Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years Ago

It was a Tuesday. I was busier than I had ever been in my life, helping to coordinate five separate events in a course of six weeks. That very day, I was supposed to work a press conference at the port of Seattle, something about pressuring port commissioners to support labor rights. I also had to go to the doctor's office that morning. I had sprained my wrist, or smething small like that. Something insignificant.

I was asleep when R called me. "Are you listening to the radio?" I groggily replied that I wasn't.

"You'd better turn it on." There was a seriousness in her voice that I had never heard before.

I turned it on at around 6:50 Pacific time. The World Trade Center was smoldering from the impact of both planes. There were reports of a car bomb at the State Department, and smoke behind the White House. I switched on the tv, and the computers in the living room, and kept talking to R on the cordless phone while walking through the apartment. My brother woke up, startled at the sudden commotion, and we started soaking in media reports together. CNN's website was frozen for some time, and then relaunched in a stripped format, only headlines and photographs.

I went to the doctor's office. As I remember it, the office was quiet and the lights were dimmed, but that could just be my memory.

I worked for a political non-profit then, and the office was somber. My boss quietly intoned, "This is serious, man. There's gonna be a war." It seemed prescient then, but looking back, she was just voicing the obvious. We had been attacked. The Pentagon had been bombed. The World Trade Center had been incinerated, along with thousands of people. Someone would be called to pay.

Did I trust Bush to get the war right? No. But even I was feeling like something had to happen. Grudgingly, I acknowledged that some response would have to happen.

R was just my girlfriend at the time. We had been seeing each other for ten months, and lived in different cities. We spent the night together, and most of the next week. We both went home early from our jobs and sat and watched Peter Jennings together. I remember how human he seemed, and he nearly choked up at one point when he told viewers that if they had children in another part of the country, "call them up." He was reassuring and he seemed to constantly report the facts, not the wild rumors or speculation, but "here is what we know." Twenty minutes later, "here is what we can verify."

I still remember watching Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and finally Bush making their comments and speeches, and thinking "these are not the people I trust to protect me." I was deeply suspicious of Bush and the cabal he had surrounding him. We had been through a horrible election, one which left me and millions of people with deep feelings of mistrust about whether the government was legitimate. I personally wanted Al Gore to rise up as the thundering voice of the opposition, but instead he went off to grow a beard. And then suddenly, after the attack, everyone immediately fell in line and starting saying things like "we have to support the president in times of crisis" and "it's not the time to question the government." It smelled of bullshit then, and it does now.

We ate dinner that night in a small pizza parlor in the University district. The proprietor, who might have been Lebanese, was talking about how Americans had been so complacent about terrorism, and now we would see how it felt to be the ones attacked. I wasn't angry at him, but I was surprised at his candor. It would be harder to make blunt assessments like that in the months, as we were warned to watch what we said and what we thought.

I remember thinking that Seattle could be the next target, a conclusion no doubt drawn from local news hyperventilating. I wanted nothing more than to spend my days with R. She was my rock, the person who kept me sane, and I wanted to spend as much time as possible with her. Time seemed fleeting.

Nine weeks later, in a Brazilian restaurant, I dropped to one knee and proposed to R. Her hands shaking, she said yes emphatically. The date of our engagement? 11/9. A coincidence, but I will say that the date is easy to remember.

1 comment:

Phil said...

Very nice piece.