Ten Years Later: Remembering 9/11

Today is the tenth anniversary of one of the most tragic days in American history. On September 11, 2001, 2,996 people were killed when terrorists flew two planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, one plane into the Pentagon and another plane was brought down by passengers before it could strike its target.

This thread is for our commenters to share and reflect on their memories and thoughts on the tragedy.

Let’s all be extra kind to each other today.

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

6 replies on “Ten Years Later: Remembering 9/11”

I still lived at home, and was sleeping off a hangover after my 20th birthdy celebration. My Dad kept banging on my bedroom door. He used to do that a lot, to get me out of bed and come do this or that (In lieu of rent I was a random schlep for his home-based business, where I still work from time to time). So I ignored him for a good thirty minutes. I heard something about a plane crash but I just figured it was an accident and I’d check it out later. Finally I got myself out of bed, and came downstairs right as the second plane hit. We just both sat there on the couch in a state of disbelief. We watched it all day long. I called my friends, one of which just closed down the store she was a manager at, because she could not fathom staying at work. My Dad went and got my little brother out of school. We live in Athens, GA, and there were bomb threats being called in on all the campuses, including UGA, Athens Technical College, etc, so the students were being evacuated. It was terrifying. We didn’t know what was related to the attack and what wasn’t.

At the time I was dating my ex-husband long distance. He is from New Zealand and he’d only just gone back from an extended stay in the U.S. a couple of weeks before. He had just gotten in from a night out when he turned on the news and saw about the attacks. He frantically tried to call me for hours on end but all the lines were down. He was quite hysterical when he finally got through. In fact, he was crying more than me. He said everyone in his dorm in NZ were crowded around the television watching a feed from the BBC. They were all terrified for us. He made me promise to call him and check in several times (you should see our phone bills from September 2001).

I remember going outside that night and looking up in the sky. Dad lives in an extremely rural area of GA, and one of the nicest things about the area is that you can look up at any given time at night and see billions of stars and the lights from planes flying overhead (heading out or in Hartsfield Airport in ATL). I remember looking up and seeing not a single plane in the sky and feeling extremely freaked out. Like a fish out of water. I remember thinking, “I wish I’d gone with him to New Zealand when he asked me” and then feeling terribly guilty for thinking that.

The next several days after that were surreal. I remember George Bush’s speech at Ground Zero. I remember seeing Bin Laden on television claiming responsibility. And a few bits in between. But my only clear memory after that was of sitting in Auckland, New Zealand, in March of 2003, watching us bomb Iraq. And trying to find an explanation to tell all these people who were looking at me as if I had a reason.

I was living in Jersey when it happened.  I was in the middle of new hire orientation when I heard from a co-worker a plane hit the WTC.  I, too, thought it must have been a prop plane.  About an hour later, orientation was done.  I spent the rest of my time at work in the break room watching the news.  I saw footage of people jumping off the top floors so they wouldn’t burn to death.  I watched it live when the towers collapsed.  I went home early from work.  My husband worked for the FAA in Altantic City, and I couldn’t even talk to him because the lines were busy.  His best friend from high school, our first child’s Godfather, worked in the North tower.  He had been a volunteer fire fighter for almost 10 years.  When he got the job at the WTC, I asked him if it didn’t make him nervous, being in a sky scraper – I mean, what if there was a catastrophe?  He responded that he’d do what he was trained to do – he’d go back and help as many people out as he could until the professionals got there.  We didn’t hear from him for 2 days because he was trapped on the island.  All we could think was “he was in the tower when it collapsed because he would have stayed to help.”

Almost 6 years ago we moved to GA.  Every 9/11 I have spent in the South has enraged me.  I know people directly effected by 9/11.  I know people who lost family members.  I could SEE the smoke in the sky from the funeral pyre that was the WTC.  But here in the South, people forget, or never realized, and it makes me mad.  Last year I ran a 5k on 9/11 and I commented to a friend that I wanted to write “Never Forget”  on my back.  She asked me “never forget what?”.  It never fails to amaze me how some Americans can forget or dismiss the events of that day.  Some one once told me “I don’t like to think about it because it will make me sad.”  I say GOOD!  Think about it, and feel the pain.  Imagine what it was like on flight 93, when common people stood up against the bad guy, to the death.  Imagine what it was like for the NYFD to run into a mutilated, burning skyscraper to save people, only to be crushed.  Imagine what it felt like to be the second wave of emergency response personnel.  Imagine what it must have felt like to know that jumping from hundreds of floors up would kill you, but deciding that burning to death would be worse.  Imagine what it must have felt like to not be able to contact a loved one.  Imagine what is was like to sift through a mountain of burning rubble, a funeral pyre, a gravesite, in the slim hopes that you would find anyone alive.  Then imagine the joy the terrorist felt, and be angry.  Feel these things.  And let the pain and fear and anger clarify the blessings in your life and your thankfulness for them, the gratitude you must have for those that would give their lives protecting yours, and the determination you must feel to uphold what is right and good, and abjure what is evil and wrong, the joy you must have that you are alive and free today.  AND NEVER FORGET!  Never Forget.

