On September 10th, I went to an evening class, Modern Culture and The Arts, at my college. I talked to some people in my class about how awesome the Harry Potter movie, coming out that next summer, looked from the pictures in Vanity Fair, and resolved to read the books- all three of them- before it came out. I went to a friend's house. We made out while watching Evil Dead 2. I got home at three in the morning on September 11, 2001, and all I could think was "Thank god I don't have class until noon tomorrow."
At the time, I lived in my grandparent's spare bedroom, and they were early risers despite being retired. I made a little note and taped it to my door before I went to sleep. "DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, WAKE ME UP BEFORE 10 OR I WILL TURN INTO A PILLAR OF SALT." I knew they had to get up even earlier than usual, because they were going to drive to Indiana to visit relatives. But sure enough, my grandfather ignored the sign and called cheerfully up the stairs at 8:45 am (according to my alarm clock, that seemed to hate me), "Jenny, you want some pancakes?"
I yelled back, "No, I don't want any pancakes. I don't have to be to class until noon. I want to sleep in."
I pulled my blankets over my head and tried to will myself back to sleep, but less than five minutes later, I heard my grandfather's footsteps on the stairs again. "Jenny!"
"I told you I don't want any pancakes please let me sleep for the love of God!" I begged. They're used to my drama.
"Someone drove a plane into the World Trade Center!"
The first thing I thought was, "drove a plane? What an odd choice of words." The second thing I thought was, "I bet this is going to be weeks of congressional hearings about air traffic controller safety." I thought it would probably be something we'd cover in my American Government class.
There was no going back to sleep, so I got up. And this is the part I remember so vividly. I remember walking down the stairs, because that is the last thing I can remember before, as cliche as it is, everything changed. I went into the kitchen, where my grandmother was sitting at the table, watching on the little tv in there as the newscasters, and my grandparents and I, talked about what a horrible accident it was. And then we saw the second plane, and we tried to keep talking about it like an accident, like the people on television still were. But I think, at that time, we knew.
My grandparents called our relatives in Indiana and said they would be late, they were watching "what's happening in New York". We kept watching, and heard the report of the plane hitting the Pentagon. I started thinking of other buildings we would be hearing soon: the capitol, the Sears tower in Chicago, the New York Stock Exchange, the Statue of Liberty. It sounds silly now, knowing how things turned out, but at the time, it seemed like whatever was happening could wipe every city I could think of off the face of the Earth.
On the tv, a reporter stood in front of a fire truck, and behind him, fire fighters jogged together in a big group toward the towers. A few minutes later, the South tower appeared to partially collapse. Then, reports confirmed that it had completely collapsed. I looked at my grandfather and I said, "What happened to all those firemen?"
I watched tv all day that day, from the living room love seat where I would doze off, then wake up, the tv still on. My grandparents, devout Orthodox Christians, cancelled their trip and debated going to church. I don't remember if they went. I do know that in the evening, a neighbor came down and knocked on the door. He was inviting everyone in the neighborhood to come down to his lawn to pray together.
I didn't go pray. I stayed on the couch, watching television, for days. Thinking it was the end of the world. Wondering if we should start locking the doors at night, because the terrorists could come in and kill us in our sleep. The kind of thoughts a twenty-one year old shouldn't have, ones that are more suited for a four year old. I was reduced to a child by my anxiety.
I shook the news paralysis (eventually, I had to go to work). I never shook that fear. No, I'm not still afraid of terrorists coming into my house and killing me in my sleep, but, like many Americans, I don't feel safe anymore. Ten years later, I struggle to explain to my son that "terrorist" didn't used to be a word that got used every single day, and that things used to be different. I think of the fact that both of my children will never know what it was like to live in a time where it didn't seem like anything could touch us.
I don't engage in 9/11 conspiracy speculation, and I'm not interested in discussing how our foreign policy and lack of awareness about ourselves may have hurt us. I've never been interested, because none of it matters. It doesn't matter why, what matters is that it happened. And it is important, for people who witness the events, even just on television, to remember where they were and what they were doing. Not just on 9/11, but the day before. Everyone needs that snapshot of the last time things were okay, because ten years later, it's still hard to accept that it will never be that way again.