So, It’s Been 10 Years
For a long time I resisted blogging about 9/11…and I hesitated a lot about writing this post but something now compels me to do so… It felt almost disrespectful and perhaps it is that the media had turned a solemn day into a day for specials and voyeuristic one-up-manship so I didn’t want to “join in”…the programs about the science of it all are interesting but even they make me somewhat uncomfortable at times, learning about how hot it could have been and how the steel beams buckled…but over the 10 years I’ve learned to separate myself from that circus and instead think about the people who died and their families and friends who will forever mourn them…
At about this time (just before 9 AM) on September 11, 2001 I was just rolling over to get my ‘second sleep’ in my room in Malcolm X House. Sophomore year in college. Class did not begin until the afternoon so of course I was sleeping in. So when the phone rang and the display told me that it was my boyfriend calling I wondered what the heck now. I knew that he should be in class. I answered a sleepy hello…and was met with his urgent, “Renée, where is your father? Is he at work?” For a moment my sleepy brain & body were a little annoyed and surprised. Why is he asking that? I honestly don’t remember what my response was but it probably was that he was home after much heeing and hawing, he was on vacation for a week. The response I got from him was one of relief. He then explained that something was going on at the World Trade Center, that planes had crashed into those very tall buildings, that he was being sent home from his school in upstate New York.
I hung up and immediately called my family in New York City and spoke to my sister. I could hear her voice shaking in relief that Daddy was on vacation that week. Nervous laughter from both of us. Though he worked on projects around the City, his company’s base office was in the WTC. He still has his office keys.
I didn’t have a TV during college (and I survived!) so I went to a housemate’s room to watch the TV. By that time the entire House realized that something was going on. The images of people waving and crying out for help as their offices burned, and then seeing some jump. Sickening. I was awake to see the second plane hit…and a couple hours later to see those two buildings fall. I remember a profound feeling of disbelief and horrified fascination. Surely this was a dream…hijackings and these kinds of horrors happened in the movies…in Delta Force movies in which Chuck Norris rushed in to save the day. Then we heard about the Pentagon and heard that another one was on its way to somewhere, possibly the White House. We had a House meeting that evening and many of my housemates were scared, many were angry, all of us were shocked.
As the hours of the day wore on the question in our family became, “Where is Grandpa?” My father’s father was not at his home and was known to roam the city…Daddy and my uncle had gone into the City to find him at the usual haunts. They eventually found him, near the crash site, thankfully unharmed but covered in that now infamous white ash. He had seen what happened but lingered to take pictures…this broke some tension in our family since we were able to joke about how typical this was of Grandpa, to always have a disposable camera in his pocket to snap away at whatever interesting things he saw.
My family knew the WTC well aside from Daddy’s base office being there. My older siblings and cousins had for many summers worked at the WTC souvenir shop. They all still speak of that time fondly. My stepmother had taken us there one Summer, all the way to the top and it was only a few weeks before 9/11 that I’d cleared out my old wallet and thrown away the ticket stubs. In Summer 2000 I was an electrician’s apprentice through Daddy’s work. It was hard but fun and interesting work pulling cable on the 70-something or 80-something floor of the WTC. I was one of 3 females on that job site. I worked on a rewiring project for office space…best triceps I ever had. Every morning my belly dropped as I rode the elevator up to my job site and I eventually got accustomed to the slight but noticeable swaying of the building in the breeze. At lunch time I enjoyed the view or a walk outside. A few weeks after 9/11 when I visited Daddy I saw the union’s newsletter. Three men that I had worked with died on 9/11. I remember one of them in particular for his sharing with me, over measuring wire and general instructions, that his young daughter was pregnant and moving back home. He had thick glasses and a kind, open face. I remember the slight sadness in his voice even as he was excited for the arrival of his grandchild…he was sad because he had wanted his daughter to do other things before she started having children…he kindly and subtly urged me to finish school and all those other things before having children. It saddens me that his grandchild did not have the benefit of that kind grandfather for more of his/her life…that’s what bothers me the most about 9/11: that so many children and grandchildren did not get to know their parents and grandparents. Robbed of their love and wisdom.
For me 9/11 will always be about the undignified deaths of 2,977 people (many were not U.S. citizens) and the hundreds of thousand of soldiers soon thereafter sent off to “fight for my freedom” in wars that I had protested against as the wrong response to even this unspeakable horror. It is about the additional 343 NYC firefighters and 60 police and Port Authority people who died, many of them who I sometimes think inexplicably ran into those burning buildings to do their jobs. No! Go the other way. The sound of the firefighters’ beeping transponders after the towers’ collapse was so very eerie and sad especially as the beeping faded over the following weeks… Months later travelling through Grand Central and Penn Station I often stopped to read the “Missing” posters that covered areas of those transit centers, posters that displayed the desperation and hope of so many. Along with those posters were the uniformed army and national guards with big guns and German Shepherds. Now Grand Central and Penn Station have been cleared of all those posters but not the uniformed personnel. That December some friends and I went to what was by then called Ground Zero, I guess to “see” only God knows what. We were not the only (morbidly?) curious ones since when we arrived there were long lines of other people wanting to “see.” I will never forget the smell of burnt and rotting human flesh and other burning things. For the next 2 or so years I watched the 9/11 Memorial services that included the reading of the victims’ names trying to fully grasp the magnitude of it all, to understand. After that it became too much to to watch people’s open pain. Sometimes I do not understand.
In 10 years so much happened…it doesn’t feel like 10 years at all. To my mind nothing can and will ever excuse orcompletely explain the why. I guess that the point of this post is to encourage people to never forget another of the horrors in human history in the hope that we will eventually learn how to stop and prevent more horrors. We really are our own worst enemy. Whatever the politics and sociology of why 9/11, the rhetoric that continues, and whatever the politics of and squabbles over what followed 9/11, I think that it is important to remember those who died on that day. Like Auschwitz and its companion sites, like Rwanda, like the 2 World Wars, the 2 (or is it 3?) wars dragging on…like too many other human horrors caused by and related to war, I will never forget.