Sunday, September 11, 2011

ten years

the pentagon
The Pentagon | September 11, 2006

Ten years ago, the world was my oyster. I had not yet graduated from college. I didn't know where I would be living or working come graduation. I had never had a salaried job or commuted every day into a city to work. I had not yet met Larry, bought a house, paid a mortgage. My dogs did not even exist. My friends' children had not yet been born.

In ten years, so many things have happened and changed in my own life. And so many big things have happened that have changed the United States. The world is not the same place it was ten years ago. And yet, ten years seem to have gone by in the blink of an eye.

Ten years ago, I didn't know that my adulthood would be shaped by one horrifying event. I didn't know that my identity as an American would be altered as our nation's sense of innocence and security were lost by a deliberate act.

I lack the depth and eloquence to adequately put my thoughts on this day, this anniversary, into words. Really, I think there are no words. This day is not about me. And yet, September 11, 2001 is a date that is forever burned into the memory of everyone who was alive that day. Everyone remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing when they got the news. It is a date by which we mark the passage of time - the first anniversary, the fifth anniversary, and now the tenth anniversary.

I remember an assignment in sixth grade where we were to ask our parents where they were and what they were doing on the day that Kennedy was assassinated.  Everyone from the generation before mine can remember that day with utmost clarity, just as everyone who lived through September 11th can remember the same.

This is what I remember:

September 11, 2001 - I was a student at Syracuse University - in my fifth year of college (architecture is a five year program) and working on my thesis. I was living in an apartment in downtown Syracuse with my boyfriend at the time. I was 22 years old.

My boyfriend called me that morning from the road. He was on his way to a business meeting or maybe he was already at the meeting - I'm not sure how he had heard the news. But he told me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. My first thought was that it was not a big deal - I figured it was a Cessna or other small plane with an inexperienced pilot. A human error. A mistake.

I turned on the TV. I quickly saw that the plane hitting the World Trade Center was a much bigger deal than I had thought. This was a commercial passenger jet. What had happened? How could the pilot have misjudged?

But the truth was quickly coming out. There was another plane. And another. And another. New York was being attacked, Washington was being attacked. This was not a tragic accident, but a deliberate act.

I watched the news footage that was dominating all the television channels. And then, the worst: The first tower collapsed on live TV. The news anchors saying "oh my god", while trying to remain professional. The second tower collapsed. I watched it happen over and over again, the towers growing shorter like bananas peeling into dust.

My boyfriend's brother called. "Did you see the news? A plane..."

Somehow, I still went to class that day. I turned off the TV and drove to school, I walked from my parking spot through the neighborhood and onto campus as students yelled from their doorsteps "There's no class today!" That wasn't exactly true, classes hadn't been cancelled yet, but my professor wasn't there. I walked back to my car, drove back to my apartment. Spent the rest of the day sitting on the futon, my eyes wide, staring at the television. Oh my god. I watched the planes hit and the towers collapse over and over and over again for hours. I moved to the floor. I remember the ugly brown carpet in our apartment. And I kept watching, my eyes glued to the horror on the TV.

I talked to my friend Kate, my college roommate who had graduated in May and who was now in law school in Arlington, Virginia. She stood on the steps of her school and could see the smoke pouring out of the Pentagon.

We got notification from campus that they would be life flighting victims to hospitals all over New York state, including the hospitals in Syracuse, which was 250 miles from New York City. The injured would be transferred by plane and helicopter. They never came, not one.

September 11, 2002 - I had graduated from college a few months before and moved back to Northern Virginia. I was living in an apartment in Arlington, Virginia just a few blocks from the Pentagon. I took a bus to the Pentagon each morning, where I transferred to the metro and rode the subway to my job at an architectural/engineering firm in Washington, DC.

I remember the one year anniversary of September 11th. When I got off the bus at the Pentagon that morning, they were passing out little American flags to everyone. I remember thinking, "I can't believe it's already been a year." September 11th was still so, so fresh. There was still such a sharp feeling of fear and dread and sadness hovering over Washington, DC. And so much had changed and been shaped by that day. Patriotism soared.

September 11, 2006 - Five years. I was still living in the apartment in Arlington, a few blocks from the Pentagon. A display of searchlights shining out from the center of the Pentagon illuminated the sky and commemorated the fifth anniversary. I went to the hill across the street from the Pentagon with my first digital camera and attempted to take some photos. Pictures of some of the victims were taped to a tree that was surrounded by flowers, candles, and American flags. I stood and quietly watched the searchlights moving in and out.

September 11, 2011 - Ten years. It still feels so, so fresh. I can't believe it's already been ten years.

We remind ourselves to live our lives to the fullest in honor of the 3,000 innocent Americans and 1,800 American soldiers who lost their lives as the result of this day. We rebuild. We try to move on, but we will never forget.


smstokesbury said...

Wow Rachel - that was really moving. It actually brought some tears to my eyes. I know, I know, but I couldn't help it. I was working that day and had good friends who had to walk to Virginia from DC because they couldn't get out of the city. I also remember all the rumors that multiple sites had been hit in DC. It was so scary. Again - great post.

Funnelcloud Rachel said...

Aw, thanks, Sarah. On the one hand, I felt like it was too difficult a topic to even attempt to write about, on the other, how could I not write something to acknowledge this anniversary?