Everyone says 9/11 is one of those days that never lets you forget where you were. Like the JFK assassination a generation (or two) earlier, 9/11 is indelible. This is where I was:
On September 11, 2001, I was asleep in my dorm at Oklahoma State University. I was a sophomore then and, being a Tuesday, had only one class that was much later in the day. I had been up and out late the night before and was not pleased to hear the phone ring that early in the morning. At the other end of the line my friend and fellow volunteer firefighter Jeb told me that two planes had collided and fallen into the World Trade Center. He had just heard the news himself and obviously did not understand what had happened; in this he was far from alone.
I immediately flipped on the TV and saw one of the first replays of the second plane boring into the south tower. I’ve had recurring nightmares my whole life about seeing planes crash (and being on crashing planes) and it felt just like that. After processing what I was seeing for a few seconds, I ran down the hallway to wake up my neighbors and call them to my room. I then called my best friend a few buildings over and had her come right up.
We watched the rest of the day in a numb haze. When the first tower fell I tried to calculate how many companies must be there and how many each had to get a crude casualty count. It was clear already that this was going to be brutal for the FDNY. I talked to my mom back home and called a few other friends. As soon as we located him, we sequestered our friend Keith and gave him strict instructions to go nowhere without one of us. Keith is an Indian from the United Arab Emirates and after the Oklahoma City bombing people like him were targets for ass kickings (it turned out that he endured no harassment, however). I had a test that afternoon because the school’s administration, not grasping the gravity of the situation until later in the evening, did not cancel class. I ran over just long enough to sign my name and fail and then promptly returned to my friends. One of our group was a former paid firefighter from an hour or so outside New York City. A number of guys on his volly company were killed and he was as upset as you might expect. Another of my best friends, back home, lost his brother-in-law while his sister (the wife) watched the collapse live on television. His mom was also missing in the morass at the Pentagon. Another good friend lost a brother.
I drove home a few days later to be with the best friend who’d lost the brother in law and whose mother had been located, but was injured. He was alone back home from school and after a nine-hour overnight drive I walked in on him at 5am. He was sitting in a chair staring at the wall. He hadn’t slept in about 36 hours and hadn’t eaten in about 48. Everything about it was written on his face.
I didn’t know anyone who died, but I keenly felt the pain of loss of those I loved and the anxiety and anger that we all felt. It still seems like something I saw in a nearly remember nightmare. What the hell happened? The magnitude is staggering even nine years later. One thing