9/11/2001: Shortly after 9:00 a.m., I had been in the office for about half an hour and I believe my mom called me to say that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  I was thinking, small prop plane, what a weird thing to have happen – it hadn’t been too long since a single-engine plane had crashed on the lawn of the White House, during Bill Clinton’s presidency.   Then she said, “now they’re saying another plane has hit the other tower” and I knew it was a deliberate attack.  I got off the phone and turned on the radio, tuning it to a frequency that picked up the audio from the local ABC TV affiliate. 

I work alone on the first floor of a three-storey building occupied solely by our organization. By this time several other staff also had heard the news and everyone was starting to call around to the other offices to see if anyone had additional information. Several people came downstairs to see if they could get anything on the TV in the first floor conference room, but because it wasn’t connected to cable or an external aerial, and amid the tall buildings of our downtown area, we couldn’t even get the local broadcast news. Somehow what I was hearing on the radio was almost worse than if we’d been able to see what was going on. 

Meanwhile I had gone onto the online forum where I spent a lot of time, and everyone was on there, checking in and asking about the ones we knew were in New York, or who had been scheduled to fly that day. It was an amazing outpouring of love and support. We later learned that one of our number, a social worker living in Manhattan, spent September 12th (her birthday) and subsequent days down at Ground Zero, counseling the firefighters and police officers who worked on “the Pile.”

Less than an hour after my mom’s call, I remember the commentator on the news saying, “the south tower is gone.  It’s just gone.” About half an hour after that the north tower collapsed as well, and all I could think was how many people had been in there, how many dead, how many. I had met a woman who had been in the WTC in 1993 when the bomb went off in the parking garage, and she talked about how long it took her to walk down the stairs: hours, and this time they’d had less than one. I read somewhere that on a typical weekday, 250,000 people were either working in or visiting the two towers. I think it was only the earliness of the hour and a damn miracle that so comparatively few were killed, but at that time we had no idea and I thought we were facing tens of thousands of dead.

My boss sent everyone home at mid-day. No one could get anything done, and everyone just wanted to be with the ones they loved if possible.  We put a sign on the door that said, “Due to the events of this day, this building is CLOSED as of 12:00 noon.” I still have it on my computer.

I couldn’t stand the thought of going home to my apartment alone, so I called a couple of friends and went to their house. We tried to watch a couple of videos but we were just numb and disbelieving.

I don’t remember being aware the absence of airplanes during the next several days, when all flights were grounded, so much as being reminded vividly on one of the first days after they were allowed back in the air: I work a couple of blocks from our state capitol, and one of the state representatives had gotten to take a ride in a jet from one of those military demonstration teams, like the Blue Angels. He decided he wanted to take a closer look at the capitol building, and this jet came screaming in over downtown: instantly I thought we were under attack. Sadly, I doubt that the representative was censured or that he even realized that his little test flight had been the height of boneheadedness in a time when his constituents were in an extremely fragile emotional state.

On September 11, 2002, my sister and I were in Dornoch, Scotland, on a 10-day trip. We watched the broadcast of the Naudet brothers’ film, but that was the only coverage we saw in the UK, for which I was grateful, not to have it all dredged up again.

I  was at work too, waiting for my students to arrive. When a  fellow teacher told me the news and we turned on the radio, I immediately pictured a prop plane too. After the second tower was hit, I didn’t know what to think. We’d been to the “Top of the World” that previous November, we’d arrived at the train station that was nestled below. I couldn’t get my mind wrapped around what happened until I got home that night (we stayed in school all day).

What I remember about sept 2001 is watching the TV every night for about three weeks straight and crying.

I’ve had a really hard time articulating my thoughts and feelings on 9/11. On the one hand, I’m a west coaster, and the events of that day often feel indescribably like they happened to someone else, like in many ways I can offer my support to the people who did lose something that day, but I can’t own it myself; it wasn’t my loss, my tragedy. On the other hand, I know that the ideology behind those attacks was aimed directly at me: at my freedom of speech, at my feminism, at my liberal values, at my liberty, my personhood, my livelihood. And it steps into the murkiest territory because after 10 years as a nation I still don’t think we’ve learned an eloquent way of describing who or what attacked us, who or what we are fighting against, who or what we are afraid of.

The fear bothers me. The way I feel a survival impulse to shut down and separate myself emotionally from the events of that day – and everything that’s followed in its wake – bothers me, too. I was 17 years old, ready to start my senior year of high school, when some very angry men, fueled by warped logic and self-righteousness, flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and a field outside Pittsburgh. We say “Never forget,” and I’m not sure any of us would know how to if we even wanted to; but what does our memory construct? What does remembering do? Where do we take those memories, and, how can we build something good out of all of this? Because I still have friends on Facebook who used the 10 year anniversary of these horrible events as a platform to make slanderous comments about our “Muslim” president. And I still have a rift in my family that’s grown over with ice about the military intervention in the Mid East.

On 9/11, I was sitting in my 8th grade classroom, not really understanding what was going on. My teacher was really shaken up and there was definitely an air of tension for the entire day, though we weren’t told what was going on.

I came home with my sister that afternoon and we turned on the TV and stayed there all evening. My dad came home from work and we asked him what this meant for us (since we’re Canadian)- he wasn’t sure what to say at that time, but explained what he knew and comforted us as best he could.

I was 12, my sister would have been newly 11.

Leave a Reply