Others have already posted their memories of September 11th. They’ve written about their thoughts and feelings more eloquently than I ever could, so instead of writing out my memories, I’m posting the thoughts I wrote several days after the attacks.
I don’t think I’ve shared these written thoughts with anyone before. I found the yellow pieces of paper folded up in an old journal in my memory chest. The letter or journal entry or whatever you want to call this is long. I wrote it at work. I was a legal assistant at a tiny, one attorney law office in Bryan, Texas when I was in college. I remember sitting there the Friday after the attack and then, just losing it. I guess it took that long for the reality to sink in.
It’s incredibly difficult not to edit this letter – the first two lines make me grimace – but I’m transcribing this exactly as it was written ten years ago.
September 11th – I feel like I’ve been captured by a book or a movie and I can’t escape its ghastly tales. Reality is more vivid than my imagination could ever be, though. I didn’t learn what happened until more than an hour later. I was in the library, sitting at a table and preparing to get some studying in before my next class at 11:10. I glanced at my cell phone and noticed that I had a voice mail from my friend, Jennifer. I tried to call my voicemail box, but I couldn’t get a signal. I figured that it was just because I was in the library and it wouldn’t pick up in there for some reason. Since I had a good two hours before my next class, I decided to go downstairs and outside to get one. I was finally able to reach her, and the first thing she said was, “Have you heard?” “Heard what?” I asked. “Two airplanes ran into the World Trade Center.”
My initial reaction was to say, “No way.” Then I was anxious, almost excited. I got off the phone, telling Jenn that I had to find a TV. I remember looking around, thinking about where I could go. I saw the Pavilion and rushed in there. A decent sized crowd was there, but I managed to find a good seat, and I sat down and watched as the world changed.
You could see one tower with a gaping whole, billowing out smoke and flames. The whole I saw wasn’t where the plane had entered; it was the right side from that which had exploded out. It almost looked like a war except there were no weapons involved, only an airliner, two airliners, our airliners. The tv started showing footage of the second plane hitting the tower. The repeated it over and over. It was like watching the tragic ending to a movie and hoping that somehow, this time it would end differently. It never did. The media kept reporting that there were rumors that the first tower had fallen to the ground. I remember thinking that they were overreacting, that they needed to calm down and double check their facts before they repeated them and caused a panic. But then the second tower fell.
I couldn’t believe it. What was happening? There were 50,000 people that worked in the two 110 story buildings. They were huge buildings. They couldn’t fall. My imagination,
always so wandering,had really gone too far this time. I remember saying “Oh, my God.” I faintly remember other viewers saying the same thing. I glanced at a girl sitting at a table near me. Her eyes and face were red, her cheeks streaked with tears. She had a hand over her mouth and shook her head in disbelief. I realized that my hand was over my mouth as well. I sat there stunned. What do you think in a moment like that. There are no words to make it go away. You can beg and pray but history is chiseled into the hardest stone and all the winds and rains in the wall can not weather it away.
More footage kept pouring in: men jumping out of windows, plummeting sixty stories to their deaths like rag dolls; women running from a cloud of smoke. They were completely covered in ash and soot. They looked like ghosts and walked around almost like zombies. You could hear them cry out “Oh, no” as the tower fell, they stared in disbelief, backing up slowly, not knowing what to do. Some cameramen were overtaken by the blast, you could see the cloud and ebris rush past them, knocking them to the floor. It looked like a scene from Independence Day. There were so many people in there. Sirens were in the background of every scene. Sirens use to never both me, but then, ever since Bonfire fell, I have come to link them to tragedy. There were so many sirens. Then it hit me that they had been there: firefighters, EMS, police. They had all been trying to help. The media reaffirmed my realization: they were missing. Their radios had gone dead. Whole units could not be found. Firemen were missing there friends, their buddies. One fire fighter came on the TV, saying he couldn’t find his team. He said it was a disaster, then he said to the camera and to his wife, “I’m okay. I made it out.”
Tears filled my eyes, but I held them back, determined to be strong and not cry. But I got up and walked to the back of the room, cell phone in hand. I had to call my mom. Even if I interrupted her class. She would understand.
Thank God, she had her phone on. She answered and I asked her if she had heard. She said that she heard a plane hit the world trade center. I told her it was true, but two planes had hit and they fell. “They fell, mom” I said. “They just crumbled. There were so many people in there. It’s a mess. Smoke is everywhere. People are covered in soot and running. People were jumping out of buildings. There’s still two planes missing. They’re grounding all air travel.” I rambled on, trying to get everything out as quickly as possible. She comforted me as much as she could. She told me she would leave her phone on and to call her at lunch. I hung up with her, knowing she had kids to watch over and class to teach. I tried my grandparents, but I couldn’t get a hold of them. So I went back to my seat and watched. A report came in, saying a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. Then another came in, saying that there was a plane heading to DC or Camp David or the Pentagon. Then they said a plane crashed in Pennsylvania. It took a few hours to piece it together that these were the same plane, that it crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. They suggested it might have been aiming for Camp David.
Then they said the President was heading back to Washington from Florida. I thought this a ridiculous idea. DC was the last place I thought my President should be going. But then a report came saying than Air Force One had been targeted and he was being detoured.
So many reports kept coming in. It was unbelievable and I thought that all I really needed to do to make it go away was to go to sleep and wake up the next morning.
It seemed that I sat there forever watching the news. The crowd had grown by this time. There was one girl there. She sat at another table talking with a friend in a loud, nonchalant voice, almost making light of the situation. I think she was bothering a lot of people because they kept glancing at her out of the corner of their eyes. I was getting a bit angry with her, but then I thought that that was probably just her way of dealing with this unspeakable tragedy. Another girl had tears streaming freely down her face. Even a few of the corps guys looked teary eyed. I watched their reactions interested in how they assessed the situation. Beneath the shock, I believe I saw determination. Jaws were set and there was a certain hardness in their stares that seemed to say, “You don’t mess with the U S of A. No threats needed to be spoken. It was understood that we would have justice. People will remember New York as we today remember Pearl Harbor. The sleeping giant has again been awakened.
To everyone who lost friends and loved ones, you’re in my thoughts and prayers.