Originally published September 12, 2008
I woke up yesterday morning at 8:46 AM. I thought nothing of it at the time. Sheila had kissed me goodbye some time before, bringing me to the edge of awake for just a moment before falling back into the crescendo of sleep for a final few minutes. I remember it was 8:46 AM, I checked my phone, dressed myself and departed for home.
I knew it was Thursday, but I couldn’t remember the date, hardly unusual for me. Upon returning home I poured a bowl of cereal and took my position on the couch for a little morning sports news and such before beginning my day of job hunting and general mischief. The familiar pop of the TV activating came in sync with the first crunch of breakfast. I don’t know how your TV works, but ours will hold the last channel watched before it was turned off. It was the History Channel. A familiar image of a smoking tower filled the screen. I suddenly knew the date.
There was no movement in me. My jaw seemed to falter for a moment. The neurological signal to bite and chew was lost somewhere, distracted, overcome by something bigger. I could feel my pupils dilate. Two enormous silver towers were locked center frame, one agape in the upper floors, engulfed in smoke. The remote felt feather light and soft in my hand. What seemed to be several seconds later a large commercial airplane approached the South Tower of the World Trade Center, full speed, nose down. Again, I suddenly remembered the date.
Although I had seen this image live seven years earlier, and several times since, it was for that moment brand new. A ball of fire, the plane disappeared, the collective screams of every viewer filling the air in one unison cry of unfathomable horror. I dropped the remote control into my cereal.
It was September 11th, all over again.
Throughout the day I watched coverage of the anniversary, various documentary programming of that days events and part of a special featuring images and remembrances of amateur photographers who captured that day with their lenses. I had not thought about 9/11/2001 for some time, at least not actively. The distance between my mind and the original events was just great enough where parts of it seemed new, while other images came back in vivid detail, in direct correlation to what I was seeing on my TV screen.
I realized at some point that I have never written about that day. I figured it was time to do so.
On September 11th, 2001, I was living in Warren, Michigan. I had moved back home, in with my parents. I was 26 years old and in the midst of chemotherapy treatments for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. September 10th had been a long day, morning treatment, afternoon vomiting, evening sleep which came and went until just before 9AM on the 11th. I had fallen asleep with the small TV on in my small room. I don’t remember what I had been watching the night before. I stirred from sleep for the final time that morning to an unfamiliar sound – news. I rarely watch television news. I find it crude, biased and mostly sensational. But there it was. News.
The network had interrupted whatever normal programming was scheduled. The first things I saw that morning as I rubbed sleep from my eyes were two enormous silver towers, locked center frame, one agape in the upper floors, engulfed in smoke. What seemed to be several seconds later a large commercial airplane approached the South Tower of the World Trade Center, full speed, nose down.
I heard my Mother scream in the living room a fraction of a second before the impulse reached my throat to do the same. A ball of fire erupted; the plane disappeared into the tower. I was at once fully awake. Fully, awake.
A minute earlier I was climbing through the end of sleep, blissfully unaware of the first plane striking the North Tower at 8:46 AM. There are more pleasant ways to start a morning.
I remember the overwhelming feeling of ignorance. I didn’t know what was happening. I had just seen something, I knew it was real, but I did not fully understand what I was seeing. I doubt many of us did. It was New York City, I knew this. It was the World Trade Center, I knew this. A fucking plane had just knifed through one of the towers at breakneck speed. I knew this. An inventory of facts began to accrue. I yelled to my mom from my bed, I don’t recall what words I used, but I remember the most intense sensation of needing to know what was happening. I heard her footsteps, much louder and faster than normal. The door swung open. Her eyes were wide, wet and full of fear. I suspect mine were as well, as she collapsed on top of me, squeezing me in the way a mother does in moments of great fear.
We stared together at the tiny screen. Newsmen fumbled for words. I had to ask her a few more times what happened before she could grasp the situation enough to explain. A plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center earlier. No one knew why. It was an accident. Wasn’t it? Everyone seemed to think so. It no longer appeared to be an accident. One plane crashes, accident, two planes crash, not an accident.
