This isn't exactly long-past history, but as part of my 9/11 Remembrance Week, today I'd like to take a look back at where we were on that day. I'll tell a bit of my story, and then I would love to hear from you.
My husband and I were newlyweds, having just married in June of 2001. We were still in school, and Tuesdays meant music lab--class started at 8:50 and didn't let out until lunch time. David and I always met in the hallway outside class, walked to our car, and drove home for lunch. We had to be back for our respective work-study jobs by 1, then had one more class at the end of the day.
Annapolis traffic can be annoying, especially around on-ramps to Rt. 50. But that day as we drove up Rowe Blvd, we frowned over a rather odd sight--two unmarked, white haz-mat vans cutting through lanes of traffic and headed for the entrance to 50 West--the road that led to D.C. Shrugging it off--after all, we saw all manner of strange government vehicles in the state's capital--we continued to our apartment.
We'd no sooner walked in the door than our phone rang. David answered as I toed off my shoes and locked the door behind us. The caller ID would have told him it was his mother, so he undoubtedly greeted her accordingly. But all I remember is him saying, "What?" and reaching for the remote. To me he said, "Planes flew into the World Trade Center. They've collapsed."
It was the kind of news I'd never in my life had to deal with, and all I could think to say was, "You're kidding, right? They didn't collapse." Right about then he found a channel on TV that showed one of the towers collapsing.
Presumably we ate--frankly, I don't remember. I just remember going back into town and finding the roads clearer than usual, and the college . . . strange. See, St. John's is a bubble removed from the outside world. There are no TVs, no cable even if you bring one. But when we stepped back onto campus that afternoon, everyone was plugged into the outside world. Televisions had miraculously appeared in every classroom, and had somehow found connections to news shows. Radios blared from every room. I remember sitting in the basement of the Admissions Office, trying to get done what work needed done, and listening to the radio. Hearing an announcement saying all non-crucial personnel at the NSA were ordered to evacuate.
That night the dinner I had planned was spaghetti with twisty breadsticks. Don't ask me why I remember that--but it's a meal I've never made again. Every time I've tried to make those breadsticks (with something else), I hear that terrible news reverberating through my mind again. Sorry, Pillsbury--our breadsticks now must be straight.
It was about then that I noticed our newspaper never arrived for the day--and a few minutes later I heard it smack against our door. The Capitol had delayed its printing (it's an afternoon paper) to report the news. So I have one of (I assume) few newspapers reporting the event that is dated September 11, 2001. (I just dug it out of my memory chest, where it's been sitting for 10 years with the other papers from that week.)
The surreal part (other than the obvious) was the transformation within Annapolis. The Naval Academy takes up the entire flank of the city, and is directly across the street from St. John's. Most of the rest of Historic Annapolis is government buildings. On Wednesday, they were all empty. The waterfront boasted no tourists, only FBI agents. All roads leading toward the Naval Academy were blockaded by armed guards--which meant that to get onto campus, we had to show our student IDs and say we had class/work to go to.
I remember thinking as we drove to school one day that week that our whole world had changed. That things which had seemed so important a few short days before simply didn't matter anymore. I was devastated by the events, and buoyed by the American spirit that rose up from the ashes. I remember wondering what it would mean for me as a writer--how any novel could ever have meaning again.
I remember driving home that weekend and seeing messages of faith and prayer all along the highway, "God Bless America" spelled out with plastic cups shoved in chain-link fencing.
I remember being so proud of my country, and the kinship I felt with my fellow Americans, who were, for the only time I can think of, united.
And today I miss that. I miss the union, I miss the feeling of pride that you couldn't escape even when driving down the road. I miss looking out at my neighbors, my officials, my state and nation and thinking, "Someone did wrong to us--but we handled it right."
Where were you on 9/11? What were you doing? What memory stands out in your recollection from that time of turmoil and grief? Let's remember together.