Sunday, September 11, 2011

Before, Then, Now, Therefore

Is it possible that ten years have gone by? That I was seventeen ten years ago? That seventeen years ago, very early in the morning, the biggest problem I had was my upcoming volleyball match against our arch-rival, and the fact our class dues were so high I couldn’t pay them all at once?

A friend of ours once said that he read some study about memory and false memory, and how 9/11 fits into that. According to this study, most of what we remember about 9/11 is not really what we remember, but more of a collective memory of our memory and the things our friends, families, and even strangers told us.

When he said that, I thought, screw that. That day is horrifyingly crystal clear.

Tuesday was current events day. I remember listening to the news on the way into school. I got to drive my Dad’s car that day, because I had an early meeting for our senior class before school, and a volleyball game after school. I was waiting for some interesting piece of news that could be mine to bring up in class. Nothing came. It sounded like some of the most boring stuff on earth. It was about 6:15 in the morning, and I was rushing to get my college level statistics class that I took before school even started.

That statistics class dragged. Our senior meeting dragged. Then, thoroughly tired already from being up so early, I dragged myself to my first high school class of the day. AP Gov, with Mr. Ashley, our narcoleptic teacher. I kid you not—he had narcolepsy, and would randomly fall asleep. Since I was in the AP class, we would sit there quietly, working, until he woke up. I make no promises for what the other classes did, but I’ve heard they were, uh, creative.

AP Gov class started at 9:45. We flicked the classroom TV on, as we usually did for current events day. We were the first ones to find out about what was happening. We all stared at the TV in disbelief. I remember I had the seat closest to the window, and I was sitting on my desk so I could see better.

I stood up, and the teacher looked at me. Go tell the principal, he said, in a monotone voice. And then he made eye contact with me. Go call your brother, too. He knew my brother was a fighter pilot, and spent a lot of time at the Pentagon for this particular assignment. I rushed out, and dropped the news on the principal. I scrambled down to the payphones. As I did, I could hear the vice principal getting on the PA system, turning on every TV in the school, and tell people that something terrible was happening.

I dialed. Mom? Where is Pilot (my brother)? Do you know—She cuts me off. I know. I got a call a few minutes ago from him. He said, Don’t talk. Just listen. Turn on the news and watch. I want you to know I am safe, but you will not be able to reach me for a few hours. I love you. Tell everyone else I love them. Then he hung up.

I staggered back to class. Although he’s never told me, I suspect he was one of the fighters scrambled in the air that day. I got back into the class room in time to see the first tower fall. I sat back on top of my desk, and rested my arms around the around the girl in front of me. She was sitting on her chair, shaking, and I remembered that her dad worked in the WTC, in the only remaining tower.

Like little robots, we eventually stood up, knowing it was time to change classes. Just before 10:30, the bell rang. Just before 10:30, just as the bell was ringing, the second tower collapsed. The girl I had been hanging onto collapsed onto the floor, knowing that she had just seen her father die on TV.

The rest of the day, we were mostly silent and on automatic pilot. Our principal, a kind but often impractical nun, decided it would be best for us to go about our day, and told everyone to turn off the TV’s, and essentially, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. The vice principal, a more practical and more forceful nun, scoffed, and went around turning the TVs on manually, saying, this is your history now. Watch it.

My volleyball game was canceled. Which was unsurprising, but we were all upset, because it was normal and distracting, and we wanted normal and distracting.

I drove my Dad’s car home from school, and people everyone where beeping at me and waving. It took me a few times to figure it out—my Dad has Army National Guard Plates on the car, because he was in the service for 30 years. He had just retired two months before. A guy at a stoplight pulled up next to me and rolled down his window, so I did too. Have you been activated? I was just activated. No, I answered, this is my Dad’s car. I have to get it home to him. Good luck. Be safe.

My Dad was already home. He had been furiously calling everywhere he could, trying to get himself reactivated, even though he had retired. My Mom and I (and I suspect the rest of the family) were relieved. We already had enough family members in the service. Dad was frustrated. I trained for this for years, he said. And now I can’t help.

Swim practice with my synchronized swim team was canceled. My sister and her husband and kids came over, and we spoke with my sister in law on the phone often that night, and waited for my brother to call and say he was okay. At that point we knew that many of his friends—people we had known since his Academy days—were dead. They had been at the Pentagon.

It’s been ten years, but I wanted to write this all down. I don’t know that in another ten years it will all be as clear as it is now. I wanted it written down for me, and for my daughter. I wanted it written down for E, the girl I held and rocked as she saw her dad die on television. I wanted it written down for my family, my brother, and my nieces and nephews, who were so young. I wanted it written down for B, a woman I knew who managed to survive the attacks in NYC, only to die in the most senseless plane crash, along with many other people I knew. I know its long, but isn’t everyone’s story?

Where were you?

1 comment:

LawMommy said...

That day is crystal clear to me as well, not collective false memory.

I was in Trusts and Estates, a 2L. Our professor was a chain smoker, he needed a cigarette at 8:45 that morning. At 8:55 he walked back into our class and told us to go to the lounge, to turn on the TV. We were watching together, all the 2Ls from the class, plus the professor, when the second plane hit, and when the plane hit the pentagon, and when the towers fell.

My clearest memory is deeply personal - the Dean of Students ran into the lounge and grabbed me and a fellow 2L named Kathleen. She told us we had to go to the campus day care center, that the University was being shut down, and we had to go get our babies. Kathleen and I both had interviews scheduled that morning with a BIG FIRM for a BIG SUMMER INTERSHIP, and then Dean of Students told us to bring the babies back to the law school, that she would find someone to hold them so we could still interview with the BIG FIRM.

I ran to the daycare center, by that time the campus was buzzing with fear about both what was happening nationally, and a bomb threat that had been called into campus. I ran into my son's classroom, and he was the last child from that class being picked up. I had dressed him a white, velour one piece crawler that morning, and when I first saw him, in the arms of his caregiver, I believed he was covered in blood, because his face and his white crawler were blotchy with red ooze. I almost fell to my knees.

His caregiver, an incredibly kind woman who was originally from India, and whose husband was a surgeon, who was only working at the day care center because her own children were grown and she loved babies - she rushed over to me. She saw me looking at my son in horror, and said, "oh no, oh no, he is fine, he is fine, we have just been eating strawberries this morning." It wasn't blood, it was strawberries.

I looked at her, I looked at my baby, and she and reached out to eachother, holding my son between us, and rocked back and forth and cried for a long time.

Another mother, a woman named Dawn, came into the room with her daughter, and she said, "I just realized today's date...it's 9-11...911." And then she sat with us and cried too.

I did take my son to the law school, and I did interview the BIG FIRM, while someone (I don't remember who) held my screaming son. For the whole interview I could hear him screaming outside the door. We did not discuss anything during the interview except what was happening in New York and Washington. (I did not get that job, shocking, I know.)