Everyone knows what they were doing on 9/11/01.
I had just started what-I-call CNN binge-watching. It was my 3rd year of college, and I finally had money to afford basic cable, after living all 20 of my years without cable up to that point. I enjoyed being on top of current events, and found conversation topics came easily when you educated yourself.
I had also gotten up at 5am that day, as I was also quite the morning person. I also had lots of papers to grade for the statistics class for which I was a teacher’s assistant.
I had CNN on in the background on my little 13-inch white Panasonic combination TV and VHS player. I was up to my eyeballs in p-curves and sample sizes at the ungodly hour of 5am. Suddenly, everything changed.
I saw the first plane crash into the World Trade Center when it happened – I think it was around 5:24am Pacific time that it occurred.
Then a second plane. Was this real? What. The. Hell. Black smoke billowed from the towers, and statistics was the very last thing on my mind.
I had an 8am California Geology course to get to, but I couldn’t bring myself to look away from the 13inch horror movie playing out in front of me.
I ended up riding my bike absent-mindedly to campus and made it in time for my class. Half the class didn’t bother showing up.
The professor was in the same state of shock as those of us who did show up, and knew what was happening. Some students had no clue and that was the first they’d heard of it.
My professor said, “I want to continue on with class if that’s ok. I don’t want to give the terrorists the satisfaction of winning. You can stay or go. But I won’t let them stop me.” He became a great man, in my opinion, that day.
We got through the hour and 15 minute class, and then the university (California State University, Chico in case you were wondering) made the announcement that classes were cancelled for the day, for all CSU campuses. No one could focus. People should be with loved ones if they could.
So I bailed on my second class that morning and the rest of the day. I rode my bike home, in that continued daze, and flicked on CNN again the moment I got home to my apartment.
After a while, I couldn’t handle CNN anymore. Two more planes – one crashing into the Pentagon, one into a field.
I felt like I needed to go crash into a field. I had to get out of my apartment to process what was happening. I jumped in my pickup truck, and drove to the most secluded place I could think of – an old swimming hole called Bear Hole in Bidwell Park. I took my truck off-roading deep into the park and just sat there with the wide open space in front of me. It was warm and sunny, but felt like it shouldn’t be.
In the aftermath, the stories all came together. I tried to read the 9/11 Commission Report to gather what facts I could and come to my own conclusion.
We had a Chico State alumnus who had been in Tower 2 with JP Morgan come and speak to the university (the honor society of which I was Treasurer set it up as he contacted us, and we felt compelled to allow the whole school to hear his story). He had been there for training with JPM, and was on approximately the 57th floor if I recall. He’d flown the day or two before, and left his wife in California while he was at training. In Tower 2, they of course were at work for the training prior to 8:30am, and he and his colleagues saw the first place hit Tower 1. They started to evacuate down the stairwells. This is what truly got me – he said there were people who could not walk, and the firemen carried them down. Everyone filed slowly, held doors open for each other, no one pushed each other or panicked, or tried to get out first, on the long descent down. It was polite, and displayed human decency at its finest. If you think New Yorkers can be cynical and hard, you are absolutely right. But not that day.
He told us when he could finally call his wife to let her know he was ok, she was sobbing. She had taken the sheets off their shared bed to wash them the morning he left, and she was upset at herself for losing his scent.
He told of the acrid smell of smoke, of dust everywhere, of stoic shock of a nation. People in disbelief, some crying. He told of bodies coming out of windows, choosing jumping rather than letting terrorists win. He told of our nation’s finest police officers and firefighters who proved themselves heroes that day.
He couldn’t travel back immediately, as you can imagine. He ended up having to drive across the US to get back to California and his wife.
Many New Yorkers (and other Americans across the nation) suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the number of prescriptions for antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications grew exponentially after that event.
As it turns out, a girl from my high school was on one of the flights, Flight 93, the one from Newark, NJ to San Francisco. Her name was Nicole Miller. Here’s the site for her memorial in case you’re interested, dear reader, and her high school senior photo.
She had been on the east coast visiting her boyfriend, Ryan, who’d also attended my high school. They got into a fight, and she decided to leave the east coast early. She didn’t make it home. It was her story, especially, that makes 9/11 the day where it’s so important to tell the people you care about you love them. Life is too short for arguments to last. You may not get another chance.
Mark Bingham, the man also on Flight 93 which landed in the field in Shankville, PA, is of special importance in San Francisco. Mark was on the San Francisco Fog Rugby Team, of which I have many friends who still play on this team. Every year since 9/11 at the Pilsner Inn, the team held a memorial in his honor. This year, was the first annual Bingham Cup in his honor held in Sydney, Australia, and some of my SF Fog rugby friends had the honor of attending and playing in this.
In comparison to other tragic events where lives are lost, this was small in comparison, but it struck a nation. It doesn’t matter how many lives are lost. Any life lost is a tragedy.
I can’t say I agree with how the George Bush administration handled our diplomatic affairs going forward with Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, and the Middle East. I don’t even agree with how he handled it the day of, when he was in a classroom full of children.
I do know that we are united as a nation by our grief of loss, and the stories everyone has of that day.
I remember, and in my remembrance, I offer music as my therapy.