Ten Years On

I hesitate to post anything about 9/11. But it’s been ten years, and I feel like I should.

I was 18 years old. I was sleeping in; I had a late shift at my last day on my summer job at Mervyn’s; I was set to head off to college a couple of weeks later. Mom came rushing in, babbling about planes and the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and planes as missiles and we don’t know what’s going on and holy shit.

Still half-asleep, I followed her into her bedroom and got there just in time to see the second tower crumble. I had no clue what was going on, but I was relatively aware that gigantic buildings didn’t just fall down everyday. 

We were all glued to the TV the rest of the day. I called in to work and said I wasn’t coming in; they asked me why. I said, “Look at the news” and hung up. Today I wonder if I was too harsh with them; today we all have smartphones and we’re constantly plugged in, but the world of 2001 was still about landlines, and maybe they really didn’t know. I ran that by my mother and she scoffed. “They would have heard something by then.”

She’s right; there was always a TV on in the break room. They must have known something. Not that it mattered; Hillsdale Mall closed a couple hours later.

Ten years later, there are a few things I really remember very clearly, besides the images of the towers going down and the debris over NYC and the firefighters and police officers covered in ash. For a couple of hours there was literally this sense of…chaos, I guess…because no one really knew what was going on, if a big city nearby was next, etc. I remember I was on AIM with my friend Ry and we were watching the news and typing and Mom wanted to keep the phone lines clear.

The first was a rabbi…at least, I think it was a rabbi. I want to say he was on the ground with the rescue crews being interviewed (I think it happened at night on the 11th; it’s possible it was at night on the 12th; not sure and can’t find the footage to confirm). I think–bear in mind, my memory’s hazy and I was only half-watching–I think they were discussing the remarks made by those asshats Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell about how the events were God punishing America for all its sins, the likes of which included allowing pagans, gays, women’s rights, etc. It was that, or a discussion of how the hijackers thought God told them to do it. Something along those lines. And this rabbi just breaks into it and snaps “This is not God’s will! This is not what God wants! This is the work of a handful of maniacs, not God!” I’m probably paraphrasing him, but I remember very clearly his meaning.

The other thing…I was up at four o’clock, couldn’t sleep, so I flipped through the channels. I was dimly aware that it was entirely too quiet outside; all those grounded planes made a difference. We weren’t in a flight path, but I didn’t realize how much background noise they really made until they were gone. That creepy silence and “WTF is going on???” mentality later influenced my post-apocalyptic stories, but that’s another post.

And then I heard this SCHWINGGGGGG outside and overhead and went holy shit! and rushed out the front door. My mother was in bed, but she must have heard it too, because she rocketed down the stairs to join me. Outside, I could just make out the retreating shape of a military jet.

I remember thinking he was flying pretty low (even though I freely admit I have no idea what “low” is for a jet) and after nothing horrible happened within the next few minutes, we decided he was just patrolling. I remember thinking, “Well, he’s looking after us.” For a moment, I felt protected.

Then I realized we actually had a freaking fighter plane patrolling the Bay Area and we might need protection, and it scared the shit out of me all over again.

I called my mother a few minutes ago to confirm that with her, and she remembered it happening and remembered seeing the “big military fighter.” And I guess my father–who had not come downstairs with her–had known what it was (Navy guy) and said, “What have we come to?”

I wonder that now, ten years later.

Oh, wait. There’s one other thing. In the days following, there was an editorial cartoon run in…I don’t remember what paper, or who the artist was. I can’t even find the graphic online. But it was a sketch of the smoldering towers, and the Statue of Liberty turning away, sobbing.

I don’t really have any deep commentary to share about any of this. The History Channel has been running documentaries all day, and it made me want to get something down on paper…er, in a post. And here it is. My little piece of the story…the story, which is so much bigger than me and mine. Ten years later, and my strongest memories are a rabbi, a comic, and what was probably an F-18 Hornet.

Mom says she remembers my girlfriends taking me out for a farewell party maybe a day or two before. They picked me up from work and took me to dinner, we came back later for pictures. She said in hindsight, it was “the last piece of normalcy before things went crazy.”

(Sorry, I’ll stop trying to be deep now. Tomorrow I will return to posting about coffee and zombies.)

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