It seemed to take the entire day on September 11 before we understood everything that had happened. Wild rumors filled the air. There was a car bomb at the Department of State, a fire at the Pentagon (that was the third plane), attacks on the White House. There was no Twitter, no Facebook, no instant news alerts via email. CNN's website crashed multiple times on 9-11 until they stripped it down to an all-text bulletin page. I kept trying to get the correct details. I wanted to know exactly where the plane hit the Pentagon, how many people were on board the planes, where they flew from, how they had been taken. What had happened in Pennsylvania.
I flew a month afterward. I had to go to Chicago for a conference. They had ratcheted down security so tightly that the lines to board planes went all the way out of O'Hare Airport and back around through another door. I remember seeing National Guardsmen patrolling the airport in camouflage, rifles strapped to their chests, at the ready.
September 11 really threw me out of my orbit. I couldn't stop listening to the news. Something about the way I had found out about the attacks after they were in progress got to me. I wanted to know when the next attacks were happening. Especially if they were going to be happening on the west coast. (Years later, it was revealed that the plan was to attack targets on both coasts, and that one of the potential targets was the tallest building in Seattle.)
I couldn't turn off the news. I watched the national news every night - something that I never did before. I became depressed, haunted, fearful. I worked in downtown Seattle, and we have an airport ten miles away, so planes fly over the city constantly. For months, every time I saw a plane flying near one of the tall buildings, I would watch it until I saw that it passed the building and didn't fly into it.
I ended up going into therapy, and I was taking medications for a while until I was able to regain control. But I still look periodically when a plane is flying low over the Seattle skyline.
About my girlfriend? Well, in September 2001, I had started saving up for an engagement ring. In November, at our favorite Brazilian restaurant, I fell to one knee and asked her to marry me. We've been married nine years. We're happy.
I'm not going to talk about the war on terror, or about homeland security, or about politics. I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about the effect of this on me, because this was an attack on us. This affected all of us, as a people, as a society, as a generation. We have survived, but we are not the same, and we may never be. The world into which my son was born is different than the one I used to live in, in so many ways. I hope his world learns to move past fear, past anger, past hatred. I want him to grow up full of hope, not full of fear. That's the world I'm trying to create for him.