9/11: 9 Years Later

Originally published on 9/12/10

Edited on 9/11/14

Cognitive scientists say that when you experience or witness something traumatic, your brain stores that information in more places than a regular memory. I forget where I heard it, but it would make sense. After all, even people with the most sieve-like memories have no trouble remembering 9/11– where they were and what they were doing. I remember it well, and when it first happened I knew that I would never forget the date, and I would never even forget that it was a Tuesday. I even remember little things, such as that it rained hard the night before.

On that fateful morning, I got out of bed (about 2 minutes before the first plane hit), opened the window, and took a deep breath. I thought to myself what a gorgeous, late summer day it was, and, like something out of a movie, how great it was to be alive. I was facing away from Manhattan in my college dormitory in Brooklyn, and had no idea that anything was amiss.

After I got dressed, I went to the elevator. I was on the fifteenth floor, so I generally didn’t take the stairs. As usual, the wait for the elevator was quite protracted. Ed, a guy on my floor, was also waiting for the elevator. Ed broke the silence by asking me if I’d looked out my window. Wow, I thought. He’s noticed what a beautiful day it was too.

Not so. “The World Trade Center is on fire,” he said. I laughed. My first thought that was in this huge building, there was a fire perhaps on one floor and it wasn’t so hard to get everybody out.

At last, the elevator arrived. I heard people briefly mention the fire on the way down. At my Adobe After Effects class, people were milling around and talking– the usual morning chatter before class starts. To break the ice, I mentioned that the World Trade Center was on fire. Other students already knew, and my friend Bob mentioned something about a plane hitting it. I didn’t know Bob well at the time, and something about the way he phrased it made me think he was messing with my mind. When I learned that what he said was true, I assumed it was a small propeller plane flown by some idiot who didn’t notice that a giant edifice (two of them!) was there.

But more people came in, and our teacher (who we jokingly called Biff behind his back, because he looked like a surfer with his long hair) said at one point that he was nervous because he had friends who worked in the World Trade Center. Nevertheless, nobody really knew the severity of the situation. As we worked on lens flares in After Effects, we learned more about the events unfolding. One of our classmates, Alexis, was listening to the news on her Discman, and she kept us updated. We soon learned that the disaster was no accident, that two planes being used as missiles hit the World Trade Center buildings, and that another plane hit the Pentagon.

We took a break from class and went into the cafeteria, where the television tuned to CNN gave us even more updates. Center City Philadelphia had been evacuated. The Sears Tower had been evacuated. And so forth. By the time we returned to class, we had realized that New York and Washington were under attack and we had no interest in doing our lens flares. Biff kept coming around and asking us, “Are you doing your lens flares?”. This is something that my friends and I look back on and laugh; amid the tragedy unfolding, Biff was concerned about our damned lens flares. Or maybe he was just trying to distract himself until he heard from his friends who worked in the World Trade Center. Finally, I told him bluntly that none of us were worried about lens flares; we wanted to see what was unfolding (I should have just walked out, I now realize, but it was only the second day of class). At 11 AM, after being in class for two hours, Biff let us go.

Everybody knew something going on… except for this one guy I ran into, at the elevator in the basement of the main building, who hadn’t heard a thing. Go figure.

That day, I was wearing a Monty Python “Holy Grail” shirt that said “It’s only a flesh wound! Come back and I’ll bite your kneecaps off!” After class I immediately changed into a red tank top, for obvious reasons. Back at my dorm room, there were messages from both my parents on my voicemail. My mother is a teacher, so I couldn’t call her back. I called my father at work. He had had to call six times before he got through when he called earlier. “Sorry, all circuits are busy,” as it goes. I asked Dad if it was true what I had heard, that there is no World Trade Center. “There is no World Trade Center,” he said. That was exactly how he phrased it, and I’ll never forget it.

Earlier I’d heard about the Twin Towers collapsing in class from a guy named Clark, who is known for being a pathological liar and reporting things inaccurately. Sadly, I later found out from Bob that Clark had also seen rumors about this attack on the Internet back in the spring. Bob, of course, didn’t believe it was any more than a conspiracy theory website and didn’t take it seriously like Clark did. We could also argue that Clark should have reported it to the FBI but… you’re never going to think in a million years that something like this could happen Plus, people are afraid of getting involved. Though I bet not anymore.

I found out there was to be a non-denominational service in the campus chapel. Although I was not religious (I was mostly agnostic– this was long before I became an atheist), I went to the chapel, thinking it would be some kind of informal discussion with maybe a prayer or two. But there was a priest who started talking about Jesus, so I left (it was hot in there anyway). I made a very quick decision– I was going to donate blood. I was always scared of donating blood, scared that I would pass out, but I decided that I didn’t care; it was a small price to pay, and I have O negative blood type (sadly, they turned me away because I was on antibiotics for an acne problem). On my walk to downtown Brooklyn, I saw a procession of evacuees from Manhattan. Despite the thousands of people crossing the Manhattan Bridge, it was silent. Everybody was silent. I had never seen New York so silent. That’s something I will never, ever forget.

That evening I watched the news, which recapped the events of that day. Over and over again they showed, in slow motion, a closeup of the plane ripping through the South Tower. All I could think to myself was, “Oh my God, and we thought these towers would be here forever.” I briefly had tears in my eyes.

Later that evening I climbed to the top of my dorm and photographed the smoke coming from Manhattan (see attached photo), which would be hovering over the city for a few days; I knew I was witnessing textbook history. And sirens were still blaring. They had been blaring all day. Ambulances, fire trucks… all over the city, all day and into the night.

The insatiable fire as seen from my dorm in Brooklyn.
The insatiable fire as seen from my dorm in Brooklyn.

And I remember that it rained a little bit that night too. But that didn’t stop the smoke. That took a couple weeks to go away, if I remember correctly.

So it’s been nine years since 9/11. My father said it was going to be a different world, and he was right. But why is it a different world? Not because I’m afraid terrorists are going to “take away our freedom,” but because of what Bush did as a result of that fateful day. Taking out Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. Sending young American solders to kill innocent people and to get killed themselves. I feared that his actions would only put us in MORE danger of another 9/11. As my brother once said, “I’m not afraid of terrorism; I’m terrified of BUSH!” And this idiot got reelected under the premise that he was defending our freedom. This day, as horrible as it was, started a chain reaction perpetuated by Bush that is leading us down the road to catastrophe. Bush has done more damage to other countries than 9/11 has done to us, even just in terms of the number of people killed. Hopefully, with Obama in office, things will get better in that regard, among others.

The sensationalism in the media has made people afraid to come to New York City because of 9/11. This is lessening over the years, but some people won’t visit NYC because they are afraid of terrorism! Israel has to deal with terrorist threats everyday. Israelis don’t lock themselves up in their homes; they live their lives. I look at it this way– I could get into a car accident, or I could slip in the shower and bang my head on the floor of the tub and die. Anything can happen. You have to live your life. While there are parts of Israel (like Gaza) that Israelis avoid, they still go about their daily lives and continue to go to the same places. While we’re on the subject of Israel, if we had taken lessons from ElAl (which was hijacked ONCE in 1968) 9/11 could have, WOULD HAVE, been prevented. Israeli airplanes have bulletproof doors, and there are soldiers on the plane trained in hand-to-hand combat… not that it would have mattered. The terrorists never would have passed security. The pre-boarding security measures are pretty intense. When I went to Israel they put me through an interview before the let me through security. Look it up ElAl’s security measures in Wikipedia if you want to know what it is like.

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