Sunday, September 11, 2011

Three Memories From Sept. 11, 2001

I think pretty much every website in the country is looking back on what happened 10 years ago today, and far be it from me to break the trend. I honestly tried to write a straight-forward narrative of my thoughts, reactions and feelings about that day, but it never quite came out right. So let me just share three anecdotes of my Sept. 11, 2001:

- Most of the day is a blur for me. I'd love to sit here and tell you it's all crystallized in my mind, but beyond about 1pm, everything just sort of runs together in a jumble of fear, confusion and adrenaline. What isn't blurry is how the day started, because, honestly, it started like almost any other day of mine in college. I woke up. Turned on "SportsCenter" -- lead story: Michael Jordan getting ready to announce his comeback -- sat down at my computer and hopped on AIM (remember when THAT was the primary method of instant communication? When was the last time you used AOL Instant Messenger, instead of Facebook or Twitter? Be honest. That thing is more obsolete than Friendster).
My buddy Phil IMs me: "are you watching the news?"
My response: "Yeah, Jordan's coming back."
Phil: "No, you dumbass, the real news."
I flip to ABC and see the image of fire coming out of the North Tower.
Me: "Holy crap, what happened."
Phil: "A plane crashed into the building."
At this point, I picked up the phone and called him, and we continued to talk as the news showed the images. We went back and forth, just like they did on the news: was it an accident, was it an attack, big plane, small plane? Just lots of questions. Then the second plane hit. We watched it live. Millions of people watched it live. Most of the day might be a blur. THAT image, I'll never forget.

- The weird thing is the rest of my morning tried to progress as normally as possible. I had a 9:30 a.m. economics class, and when I got there, everyone was buzzing about what had just happened. Then the professor walked in and everyone got real quiet, expecting him to have some profound words, or start some kind of discussion or basically for anything to happen like it would if we were all in some kind of "very special" episode of a TV show. Instead, he started talking about -- economics. This was a dull class to begin with (but required for my minor in business administration), but the juxtaposition of his normally scheduled lesson with the backdrop of 9/11 was insane. People started looking around and murmuring "is he really just going to teach the lesson?" After a few minutes, people started walking out. Me? I stayed the whole time, scribbling football plays in my notebook while he rambled on about supply and demand.

Why football plays? Well, every Tuesday at 11:00 a.m., I had a pre-scheduled interview with our school's head football coach, for the preview article that would run in Thursday's paper. I went from class to that interview, and the first thing I noticed that week is that Coach Combs had three TVs on in his office, and they were all showing the same thing: Yale football game film. He wasn't breaking from his routine AT ALL. So the first thing I asked him was "given what's happened, do you think you're going to play this weekend?" His response? Yes. "I'm a believer that you have to move on with your life no matter what happens," he said. Of course, at the time, no one knew quite the level of devastation that had occurred. We continued on with the interview as normal, and about halfway through, the athletics director poked his head into the office and said that he'd just gotten off the phone with Yale's AD. They'd suffered significant alumni losses in the attack and they weren't sure the game would be played. So after he left, I asked Gordy again, "do you still think you'll play Saturday?" His words said "I think so" but you could see in his eyes that he didn't believe it anymore. Just a few hours later, pretty much every college sporting event in the nation for the rest of that week was canceled.

- Between economics class and the football interview, I hadn't heard any updated news about what was happening in New York between about 9 a.m. and noon. So upon leaving the Towson Center, I turned on AM radio and tuned in the first news station I could find. They were actually replaying audio from earlier that morning, and that's how I heard about the collapse of the second tower. Thankfully, the drive from the Towson Center to the University Union was less than a mile, because otherwise I'm not sure I could have held back the tears. As it was, I pulled into the Union garage, parked my car, and cried for what seemed like hours, but was probably "only" about 15 minutes. I couldn't help but think back to just a few weeks earlier, the last time I'd been in New York. I was visiting Phil, and we picked up our friend Eric at Grand Central Station. I don't remember all the details of that day, but I remember we had some time to kill before Eric had to go somewhere that afternoon, with the plan being to eventually all meet up again at a bar that night. Well, we were driving around, trying to figure out what to do, when Eric suggested "hey, let's go see the World Trade Center." Now, this was the first time the three of us had been together since turning 21 -- thus the bar plans -- and I wasn't interested in spending that time doing something we'd done years before on various school field trips. My exact words, which I will never forget, were, "That's stupid. We can go see the fucking World Trade Center whenever we want. Let's do something fun." Three weeks later, no one would ever be able to visit the World Trade Center ever again. The short-sightedness of my own words hit me as soon as I heard about the tower collapse, and haunt me to this day.

For the next few weeks, I got incredibly nervous any time I saw a plane flying overhead. I'd love to tell you how long it took before I got over that, and when it happens, I promise I will. I still look up cautiously at any plane that seems to be flying a little too low, even though I live 12 miles from one airport and 18 miles from another. The regularity doesn't help at all.

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