were just that everyone was safe. I woke up late in my dorm that day...ike every day I turned on my tv and I thiknk my stomach dropped to the floor. I missed a few calls, and was terrified that something had happened, so I listened to my messages right away. FRom the messages, I knew Dad and all of you were ok...actually, you were MIA but mom knew you were at school safe. Then I called my BF which is now my hubby, made sure he was ok, and I wwent to the cafeteria where every student was packed in watching CNN on the big screens. Only then did it sink in and shock subsided. I was upset, terrified, angry, vengeful, and confused at why this happened. But grateful my family and friends were safe. I felt guilty to be relieved my family was ok, but also guilty that I felt so much angry and sadness, even though I had lost no one. I still felt and feel today that on that day I lost some innocence of myself, and my country. That is the first time ever in my life something has happened to the US and war has started and I really comprehened it. Mom said I would never forget where I was, and I am certain that I won't.

Buttercup said...

Bean, You're right, we didn't talk about it, but I'm glad we're talking about it now. It sounds like we went through similar emotions. Love you!