Back in 2001, I still had this color TV that I’d purchased back in ’92 at a department store, May Co., in Los Angeles. By the end of the 1990s everyone I knew owned a flat screen television, but my old faithful Motorola was still in good shape. One reason I found myself having a hard time giving it up for a newer, high-def model was because of a particular feature: I used it as an alarm. I could program it to turn on at any particular time and channel. Voices always wake me up; alarm clocks on the other hand are not always reliable.
The morning of 11 September 2001, I was awaken by my TV. I became aroused by repetitive information about “airplanes” and “twin towers” and “fire” and “chaos.” Finally, I turned to look at the screen to see what “breaking news story” was unfolding. Still half-asleep, I adjusted my eyes to the Motorola TV screen. Smoke was smoldering from a tall building. The anchor’s commentary didn’t match what I began to witness unfolding. She kept referring to an airplane in Philadelphia and at the Pentagon, but that didn’t line up with the Twin Towers and the smoke that circulated over Lower Manhattan. Trying to make sense of it, I tuned the volume louder, as if that would add the one missing piece to the puzzle. My mouth agape, I watched stunned when they replayed the plane hitting the Tower, but suddenly the cable station honed in on a Twin Tower rapidly beginning to descend to the ground.
I couldn’t move. I couldn’t take a shower, get dressed, and go to work. I was rooted to the spot. I reached for the phone and began calling people I knew who lived in New York. One friend worked for the New York Police Department and only blocks away from the Towers. (She had taken the day off and could see from her Brooklyn apartment window, the smoke spreading like a fluffed-out blanket all over the lower part of the city.) Before long, everything came together: a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers; another plane had crashed into the Pentagon; and yet another plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. At this point I was standing in front of my Motorola TV and wanting every “not yet confirmed” fact, and every inconsistent detail to be made clear. My heart was racing; I was so confused because I was living on the West Coast and everything that was happening on that critical, painfully melancholy day was taking place on the East Coast.
While residing in Seattle I lived on First Hill, just above downtown. Every morning I loved walking to work. It was a form of meditation for me. When I made my way down the hill, the streets were oddly empty; and when I met up with people, they were huddled together and looking confused. Every Starbucks–for which there are plenty in downtown Seattle–was closed. Ironically, at the time I was working in a government building, and temping for a councilperson for King County Council. When I arrived, I had to be checked with a handheld medal detector wand, and my backpack rummaged through. All government buildings require visitors to go through the medal detector thing, but being body-checked with a handheld, and having my personal effects scrutinized was an obvious decision made the very moment the Twin Towers had been hit and it was apparent the bad-ass United States of America was being attacked!
Every year, I remember 11 September as it unfolded for me. I recall vividly 14 years ago waking up to it; the day’s amazing, emotional unfolding. Details of that day remain clear. I’m not altogether sure why exactly, but every single year I don’t let the day go by without recalling how so many lives were lost, and the crack in America’s armor. I watch documentaries on the History Channel, spend some time watching anniversary coverage on various cable networks. I read various posts online. I am not a religious person, but I say a prayer for the families whose lives were marred that day. One year following the attacks on America, I was living in Connecticut. It seems a day didn’t go by without my hearing “Ground Zero” on the news. The East Coast, unlike the West, was far more vigilant. The subways, a lot of places in New York, had signs that warned people: If you see something say something. Every building I worked in in Manhattan, I had to produce a government-issued I.D. before I could get past the guard or lobby. In time I became more guarded, more alert. I discerned in a new way living back East. But when I returned to the West Coast, I didn’t see that same awareness, that same level of being changed by something very devastating. But even prior to leaving the East Coast, I noticed as the years came to pass and 9/11 was not so up close and personal, people began to ease into their new normal. They let their guard down.