Monday, September 11, 2006

Remembering...

Where was I, you ask?

I was a senior in college, and I had just stepped out of the shower at my second floor apartment on Ackerman Avenue.

As was my routine, I had turned on the Today Show in my room, gotten out of bed and headed to the shower. I remember listening to someone interview someone else about tax cuts on the TV.

Everything was normal.

Fifteen minutes later, that was not the case.

I walked back into my room, and knew something was wrong. Matt Lauer was in “news mode” and they were talking about unconfirmed reports of an airplane hitting one of the twin towers in New York City. I was still watching when the second plane hit.

I remember that Matt Lauer kept insisting that a news helicopter had hit the second tower – not another plane. He was in shock. He didn’t want to believe that it could happen twice. If it were another plane, that meant that America was under attack. We all were.

I called my mother. I was on the East Coast, she was in Dallas. I woke her up, and told her to turn on the TV. Two planes had just hit the Twin Towers. She didn’t believe me at first, but then she turned on her TV and saw the footage. I remember her telling me that she loved me.

Then, I listened to the audio feed as a third plane hit the Pentagon in Washington, DC.

I remember standing there in shock. I was still wrapped in a towel.  My long hair dripping all over the blue rug in my bedroom.

There were other planes out there, too, that were unaccounted for. How many of those had been hijacked? It was chaos. Utter chaos.

Then, still watching, listening and wondering, I got dressed. I don’t remember doing so, but I did. I don’t even think I brushed my hair. All my roommates were on campus, and I was all alone at the apartment. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I didn’t want to be by myself. So, I walked to my 10 AM class in a daze. I remember seeing many other people doing the same thing. It was like we were all shadows. Walking shadows.

Could this all really be happening?  

I got to class…suddenly. That is the only way I can describe it. The class was held in a building that was easily a mile+ from my apartment, but I was there before I knew it. The professor, not knowing what to do, showed us a film. The classroom had no windows, so the room was completely dark except for the light from the screen. I have no memory of what the movie was about, but I do remember being incredibly grateful for the “normalcy” that it provided. It was like being in a womb. I recall being warm and thankful for all the other breathing bodies in the dark room.  The illusion of safety.

When the movie was over, the professor turned on the lights (but dimly) and walked up front. At first, his back was to us, so we couldn’t see his face. He then turned to us and – with tears streaming down his face - told everyone that both towers had collapsed and that a fourth plane had crashed somewhere in rural Pennsylvania.

I remember holding my breath at this news. I held it in until my lungs hurt. It was like I temporarily forgot how to breathe.

I left the classroom and walked into the lobby of the building. Everywhere I looked, people were sobbing and frantically dialing on their cell phones. See, I went to Syracuse University in central New York. Granted, the University isn’t in The City, but a significant number of the student body was from or had strong connections to the New York city area. Because of the influx of people trying to reach their loved ones, all the cell towers were overloaded. It would be almost two days before I could dial out on mine again.

I walked outside and was shocked at how beautiful the day was. I hadn’t noticed when I had walked to class earlier that morning. The sun was warm, and there was a cool breeze. It seemed terribly ironic somehow.

That was when I saw Carole. We played rugby together. She was completely pale, with tears dripping – absentmindedly – from her eyes. I went up to her, and she just stared at me and said, “They work there, and I can’t find them. Why won’t they answer their phones”? I didn’t know what to say, but it didn’t really matter because Carole just kept walking. To this day, I do not believe that she actually saw me that morning. She was in shock. I thought about going after her, but then I saw her turn and walk inside the School of Management building. In her daze, she appeared to be going to class. Not knowing what else to do, I decided that was the best place for her.

Technically, the University had closed that morning. But with the high number of students from both NYC and DC, Syracuse reopened. So many students, not knowing what else to do, were going to class, and the University wanted to be there for them. After all, this wasn’t the first time the school had dealt with deadly acts of terrorism before. On December 21, 1988, 35 Syracuse University students were killed when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. Those students were all returning home for the holidays after participating in a study abroad program in London that fall. I partook in the same program 11 years later.

Walking through campus that morning was incredibly eerie. Almost surreal. Everywhere you looked, there were people crying and holding each other. Everyone knew someone personally affected by the attacks. My creative writing professor lost his best friend, and a girl in my English class lost her aunt when the two towers collapsed. The mother of one of my best friends in high school worked in the Pentagon (luckily, Jacquette’s mom was running late that morning).

The worst, though, was in all the not-knowing. Watching people dial and redial numbers of loved ones, and being unable to get through. It was horrible to watch them suffer while being so completely powerless to do anything to help ease their pain. All you could do was…sit there…next to them…letting them know that you were there…that you were there for them.

Early that afternoon, I heard that they were Medi-vacing people, those stable enough to travel, from New York City to the hospitals in Syracuse, New York. The helicopters were landing on our quad. All this was in preparation for the second wave of wounded from the towers. A second wave that never came.

And, then, there was my roommate, Karen. September 11th, 2001 was her 21st birthday. All week long, we had been planning to take her out to celebrate the milestone birthday in style, but our plans were, of course, cancelled. Instead, we opted to take her to the liquor store where the other roommates and I pooled our cash so she could make her first legal purchase of alcohol. She opted for a bottle of red wine, and she shared it with all of us in plastic cups later that evening as we sat around watching the horror continue to unfold on TV.

(The man at the liquor store didn't even card us.  I guess, in light of that morning's events, there were far worse things to worry about than whether or not the four young, college-aged girls standing at his checkout counter with a singular bottle of red wine were of age or not.)

Several days later, a Muslim woman was attacked at the local Syracuse mall. We were all horrified by the assault, and found ourselves increasingly protective of our friends who were either from the Middle East or of the Muslim faith. A friend of mine, who lived on the same floor as me freshman year, was so upset about the racial/religious profiling going on that she was afraid to leave her room. She was from Dubai, a practicing Muslim and absolutely terrified for her safety. It wasn’t right. After all, not all terrorists are Muslim and not all Muslims are terrorists. Saying the opposite is like stating that all Mormons are polygamists or that all Christians share identical views with David Koresh. It simply isn’t so. I was very concerned (and in many ways, I still am) that we, as Americans, were nearing a line – driven by fear and the aftermath of 9-11 – where we’d actually consider interning Muslims and/or people from the Middle East just like we did to the Japanese during World War II. Of all the things that could potentially rise out of the ashes, I continue to hope and pray that this kind of religious-based hate and distrust is not among them.

6 comments:

The Runt said...

I was in morning meeting at OS waiting for snack.

Deals On Wheels said...

Ah, good 'ole morning meeting.

jes said...

I love these accounts. Somehow hearing these stories makes me put more faith in the human race.

Oddly, I was a bit confused during this entry, considering I thought you went to SMU. Why did I think that?

Deals On Wheels said...

Well, my sister goes to SMU, and my mother is an alumni. However, I went far, far away to school. Up in the north land where they have four seasons and it snows regularly...

Amstaff Mom said...

Thank you for sharing your story Deals. It was very real.

Tim Rice said...

I was at work at a scratch bakery in a local grocery store in Pennsylvania. I remember being somewhat in shock. This isn't possible! What's going on? We brought out radios to keep us updated as we continued to work. Besides work and bewilderment, I mostly remember just extreme sadness.