Reports of various other planes being taken over surfaced, some true, others not. Fighter jets were scrambled, emergency crews raced towards the towers, pundits speculated, burning paper filled the sky, President Bush listened to 2nd graders read “The Pet Goat”.
Then a plane hit the Pentagon. Donald Rumsfeld helped carry a stretcher and then disappeared. Another plane was reported hijacked, presumably now on it’s’ way towards Washington D.C. What the fuck is going on? Who is in charge? Why is the President still reading about fucking goats? Fuck those fucking 2nd graders.
Then the South Tower fell.
My mind had been all at once full of so many things, so many questions, the idea that the tower could collapse, completely, to the ground, had not yet occurred to me. At 9:59 AM the split near the 82nd floor caved in on itself, the top 28 floors tilted to a side and began to slip loose. In less than 13 seconds a 110 story building had fallen from the sky.
7 minutes later another plane crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside. How many planes were there? Will we start shooting planes down? Who? Who? Who is doing this?
Then at 10:28 AM the North Tower collapsed.
WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING?
It came straight down. Straight down. As if someone had yanked the bottom floors out from under the rest, gravity took over, the steel framing weakened from thousands of gallons of burning jet fuel. I will never forget as long as I draw breath the site of that tower falling, straight down, straight down.
I retrieved the remote control from my cereal and finished my breakfast. What a strange day to wake up at 8:46 AM.
In the 7 years since the towers fell the world has become a startlingly different place. We are at war, constantly it seems. People hate us. We hate them. Thousands of people who arrived for a normal Tuesday at work are 7 years dead. Thousands more suffer in silence and beckoning outrage everyday. Ground Zero is still not completely cleared. There is a hole in the New York Skyline. It takes a long time to get on an airplane. The US defense budget is a mongoloid version of its’ former self. Companies sell commemorative plates, coins, banners and salt and pepper shakers on late night TV. President Bush is still reading about Goats, except now it is in intelligence reports of the Afghan countryside, where Osama Bin Laden is still hiding, still free, still out there – the boogeyman lives.
As a nation we went through the stages of grief and dealt with the memory of that horrific day. We rallied around the flag. We hated everyone light brown. We disavowed extremists, Islamic and otherwise. We banished french fries in favor of freedom fries. We re-elected the man in the big seat. We invaded Iraq, found Saddam in a hole and hung him up. We believed his government was responsible, then we believed we had been duped. We watched Congressional Hearings. We rooted for every sports team based in New York. We gave money. We cheered for Policemen and Firemen. We wore ribbons on our lapels and put magnets on our cars. We remember. We forget. We remember again.
Perhaps it is the refresher course of my television experience yesterday, but elements of that day are still thick in my head.
I remember the complete and utter uncertainty. I remember quiet skies, all commercial air traffic having been grounded for days. I remember friends stranded in North Carolina, Texas and California using rental cars for long road trips home, nothing but the radio news and their thoughts to accompany them.
I remember Thousands of ordinary citizens, acting anything but ordinarily, racing to New York City to assist in the search and rescue operation. I remember Nightly speeches by the President, 24 hour CNN addictions, newspaper circulation spiking.
I remember the gas station down the street from my parent’s home selling gas for $5 a gallon. I remember random acts of violence against Arabs. I remember my father, 65 at the time with a bad back and diabetes, walking with a cane, accompanying our Lebanese neighbor to the grocery store to ensure she would be safe.
I remember seeing more American flags than I thought existed. I remember being horrified as I figured out that those little blips of matter falling quickly from the tower were people. I remember a deep, deep feeling of pain.
Perhaps what I remember most, no matter how much I wish I could forget, are the images of people posting photos and descriptions of missing loved ones on any wall still standing near the World Trade Center, standing in line to get on camera for a few seconds to beg the Audience to help find their fathers, their sons, their wives, their daughters. I remember hurting for these people in a way I still cannot describe or come to terms with.
More than two towers and a chunk of the Pentagon mall facade fell that day. A great part of our collective security tumbled with it. We were vulnerable, not from the army of a country we had engaged in war, but from splinter cells and independent foreign operatives, otherwise known as terrorists. The name is rather fitting. As a nation, as a people, as a world of people – we woke up, at 8:46 AM.