My 9/11 Memories
I’m sure it’s cliche on this day to write about “where I was on 9/11”, but eleven years later, it occurs to me that I’ve never actually written down my memories of that fateful Tuesday. So here goes.
I was 17, and I had to be at work at 11 that morning. I was still asleep (despite what most homeschooling defenders claim, we did sleep in, pretty regularly). My brother Nathan came to my room and said I had to get up because someone had bombed the World Trade Center. My first thought, which I grumbled to him was “they did that already”, remembering the 1993 attack. He responded “It’s different this time, they flew planes into it, just come see.”
I got up and went downstairs, where the television was turned on. The towers were smoking. What I find interesting is that I don’t remember much of anything about that whole morning. I don’t even remember the collapse of the towers. I just remember my best friend Daniel calling and asking if I was watching. And then I went to work.
I was working at Quizno’s at the time, and we had a small television in the back office that we pulled into the dining room. I do remember thinking how strange it was that we kept getting customers. Why is everyone going to work today? Why aren’t these people home with their families? Strangely, we actually had a really busy lunch rush that day just from people coming in to watch the television. But no scheduled events were canceled… I still had band rehearsal and a scout meeting that night.
Over the next few days, I internalized most of my thoughts about the situation. Several nights, I would go for walks by myself because I found it depressing to be at home with the television constantly playing coverage of a terrorist attack. And really… that was it.
But there were several topics that ran through my mind a lot over the next few days:
My Senior Trip
My senior class had a trip to New York scheduled for the end of September. Sure it’s selfish, but my first thoughts were along the lines of “Are we still going?” “Are flights going to continue by then?” “Will anything be open?” “Will I lose the money I paid?”
When it became apparent that most of our planned events would be back open by the end of the month (a Broadway show, a Yankees game, the Empire State Building), they said if we didn’t go, we would lose our money. Some students were adamant that we should cancel the trip… but I noticed that many of these were the students whose parents paid their fees. Me? I had sold my first car so that I could afford this trip. In the end, we still went. We visited Ground Zero while the rubble was still smoking, and the NYPD was stationed around it to prevent people from taking pictures (it was a crime scene). The surrounding buildings were caked with dust, and in every square inch of that dust, people had used their fingers to write the names of their missing loved ones.
My maternal grandfather had died the previous summer. I remember in the aftermath of the attack, feeling grateful that he hadn’t witnessed the attack. You see, he was born and raised in Queens, and even though he had lived in Knoxville and Huntsville since the ’50s, he always struck me as a very “New York” individual. The attacks would have devastated him.
Rumors of War
To be quite honest, I legitimately afraid of the prospect of war. Rationally I knew times had changed since World War 2, but I also knew that the US declared war on the Axis powers the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked. I was only a few months from my 18th birthday, and was scared shitless that the draft would be reinstated. I was not physically fit, and didn’t know dick about firearms, so I figured if I was drafted and put in infantry I would be dead in minutes.
After the attacks, car antennae, front lawns, storefronts… they all became Star-Spangled spectacles. This was one place where I did intentionally abstain. My reason was a bit on the bitter side though: I had an American flag on my car the previous summer. I wasn’t particularly patriotic, but I had received the miniature flag at Alabama Boy’s State, and I’d put it on my car in honor of my grandfather who was dying. One day, I was at the mall, and came out to see that the flag had been vandalized. So I removed it. And when it was suddenly “cool” to put an American flag on your car, I refused to follow suit, even though I knew whatever random kid or adult had wrinkled mine up would never think of doing that now.
The Signs of the Times
Though I was still a Christian in my teen years (I didn’t give that up until college, and that’s a whole other series of posts), I had already broken with the premillenial, pre-trib, dispensionalist eschatology that was permeating all of my Evangelical peers’ views. And since I was an outside observer of these conversations, I was immediately struck by how crass some of them were. I had a Sunday School teacher say “this is it. It’s all happening now.” This is the same guy who said he was never going to have to worry about retirement because the End Times were going to happen before he needed to retire. All these years later, I kind of want to call him up and say “How’d that Rapture work out for you? Hope you wised up and got a 401(k)”.
In all seriousness, though, this was one of the first times I started feeling there could be harmful real-world effects of these beliefs. I felt the disconnect between “rebuild” and “hide in a bunker and wait to die”.
Epilogue: The Anthrax Incident
Part of our trip to New York involved a tour of NBC Studios. As coincidence would have it, we were in the building at the time of the anthrax scare, thought we didn’t find out about it until a few weeks later. Because we had been in the building on the same floor as some of the contaminated envelopes, we all voluntarily submitted to being tested for Anthrax at the hospital three weeks later. It wasn’t an uncomfortable test. The doctor took my heart rate and stuck a Q-tip up my nose on a Saturday morning. Then I left and went to work.
Later, they billed us all for that.