Everyone has their own story about September 11th. "I
was tying my shoe," someone would say, "when the first tower
fell. My white and blue Nikes. I was tying my left, white and
blue Nike when the first tower fell." Everyone has their own
story, their little piece of the pie, their claim on the
incredible, horrible, memorable day. Everyone frantically seeks
to inject themselves into the vein of national tragedy. "I was
cooking an omelet. I was cooking a ham and cheese omelet in my
new red frying pan when the second plane hit."
I don't have much of a story. I was either asleep
or showering or getting dressed when the first plane hit. I was
on the bus to school when the second plane hit. I don't remember
where I was when the first tower fell. "I was packing my
backpack" my friend informed me breathlessly. "I was packing my
math book into my backpack when the second plane hit." I nodded
and feigned interest, trying to look as enthralled as he expected
me to look, as if his packing his backpack with a math book
played some desperately important role in the events in New York,
Washington D.C., Pennsylvania.
"This is history in the making" our history
teacher told us somberly. "This right here-" he pointed to the
T.V. that showed jets relentlessly crashing into buildings, "this
right here is history, folks." We watched the flickering screen
in awe. "It's just surreal. Unbelievable" every newscaster said.
"Surreal. That's the only way I can describe it." The day slid
by, a muddled mess of CNN, NBC, Fox. People in suits yammering at
other people in suits, interrupted by the smoking Pentagon, a
marred filed in Pennsylvania, a commercial for the New Spicy Bean
and Guacamole Taco Burrito.
The death toll numbers began pouring in. "An
early estimation puts the death toll at 1000 people" the anchor
nearly whispers. "The new death toll estimates about 2000 dead."
Then a scene of men jumping from the towers, their ties
fluttering behind them, their bodies isolated against the sky.
"What started as a beautiful, cloudless September day has turned
into a nightmare…" My class swelled with secret joy when the
death toll exceeded that of Pearl Harbor. We were proud.
Our day was worse than that day so long ago, that "day
of infamy" we had heard about in textbooks, watched in
documentaries, read in magazines. This was bigger and deadlier
and certainly more important than Pearl Harbor, and there we
were, right in the thick of things, sitting in our 8th
grade classroom. "I was brushing my teeth…" someone said.
Later, American flags would be everywhere. The
news would be full of the still foreign scene of jets colliding
with skyscrapers. The heroics on flight 93 would be lauded again
and again. Conspiracy theorists would finally get something to
work with. Images of the devil in the explosions would flood the
net. A country singer would "put a boot in their ass, it's the
American way." The Pet Goat would become one of the most
famous children's books ever. "9/11 will define this generation"
the experts on the news said to each other.
Later, people would trade stories. "I was packing
my backpack" my friend said to the group surrounding him. "I was
packing my backpack with my math book when the second plane hit."
"I was just walking out the door" another says. "I was eating
Apple Jacks" someone else says. I would stand there and not say
anything. I was detached, as if I wasn't alive when the planes
hit and the towers fell. This wasn't my tragedy, just like Pearl
Harbor wasn't my tragedy. I was excluded from all conversation
concerning the attack because I wasn't there. "Where where you
when the first plane hit?" someone asked me. I looked around
sheepishly at the eager faces, eyes wide, ready to hear my
personal connection with the event that was so unbelievably
important. "I was asleep," I said.