Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 - Part 1

So, here's the deal. It's been ten years, we all know that. These ten years have been incredibly defining in my lifetime. We all have our stories, and we all know where we were. I feel like I have something to say, so here goes. To be fair, much of this is meant to be cathartic. If you choose to read it all, thank you.

I find it IMPOSSIBLE to be cynical about 9/11. There are so many people who rant and rave about people being "superficially patriotic" and "exploitatively sympathetic" about 9/11. To those folks, screw you. No, really, shut up.  I have absolutely no patience and even less desire to deal with these sorts of comments. We were all affected, in our own ways. Who are you to determine whether someone is being "fake" by posting on Facebook, or "feigning patriotism" by flying a flag on this day, rather than everyday? We all have our own crosses to bear. We all respond differently. We all hurt. We ALL hurt.

I'll never forget this morning, as every moment seems to be burned into my brain. I don't feel like I've even healed from it. I feel like our nation has a bit of PTSD, myself included.

I was 19. To preface this, let it be known that I was not a naive 19. I had experienced personal loss. At 15, I lost a close friend to a house fire, which still stands as the second most devastating day of my life, after 9/11. At 17, three friends were murdered in cold blood. I was not a stranger to death, but I was not jaded. I believed that our country was safe, as we all did. My generation had not, heretofore, experienced a truly heart-stopping incident. We didn't have a Pearl Harbor, as my grandmother did. There hadn't been an assassination of a President, like my mother had known. The Gulf War hadn't been a Vietnam. My generation had floated on by, without having had the "I remember exactly where I was when" kind of moment.

I was in my third semester of college at Florida State University. As a rule, I had tried to schedule every class after noon. The one exception was my Meteorology Lab class, which was at 11. Anyone who has attended Florida State knows that finding parking on the campus is virtually impossible. I usually allotted myself almost two hours to drive around for parking. Because of this, I had set my alarm for 8:45 am. My alarm was set on my television, which I always left on MTV.  I was usually awoken by a song. (This was before everything on MTV had to do with pregnant teenagers and drunken coeds. Strangely, they used to actually play music videos!) I hit snooze when it first came on, being a lazy college girl, I wanted another five minutes of beautiful sleep. When the snooze was over, I was surprised by my television talking at me, rapidly, about a breaking news story.

A plane had hit the World Trade Center. I jumped out of bed. I had visited New York for the first time, with my aunt, just two years before this, and had taken some incredible photos of the skyline, WTC included. I was absolutely enthralled with what I was watching, and horrified at the idea that thousands of people were likely dead. As I watched, a second plane came into the frame and hit the second building. I jumped. I screamed. I cried. I had no control over my reaction. I was watching the United States being attacked. The television anchors were responding with absolute horror in their voices. At that moment, I knew the world would never be the same.

Both of my roommates were asleep. They didn't have classes until later. When the first plane had hit, I decided to let them sleep. They'd wake up, hear the news, be surprised, and move on. When the second hit, I knew it was intentional, and we were watching a national tragedy unfold. I ran to April's room, where she was sleeping peacefully, opened the door, and said, "April, get up. New York has been attacked." She looked at me through sleepy eyes, and said, "What are you talking about? I'm sleeping. Tell me later." I said, with more force, "April. Get out of bed, now. You need to see this. The United States has been attacked on our own soil. I am not kidding." I think it was my tone, rather than my words, that got her out of bed. She realized I had tear streaked cheeks, and knew that I was not overreacting to something minor.  I, then, woke up Jenny, the roommate who never really liked me. She was a bit ruder when I woke her up. I was more curt. I may have yelled. Whatever. All feeling aside, I knew she needed to be awake for this.

I turned on the TV in our living room. Until then, I had been holed up in my room, feeling more alone than I'd ever felt. Once I knew the girls were aware of what was happening, I knew I needed to call my family. My grandmother is an avid news watcher. She has a ridiculous internal clock that wakes her up at ridiculously early times. Although it was only 6 or 7 in the morning where she was, I knew she was watching. I called her, and she answered, saying, "I was just about to call you. Are you seeing this?" She and I have a strange connection. We always have. I could tell she had been crying too. As we were talking, the first building collapsed. Without realizing it, I let out a scream. I could not believe what I was seeing. My grandmother and I, silently, stayed on the line together. Never in my life have I wanted to be with her more. Without actually forming the thoughts, running solely on emotion, I wished I wasn't 2000 miles away from my family. Why had I chosen to go to college as far away as possible?

Florida State is in the capital of Florida. If you remember correctly, President Bush was in Florida when this occurred. The local radio stations believed that Air Force One might come to Tallahassee. Suddenly, I felt like anything could happen, right in front of me. Hadn't I just been a voyeur of a genuine act of war? There was so much horror and pure terror when the plane hit the Pentagon. If they can hit us at our top military office, and two building full of civilians, how much more is there? Who knew how many planes would hit, and where? We look back and remember NYC, DC, and Pennsylvania....but at the time, we had no idea. We all felt vulnerable. Our President could be killed if a plane hit his plane. It was mindless terror. These are the moments I think people forget.

When the plane hit in Pennsylvania, my mother called me. She simply said, "Elizabeth. If one more plane hits anywhere, you get in your car and start driving west. We will start driving east, and we will meet somewhere in a remote part of Texas." She said this with pure conviction. She meant every word. New Mexico, my home, is also home to Los Alamos National Laboratories, Sandia National Laboratories, and, at the time, three Air Force Bases. Any place, could be a target, including my home town.

I feel like the rest of the morning was a bit of a jumble. Planes were being grounded. I was thinking about any and all friends who might in New York, or on a plane in Boston or LA. My grandfather is an Air Force Brigadier who once worked in the Pentagon. These were people just like him. My aunt, uncle, and cousins were in Pennsylvania. I wondered how far this was from their small town.

When I heard reports about people jumping from the buildings, I wanted to vomit.