Where I Was On 9/11

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09/11/15Where I Was On 9/11(Blog) (Forum).Chris Bishop.

I find it pretty much impossible not to be introspective on this day. Every year, it is perhaps a little less painful (only by droplets) and every year, I say, "I will not let 9/11 consume me this year." But then it's there, all over Facebook and whatever else, and each year, I read more and more accounts by people who were children at the time- or more incredibly, weren't even born yet. It seems inconceivable that there is someone alive today that didn't experience that day as it happened. But then, I wasn't alive when Kennedy was shot, so I suppose everyone has their first big historical event at different times. ...Although I was also around when Reagan was shot (March 30, 1981), when the Challenger blew up (January 28, 1986) and when the Columbia disintegrated on re-entry (February 1, 2003). All things that stopped this nation where it stood... but none like The World Trade Center.

On September 11, 2001, I was thirty years old, working as a kitchen steward at a country club in Virginia. An older lady from the main office came into the kitchen, walked up to the cooks' counter, and said, "Two planes just flew into the World Trade Center." At first, we all assumed it was another small plane like one that had hit another building, several years before. Then she said, "One came this way, one came that way." She may have said something else, but then she left. We had all just looked at her blankly when she said it. When she left, we looked at each other, then to the chef, and the realization came to his face, and he rushed to the chef's office to turn on the small television he had sitting on top of his desk hutch. I followed.

The chef sat at his desk while I stood in the middle of the floor, and we watched the report. The reporter was repeating the news of the hits on the Towers when they broke in with the attack on the Pentagon. I looked at the chef and said, "Oh my God, we're under attack."

He scoffed and said, "Nah."

I said, "Three planes at the same time? That's not coincidence, it's coordinated. This is a terrorist attack." I was sure of what I was saying, but at the same time there was a hint of question in my voice, because like most Americans, I was thinking, Here? Really? The chef looked at the screen with new consideration, his jaw clenched slightly at the realization.

The chef hollered for the rest of the kitchen staff, and they came in. The news repeated. The smoking Towers dominated the screen while the newscaster reported that police and fire were rushing into the building and up the stairs, when suddenly, incredibly, the first Tower fell.

One of my coworkers said, "They're okay. They got out."

"No!" I declared. "The news just said they were going in!"

"They're okay. They got out," she repeated, almost pleading for it to be true.

"No!" I said again with emphasis. "The news just said that they were going in! They were in there!"

She looked at the screen with new horror. I looked around the room with a panicked don't you get it type of look, and found the chef looking back at me in disbelief- which is when I realized that my coping mechanism (being absolutely, analytically clear about what was happening) had just taken an unfeeling sledgehammer to my coworker's coping mechanism (panicked denial). I felt terrible, but there was nothing to do but deal with it- there it was, right before our eyes: the new normal.

The second Tower stood there smoking, and I looked at the chef and said, "I have to go. I have someone at the airport." He said nothing. I repeated, "I have to go. I have someone at the airport."

"Go," he said.

I ran to my car, fumbling with my keys, replaying my weekend over in my head.

I was a few months out of a breakup that had absolutely devastated me- I mean really, truly broken me- when I met someone on a writing site. She was in another state, so we communicated via the site- commenting on each others' writing, and even writing poems back-and-forth to each other. Then we started talking on the phone. Then I did something I had never done before- I decided to try having a fling. So I invited her down for the weekend. To my complete surprise, she said yes.

She got her ticket, and was planning to fly in on Saturday, and leave on Monday. "The club is closed on Monday," I told her. "Why don't you stay another day? I'll pay for the difference in the air fare, and you can fly out on Tuesday."

First of all, Monday was awful. We had a petty argument...and I was in the wrong, which made it suck even more for me, because in my pride I was too angry to admit it. I did, finally- later that night- but by then it was too late. The damage was done; the day- and the visit- ruined.

I dropped her off at the airport Tuesday morning before going to work. We had made up enough to be friendly, but clearly the spark was gone. It really couldn't have sucked any more than it did.

Until the World Trade Center.

That stupid argument was because I got angry at the way she spoke to me, and I refused to say "please" for something. As I ran for my car, then zoomed out of the parking lot, "Please" was all I could say. "Please, Lord. Please let her be okay. Please oh please oh please."

I had turned on my car radio, and the station I was listening to had simply put a mic to a television set for the report, and the DJ's were relaying what they were seeing on the screen. I was a mile away from the club when a male DJ said, "Look! Look! Look! The second tower is going down!"

"No," replied a female DJ, "It's a replay of the first tower."

"No, it's the second one! Look! The first tower isn't there! Look! It's the second one!" he said in excited shock.

"Oh my God," said the female DJ. "Oh my God."

I flashed back to the exchange between me and my coworker, a few minutes before. I took a cold comfort that I wasn't the only one that reacted that way.

The news reported again about the TSA grounding all planes and the heightened security at all airports nationwide. As I pulled onto the main drive going into the airport, I suddenly wondered if I would even be allowed in. Then I wondered if I would be shot for speeding towards the airport during a terrorist attack. Then the action-movie-nerd inside me wondered if they'd bazooka my car in lieu of gunfire. I slowed down to a reasonable speed, found a parking space, and yes, approached the airport carefully- worried for my friend, but also cautious that I not look like a threat. It was perhaps ridiculous thinking, but these were the thoughts that went through my head at the time.

