Monday, September 11, 2006

My Story

We all have a story from that day. I wasn't planning to write about mine, but someone asked me earlier about my experience, and I told them. I thought that since I took the time to write it all down, I might as well post it here as well. So here's my story:

Five years ago, I had just moved from Washingon, D.C. to NC to return to school. I was miserable and homesick. I missed my friend and the city I considered home. I thought daily about quitting school and returning to my life there.

At the time, I was sharing an apartment with another student who had just moved to town from D.C. Normally, I watch CNN while I get ready in the morning. But that morning, I woke up late and rushed straight into the shower. When I came out, I heard Tim's girlfriend (who was still living and working in DC) leaving a message on the answering machine. She was on her cell phone and in a panic. They had been evacuated from their office building, as had all government employees. She was sobbing and telling us that everyone was panicked and no one knew what was going on, only that there were bombs or explosions or something, and that we were under attack. Tim came out of his room at the same time I emerged from the bathroom, so we both sort of stood there in the hall in shock listening to her talk. In the background we could hear the utter panic of the mass of people being evacuated, and it was terrifying. He lunged for the phone, and I lunged for the remote. We turned on CNN just in time to see the replay of the plane hitting the Pentagon and were utterly shocked.

I skipped all my classes that day and spent all day glued to the television and getting error messages as I tried to call my friends. Having lived in D.C., I was far more concerned (in that moment) with what had happened at the Pentagon and with the plane that was still in the air and said to be headed for the White House, than I was with what was happening in NYC. All of my friends at that time lived in D.C. and were working either on Capital Hill or in the Pentagon. Those who didn't work at the Pentagon took the metro THROUGH the Pentagon every morning right around the time of the attack. (Just as I had been doing up until I moved away to go back to school.) I had no idea if anyone I know was killed/injured in the Pentagon attack or whether there would be more attacks on D.C. Jerimie had just recently enlisted in the Navy and was stationed at the time in Maryland and sent to D.C. for crisis control. So my family was in a panic, worried that he would be injured in another attack, or that we would immediately declare war and he would be deployed. I spent a lot of time trying to calm them. Meanwhile, I was terrified, angry and feeling a lot of what I guess was mild survivors guilt -- I should have BEEN there. I WANTED to be there. I was homesick and hating NC and had been questioning daily my decision to move away from D.C. And when this happened, I felt so helpless being so far away. I wanted to be with my friends and family, not two states away unable to even get them on the phone thanks to overloaded circuits.

After the D.C. panic calmed down and it became clear that the damage and death toll there was going to be very minor compared to NYC, my focus shifted. But that was a much more removed feeling of sadness for me. I was obviously upset by it, but not in the personal way that I viewed the D.C. attack. A good friends' father is a NYC police officer stationed near the WTC. He was unaccounted for for two days while he worked at the site, unable to get a message to his family that he was all right. I spent a lot of time trying to comfort his daughter. And I had a number of other friends with family members who were missing or unaccounted for. Luckily, everyone I knew was eventually found and was safe.

I know how incredibly lucky I am that I wasn't there that day and that no one I know was killed or seriously injured. But it was one of the most personally terrifying experiences of my life ,and I don't like reliving it, which is why I hadn't planned to post anything about it today. I understand that everyone grieves/remembers differently, and for some all this five-year hype is cathartic. But for me, walking across campus today and seeing the flags and tributes and hearing the speakers made me feel ill. I'm steadfastly avoiding the television. I do think it's important that we remember what happened that day and honor those we lost. We don't want to forget about it. But I'm in no danger of forgetting, and I don't relish reliving it over and over again.

I'm not sure why all of this attention bothers me so much. I talk about 9/11 in passing on any other day without getting upset. But for some reason today it's really bothering me. I think a lot of it was knowing that CNN was rerunning the live coverage from that day and the idea of watching it like I did then -- glued to the tv for hours and hours on end -- brought me back in a way that just talking about it has not. It's one thing to talk about my experience or remember it briefly, but I definitely don't want to sit and watch the live coverage replayed from that day.

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