Everyone has a story detailing their experience with 9-11. I’ve never really shared mine because I don’t find it very different from anyone else’s. I woke up. I saw the news. I cried. But with it back in the news once again, I can’t help but feel…reflective.
It was my first semester at college and I fought with my roommate Kaitlin the night before. We were friends from high school, we knew everything about one another, but living together seemed to dampen our friendship a bit. Come to think about it – I don’t even remember what we fought about.
I woke up for class and found a note on my keyboard from her. The silence in the hallways didn’t phase me. Curious, and ready for another argument, I glanced at her writing. “Last night doesn’t matter,” she started, “the World Trade Center was attacked. Meet me downstairs.” We didn’t have a TV in our room, so, still in my pajamas, I left our room. Next door, our suitemates were sitting silently on their beds. Jessica, blonde and perfect, had suffered from alcohol poisoning the week before. She was brought back to the dorm near unconscious, and despite the fact she was underage, we all agreed to call for help. Sure, she might get in trouble, but her life was more important. I walked in and watched the news with them, watching the towers crumble. Her dance with death seemed so long ago.
I ran downstairs after, looking for Kaitlin in the community room. Whether she meant to reserve it or not, there was an empty seat waiting for me next to her. We didn’t talk, we just watched, bathed in the light of the screen. Whispers and sniffles passed around us, and while I took it all in, I ultimately felt…numb.
Finally, she leaned over to me and whispered, “we should start making calls.”
Of course, we knew the phone lines would be dead, attacked by the desire to call everyone and anyone. We both had family up there, both had friends attending college. It was before Facebook and Twitter, and even jumping onto AIM didn’t help much. No one seemed to be online.
Then, our phone rang. It was my mom, frantic and worried. We didn’t even think danger could be heading our way, but she reminded me that not only were we in the state’s capitol, but our governor was the president’s brother. There was reason to be scared. I vowed not to go downtown, and tentatively asked about family. Only one person, my uncle, was in the city that day. He was in the first tower.
At that moment, I could only image the fear and shrieks going through my aunt, who was settled on Long Island assuming it was just another day. My uncle survived, he got out in time, but part of him was never the same. He watched his boss die in the rubble. Not long after, he quit his job, and later moved to Florida with his wife. He never talks about the event. He works at Disney now.
Katilin’s family was fine, too, and slowly we heard from our friends. A guy we were in theatre with in high school posted photos on his blog, taken from his apartment window. They were frightening, and made everything a bit more real.
Feeling helpless, we decided to go give blood, like the rest of the city. Packed, Red Cross had us wait for over an hour. I was denied the ability to give, as I was under 100 pounds. Instead, I found cookies for Kaitlin.
We watched Bush address the nation from the workout room on the second floor. No one used it, so we knew it would be quiet. Sitting on the stationary bikes, we learned what might come next, and how to move on. I looked at Kaitlin and knew that the fight wasn’t important – nothing was in comparison. And that to see the next day, we’d have to move on together.
But what I remember most about the time was the overwhelming sense of pride and unity. American bumper stickers were everywhere, the National Anthem was sung at everything. Everyone was proud to be American…and everyone was a bit nicer for a small amount of time, at least where I was. We were all in the same boat, all scared of the future, but confident in the present. We were all freshmen, learning what it was like to take the next step.
Two nights ago, while watching Obama’s address to the nation, hearing the cheers from outside the White House broadcasted on TV, I waited for the feeling again. Twitter and Facebook exploded with virtual high fives and proclamations of victory. I’m not for celebrating someone’s death, but this was different. And I understood what the situation meant. It was like every ghost from 9-11 breathed a sigh of closure. Of course, it’s not over, but it’s one step. Samir and I smiled, knowing that while sitting on our couch late that Sunday night, we witnessed history. I looked forward to the following day, expecting the same as before.
But as the minutes rolled on and night turned to day, the excitement turned to cynicism and questions. That unifying sense of pride was dashed, and instead the Internet was a hodgepodge of ideas and beliefs and doubts and concerns. It’s impossible for happiness to last long, it seems. And I’m not saying people should be happy over death – people should feel as they wish – however, I expected so much more. Over time, the United States became less united, and more pieced apart. Each side clinging to its beliefs, not wanting to compromise. Sadly, only death brought the country together, and this time, not even that seemed to work.
Much like the country, my friendship with Kaitlin separated over time, but never over unfriendly terms. We shared too much for that. But after witnessing what happened Sunday, I felt the need to message her, say hello. Because if death brought us together – why couldn’t it do it again.
And while I can’t change the world with a message, or even a blog post, I can hope to feel a moment when everyone is together once again, this time not brought upon by something horrific, but by something good. When red and blue make purple, and borders come down only to reveal billions of people all on the same team. It won’t happen, I know, but I can always hope, right?