Every generation has that one defining moment in time, that singular event that marks the passing of time forever more, that one moment that later shines brilliant in the darkness of memory because you know, you knew at that moment, that this day you would remember for the rest of your life. For older generations, that day may have been the day U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Or perhaps it was the day that civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed. For some, it was the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed. For others, the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. For my generation, that day was was September 11, 2001.
Now, I'm not going to write about 9/11, attempting to analyze or reason the significance of the attacks, nor am I going to ponder the question of whether or not the situation was avoidable. Instead, I will simply tell you where I, Moira Anne Richardson, was on September 11, 2001. I remember it clearly, almost every second from the moment that I heard the noise until I cried myself to sleep that night.
I knew it was going to be a bad day the moment I got out of bed. I knew, I think, not because of some intuition that the world had just gone to hell in a handbasket but because I had creative writing class at Pitt that day. That class -always- made for a bad day. It was the worst class I have every had. Coming from a person who has attended five colleges in seven years, that's sayin' a lot. It was one of those classes were you would sit in the back of the room, prayin' to Jesus to make you invisible, just this once, so that you wouldn't be singled out. This wasn't one of those happy "let's all be friends and share our writing" writing classes. This was a cutthroat "we're going to rip your writing to shreds and make you cry" writing classes. I dreaded it every day.
So, as I drove into Pittsburgh that day, I didn't listen to the radio. I had a snazzy new CD player in my hunk o' metal on wheels. I hadn't watched the morning news or read the morning paper. I hadn't even talked to anyone on the phone that morning. I just crawled out of bed, got ready for school, and took off.
When I got to Pittsburgh, the streets were suprisingly deserted. I mean, there were still people wandering around as there always are on the streets of Oakland, but there wasn't the usual mad bustle and clamor of students hurrying to their classes. I ambled my way down Fifth Avenue, hiked up the hill leading to the building in which my horrid class was held, walked up the three flights of stairs to class and was suprised to see that no one was sitting at the round tables outside the classroom as per usual.
"Maybe class was cancelled!" I thought gleefully, turning to the door to search for a notice. Nothing. I sat at the table, brought out a book and began to read. After a long while, having seen only two chittering girls in the hallway, I started to think maybe something was weird about the whole deal. I stuffed my book in my bag and headed down the hall to find the afore-mentioned chicas.
"Excuse me?" I asked them. "Do you know what time it is?"
They told me, then looked at me funny. "Classes are cancelled today."
"Oh, no, I don't think I'm in your class..." my words faltered off to nothingness as they stared at me.
"No, the college is closed." The pair were still looking at me wide-eyed. I was wondering if my skin had suddenly turned green when they continued. "Someone blew up the world trade center!"
I bet my jaw dropped as far as it ever has. "Excuse me?" I swear, I thought those girls were just messing with me. Nevermind that I had already noticed the strange emptiness of the streets and the building. I still thought those girls were just screwing with my head. So I gave 'em the "You're Crazy!" look and turned away. I wandered out of the building in a daze and down the street.
Now it was starting to sink it. I slowed my steps and listened to the murmurs of the random passerbys. All of them were talking about the same thing: some kind of craziness going on in the world. I made my way back to the car. I remember that walk down Fifth Avenue as the longest walk in the world. Everyone passed by as if through a film of gelatin, blurry and unreal. My legs were deadweight and my heart was beating faster and faster even though my steps grew slower and slower.
Eventually, I made it to my car, strapped myself in and clicked on the radio, where I couldn't help but to hear all the details. Every station was talking about one thing and one thing only, only no one, it seemed, had any idea what was going on.
I remember that night clearly as well. There were five of us, my best friends in the world, all gathered in one choice location, my apartment. We were sitting outside under a clear sky, chain-smoking cigarettes and making idle chitchat to take our minds off the horror of the day that had just passed. I was staring at the sky, the still silent sky, the new no-fly zone of the United States, at least for the day, and I was scared. We all were. We were talking, laughing even, trying to distract ourselves, but we were all afraid. We knew that soon we would have to give up our pretenses and crawl into our beds, each of us alone as we travelled into dreamland. That moment would come when our conscious mind would rest and all of us worried: what images would fill our minds that night?
p.s. this piece was inspired by Ryan Burger's 9/11 presentation today.
I wrote about the same thing in my blog. I think the memory is burnt into the minds of everyone. I had the same reaction you had, the general "What?!" It didn't seem real that day, and sometimes, it doesn't seem real now.Posted by: Vanessa at September 11, 2004 01:13 PM
The fact that the story was overcovered to death, so that a person who didn't even have television became sick of hearing about it (that's me!), surely didn't help matters. I think that overcoverage really added to the unreality of the whole situation for everyone who only heard about it on the news. I'm going to hop over to your blog now to read up. :c)Posted by: moira at September 11, 2004 01:46 PM