common experience

I wasn't really sure I wanted to write about 9/11. I was half wanting to write some intentionally light and just act like nothing was happening today. Kinda the blog equivilant of UPN running the premiere of The Mullets. But, I expectedly didn't want to do the anything equivilant of The Mullets. I also didn't write anything too political about the exploitation of the tragedy by some for political gain, but that'll get me too mad. I just want to tell my own personal story.

I didn't find out about the events on September 11 until shortly after 10am. Back then, I more studiously followed my employers directive to only use my computer for work related activities. I hadn't been on the web. The office seemed quiet, especially given how busy we should have been that week. (Our annual meeting was at the end of the week.) But, it wasn't enough to catch my attention.

"The South Tower of the World Trade Center just collapsed." A co-worker quietly announced this to the office. My first thought was whethere there were any towers at Boston's World Trade Center at the water front. The remark didn't make sense to me. I just didn't get it. So, I figured I could do a quick web check to see what is going on.

I still didn't get it.

I went to Yahoo and they just had a brief AP story. It was unreal. It didn't make sense. This couldn't be true. So, I went to Boston.com. They had pictures. I just stared at the image of the explosion caused by the second plane. My heart dropped. This wasn't real. But, of course, it was. I gathered with my co-workers in front of our television and saw the lone North Tower standing amid a cloud of dust. I looked over and saw a much smaller building on fire.

"Wait, what's that on the left?"

"The Pentagon."


I still didn't get it. We were being attacked. At that time, there was worry about tens of thousands of people in the towers. It was too much. Then, the announced that another hijacked plane was in the air. It had crashed by then, we now know, but its not like there were cameras trained on rural Pennsylvania. They knew very little then, and what we did know was that planes were hijacked out of Boston. There was a lot of worry around, but most people stuck it out. Even as the massive lonely towers of the Back Bay emptied blocks away. We had to. We had work.

My girlfriend at the time frequently went to the Prudential Center after getting off her overnight job. I was worried that she might be stubborn and go anyway (not knowing it was a moot point since the building was closed) so I franticly tried to call her. It took about three tries to get through. I quickly asked if she could go straight home after work. She indignantly asked why. By the tone, I could tell that she wasn't just being stubborn. I asked if she had watched TV at all since she got up, and she said no, and got worried and asked what had happened. Which, meant I was going to have to tell her. I was going to have to explain something I didn't even understand myself. I tried to just do it as calmly as possible.

"Early this morning two planes were hijacked out of Boston..."

"Oh, my God," she interjected. As I continued, she just gasped as the horrible story kept going.

"...at 8:45, one of the planes flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. At about 9, another plane flew into the South Tower of the World Trade Center."

"At about 9:45, another plane was flown into the Pentagon. A little after 10, the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed."

She gasps very loudly at this point, and was clearly overcome at the thought. We all were.

"Shortly after that, part of the Pentagon collapsed. At 10:30, the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. At some point, another plane was crashed somewhere near Pittsburgh. They think there might be other hijacked planes, but no one really knows for sure right now."

I was shaking the entire time. I am shaking right now just recalling it. She was stunned at all this, and I let her go to turn on the television like the rest of the nation, and start trying to understand it.

One thing I remember about that day was how quiet it was whenever I left my office. A fighter jet flew over head during lunch, and you could just see the entire street stop and jerk their heads up trying to see what that was. Everyone was completely on edge. Staring blankly, looking defeated.

We found out that day that a woman who volunteered where I worked (specifically as a consultant to my department) was on Flight 11. I know I wasn't effected the way many people were, but it was very difficult to comrehend that I knew someone who was among the first to die that day.

I went home that night and watched TV until 4am. I know most people hated the news coverage, but I really needed it. I needed to understand that this happened. I needed to comprehend it. I needed to see what had happened to let it sink in. It hurt every time, but it was so difficult to grasp that I needed to see it. I watched the video of the clouds of smoke billowing through the streets of Manhatten, frantic people running from it. I saw every new video with interest, as part of the experience I needed to understand. I watched as they discoved video of the first plane strike. It took two years for another view of the first plane to show up, but video of the second strike kept popping up. The ones that were the most difficult to watch where the ones from the ground. At least, when the networks ran them with the original sound. It *was* disturbing, but we needed to be disturbed. How else could we react. I viewed some of it again today and had the same sick feeling as you hear the plane roar from out of the cameras view and into the screen. You saw it as the person holding the camera saw it. You felt their fear and their horror as the plane banked into the building, sending an unimaginable fireball into the air. It did a lot to make it real. To make it something I could understand. I needed that.

I later learned that someone I went to college with died in one of the towers. He died a hero. He was a volunteer firefighter turned investment something or other. That day, he took out his red bandana, and proceeded to save many lives, eventually sacraficing his own.

My parents saw the second tower strike live. My mother was listening the radio when a caller came on talking about a fire at the Twin Towers. She turned on the TV and saw the helicopter footage from the New York stations. Then, another plane came into the screen and disappeared behind the South Tower before an explosion was seen.

As the days wore on, we all tried to pick up and move on. They said irony was dead, but it lived on. They said things would never be the same. That's true, but things are never the same. When The Onion finally published again, entitling its coverage "Holy Fucking Shit", it signaled that we were getting back to normal. American Life Turns into Bad Jerry Bruckheimer Movie meant a lot to make things feel okay again. With the captions reading "Actual photo from real life", it made it feel okay to laugh again. It helped getting things back to normal.

Everyone has a story from those days. Everyone has something to say. If anything, the events brought us together through common experience, and a common compassion for the lives lost. For those 3,000, we will remember.

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