I made my way into the airport without interference, and didn't have to go very far before I found a group of people standing around a food stall, eyes glued to the TV that was riveted to the wall. And blessedly, there was my friend, sitting at a table, eating a yogurt while she watched. I let her know I was there, then watched along with everyone else.

There was a man standing next to me in a grey business suit, talking on a cell phone. He relayed something from the other end of the phone to us that were standing closest to him, and thirty seconds later, the news repeated it.

I asked, "Who are you talking to?"

He didn't respond because he was listening to his phone again. He relayed another bit, and the news repeated it thirty seconds later. Then another. Then turning from his phone to me, he said, "The military just shot down a plane in Pennsylvania."

Thirty seconds later, the news repeated it.

A little horrified, I asked "Who are you?" I didn't quite manage to not sound suspicious and accusatory.

He didn't answer.

I turned back to look at the television for several seconds, then looked back to the man on the phone.

He was gone.

No idea who he was.

Ten hours later, CNN retracted their report, of course saying that it was not the military that took down United Flight 93, but the passengers in a heroic move of self sacrifice.

Thanks to the mysterious man giving us the news thirty seconds ahead of CNN, I think I will be skeptical of that until my dying day.

I tried to convince my friend to come home with me until they allowed flights again. She instead took a free hotel room near the airport so she could catch the soonest flight out (hotels offered free rooms to stranded travelers). She got the only flight out on Friday- the first flight allowed since Tuesday. Had she not been at the airport, the earliest they would have scheduled her was the following Wednesday. I'm happy to say she got home safely.

I went back to work, but it seemed pointless. I went home, and stayed glued to CNN until I couldn't stay awake anymore. I repeated this numbly for days on end, until President Bush addressed the nation, literally saying, "It's time to get back to work." He had to. Everyone was dragging through their routine like I was. In the light of so much senseless death- of so much hatred- the "normal everyday" seemed trivial and unnecessary.

We had become one mind as a country- grieving our losses- and the majority of the world stood behind us, as friends at a wake. Thousands were victimized in this attack, and hundreds of others willingly laid down their lives in attempted rescue. Our hearts brimmed to overflowing with patriotism and vengeance. Nothing else mattered. "It's time to get back to work" was the signal we needed. We had patriotically grieved our countrymen with every fiber of our being. Now we would patriotically carry on with the same fervor- look on ye nations and tremble.

Were we the first to endure terrorism? Pft- no. But we would fugging well be the last. That's what we declared in our grief and anger... and perhaps in our arrogance. Bush declared war on terrorism, and put the world on notice: you're either with us, or against us, and if you're harboring terrorists, you are against us. And we shook our fists and declared "Hell yeah!" as one nation of one mind. And if there was any corner of the world that didn't tremble at that, then they were fools.

Although I've always loved my country, 9/11 gave me a patriotic swell that I had never known before. Also, a true appreciation for police, fire, rescue, and the military. My dad was a policeman most of my life (now retired), and in the Air Force before that. The thought of all of those that died on 9/11, and the families they left behind... it's impossible for me to not project my own "what if" on that, thinking of my dad. How can that not imprint on me? That patriotism has remained, and particularly comes to the forefront on this day, every year.

And yes, so does the anger. Not hatred- anger. Not only were we attacked; not only were thousands murdered; but delusional zealots have marred the image of an entire people and an entire religion to a good portion of this country.

That anger is compounded by the state of this country today. We've put ourselves trillions-upon-trillions of dollars in debt not only fighting this "war on terror," but also in bailing out industries that should have been allowed to fail (because the nature of free enterprise is that others would have risen up in their place). Our war has strained the patience of friends and foes alike. Perhaps rightly so, but perhaps that's just their fugging problem to get over- it's war, b*****s.

We've suffered at least two disasters since then (the flooding of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, and the two mile wide tornado that took out entire neighborhoods in Oklahoma). The economy has tanked mightily, and threatens to do so again. We've had multiple school shootings, theater shootings, and a domestic terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon. We are even currently witnessing a sustained series of attacks on police. On police! ...The same folks we literally cheered in the streets after 9/11?! Have we gone completely nuts?!

We have the most divisive president in the history of our country, and the candidates for the next election are a joke and a criminal. Today, I find my heart swelling with patriotism in the memory of 9/11, and burning with anger over the current state of our country. I want to punch Washington, D.C. right square in its two-facedness, then give it a boot right in the arrogance, complacency, and greed that is dragging the rest of us down with it. I love this country, but am disgusted with our so-called "leaders."

Every year at this time, I am reminded that I was at work, wondering if the woman I had just had a fling with would ever speak to me again. And I think of all that came afterwards. I thank God that I still have my family. I pray that our "leaders" will regain their senses and actually lead again. I thank God that this year is a little less painful than last year (even by droplets), and pray that next year will be less painful still. I realize that for those in New York, it may never be less painful on 9/11, and I close my eyes in recognition of their grief, feeling my own creep up again. And frankly, I wait for the day to be over.

Yes, it's true: we will "never forget." But we also hope for "never again."

Thanks for reading. -cb