Sunday, September 11, 2011

9-11-01 - That Day

My brother, who was kind enough to let me stay in his apartment, woke up shortly after the tv went on. He heard me pacing back and forth. "What's going on?" I think I gave him a brief synopsis, or maybe I just pointed at the screen, at the Towers on fire.

At some point, the towers collapsed. I didn't realize that this was going on. It seemed impossible, despite the flames and the impact of a fully loaded commercial airplane. How could one of the World Trade Centers just collapse to the ground? I thought it was part of one floor, or a facade or something. But not the whole building. My brain refused to process it until later, when I saw the collapse over and over and over again.

I went to my doctor's appointment. It was shockingly quiet. We all felt like we wanted to be elsewhere, with families, with loved ones. The radio was on in the background.

Then I went to work. The office, full of social justice activists, was a mix of shock, fear, and rage. A co-worker told me, resignedly, "This is going to be bad, man. There's gonna be a war." I knew she was right.

I worked with people who knocked on doors and called people and asked them to contribute to the fight for social justice. There was no canvassing to be done on that day. No one would answer the phone, we knew, and no one would dare answer their door, especially if it meant stepping away from the television. The office was closed for the day.

I went to find my girlfriend, who was also home from work. We watched tv for hours and hours. Peter Jennings manned the ABC front desk for an eternity, showing impressive dedication and only occasionally letting his own churning emotions show through. I grew to love Peter Jennings for what he did that day. We sat and soaked in the overwhelming news of the day, unable to move, unable to believe what had happened.

But I kept seeing the parade of Bush-appointed officials across the screen - Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft. I remember thinking that if this was going to be war, if we were truly under attack, these were not people that I trusted. I didn't trust them with our country. I didn't have faith that they would watch our best interests. I was right, I'm sad to say.

We lived in Seattle, which was now considered a possible secondary target. We were a major city on the west coast, with a critical port and major technology companies in our area. Strikes on the East Coast and the West Coast seemed a distinct possibility. This idea haunted me for weeks - months - afterward, the idea that I lived in a city that could be described as "potential target of terrorism." We had already had our brush with terrorism in 1999 when Ahmed Ressam was arrested, claiming he was part of a plot to blow up Los Angeles' airport.

We went out to dinner that night at a pizza place in the University District, one of the few restaurants that was open. The owner was from the Middle East - Lebanese? I can't remember. But I remember he said that we would now understand what the rest of the world felt. I was surprised at his blunt statement. He was right, of course. For much of the world - England, Europe, Africa, Russia, South America - terrorism had happened in their country and was expected to happen again. They understood that they were vulnerable. Americans had always believe that they were untouchable. Our sense of safety had been obliterated.

I also remember thinking - and maybe I said this out loud to him - that he should be careful saying things like this out loud. Emotions were running high, and statements like that could be interpreted as support for the attack. Of course that's not what he was saying. He was just expressing a statement of fact. But people don't always react well when their sense of reality has been shattered. People who feel under attack can lash out in the worst and most unAmerican ways. We all found that out, as a nation, as the aftermath of Sept. 11 unfolded.

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