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9/11: 10 Years Later – My Story

September 11, 2011

American Flag for 9/11

Everyone has a story. Everyone who was alive and cognizant of the terrible events has the memory indelibly imprinted into their mind, their heart, their psyche. I debated not writing, for mine is no story of valor or ultimate loss. But it is my story, my own, and it is as clear in my mind today as it was 10 years ago. So I write this for future generations, that my small thread would weave into the tapestry of the United States of America, 09/11/2001 and beyond.

I Remember 9/11:

I remember waking up to the radio like usual. It was a workday. I took a shower, got dressed. The morning voices barely entered my still-groggy consciousness until suddenly the heavy velvet of the newscaster’s voice registered in my brain a plane hit one of the Twin Towers in the World Trade Center. I listened for a few minutes in stunned silence as my favorite voices shook with confusion and concern.

I turned on the TV, one of the only times I’ve ever turned it on in the morning. I saw the smoke, black and billowing, and watched as if a movie while the second plane flew directly into the second tower. More smoke, more clouds, billows of fear, a knot in my stomach, looking back and forth as if for someone to tell me I didn’t have to go to work. Scrambling for the Walkman, my old radio (so funny to think of today) jammed earphones in and spun to a news network, clung to the words of the dry voices concerned what was happening? on the train towards the city, buildings growing up around the train. North side, not downtown back then, walked to a low brick building in the door put down my things ran to the conference room. Gathered with co-workers eyes glued to the television so much smoke. So many people screaming and crying out and “Oh Shit” was the only clear sentiment of the day. News of a plane hitting the pentagon, eyes glazed over with too much pain and sorrow, what to do but grab hold of the chair and blink to watch more. Another plane down, Pennsylvania, my mother’s state, phone calls on the air loved ones screaming and crying, dying. Cameras rolling dust and fire and shaking and like a movie like Ocean’s Eleven only horrible the building collapsed down, down down onto itself. Oh Shit. Oh Shit. Oh Shit. How can that have happened? The plane hit the building so high. Black dots falling from windows learned later were people jumping. Oh shit oh shit oh shit. The second building. Dust engulfed a city thousands of miles away and choked me.

What left? What was–

Go back to my desk. A man’s voice announcement in the office Voluntary Evacuation. Get the hell out of dodge just in case something happens in Chicago. Old town isn’t downtown but there’s no way in Hell I’m gonna work who can work? Turned on the computer to turn it off again get a ride home can’t ride the train can’t do it won’t do it how am I on groceries please Jesus don’t let anything happen in Chicago.

Walked in the door missed calls, my best friend couldn’t get through the lines couldn’t get through so many cell phones calling, calling, ringing, loved ones at work on the way to work the sick, the running late in New York they’re the lucky ones. Turned on the TV talking all the talking suits are talking pictures rolling who is it who is it who did this who who who? Why?

Talking all day all night twelve hours of talking talking talking Al-Qaeda Taliban who? Who? Why? what did we ever do to you? Work doesn’t make sense any more who cares if you buy a used car have to go bleary-eyed didn’t sleep for watching, watching. Crying, weeping for men and women I didn’t know and newscasters broke into tears Brokaw called his family just to say I love you.

Next day newspapers showed the horror the carnage the suicide jumpers from windows stories evolved and came out “Let’s Roll” became a rallying cry, Congress sang God Bless America, President GWBush in a bomber jacket and Mayor Giuliani stood in the dust and we heard stories of the men and women who ran towards the towers, into them up the stairs weakening under their very feet. Later “Beautiful Day” by U2 reminded us all to live and to love and brought tears walking to the train on a sunny day post-9/11 everything is now post 9/11 I don’t even remember what I did for my birthday.

Television was only news. Radio was only news. Talking just to try to make sense of it, sharing stories, weeping together going to work because we had to we had to show those sonsofbitches we’re the fucking United States of America and we don’t quit we don’t back down we will rise from the Ashes victorious and strong even while women and men comb the city of rubble with photos in hand “have you seen my daughter/son/brother/mother?”

I remember when Jay Leno came on and Conan. They spoke of their own pain and fear. Conan isn’t a religious man but with tears in his eyes he said on the day of he walked into a church and sat down just sat down and thought. What if? And they became more than late night talk shows because they brought on the people who had been talking all day and asked them the questions we all wanted to ask. Explain this they said explain the Taliban explain why that happened tell me why the towers fell and what what what are we doing about it? And we were glued to the TV not for jokes although that came later but because we needed to see humanity, needed to see the suits explain the big words, needed to know that life will go on and that we would rise victorious.

And we went to war.

Channel 7 the Disney-owned channel played Saving Private Ryan the first time since 9/11 that “Fuck” was said on network TV because we are Americans and we have fought before and persevered against all odds and Michael Eisner said they would play the movie in its entirety we would remember that we are a nation that fights for what is right.

And the Indian woman at my office received dirty looks because of her dark skin and racism disappeared as long as you didn’t look middle-eastern.

But life slowly, gradually, returned. Late night shows became late night shows. Radio became music and laughter and hating the traffic. And family was family we took for granted once again except those who were in Afghanistan and Iraq but you can’t take shampoo on the airplanes or nail clippers and pat-downs became welcome annoyances not on this plane Jesus please not on this plane never again.

But look at the clock 9:11 has a meaning just like 5:00 is go home 12:00 is lunch and 11:11 is make a wish. 9:11 is a small shudder and internal cringe and a prayer that it never happens again and our men and women will come home. And calling 911 is buildings on fire and heart attacks.

Birthdays and wedding anniversaries have new emotions Giuliani walked a woman down the aisle when her father was killed who schedules for 9/11 now the first year flights were the brave the stick-it-to-those-bastards-I’m-not-afraid-of-flying memorials churches songs prayers of healing and comfort and don’t forget forgiveness.

And no one wants to advertise, who wants to buy a car so after 8 months finally laid off can’t blame the Taliban directly but they didn’t help. Met men and women who shared where they were when one was in Puerto Rico my pastor though I didn’t know it yet, we all shared we all needed to tell our story days months years later we all have a story and this year I went to church and sang and spoke Psalm 107 and prayed and wept at the videos the audio the crying dying voices all alone in the dust all over again.

And one day I realized the building I work in the Merchandise Mart is branded in concrete and metal as One World Trade Center, Chicago.

I said hello to people today tipped the cabbie well because we should because this is America and dammit we’re good people and we are going to persevere and remember that going back to normal shouldn’t include back to bigotry, back to selfishness, back to taking advantage of the system but helping each other living in joy not in fear enjoying the little things enjoying the big things family dinners and fond stories of the ugly sweater you wore that year and the dog that ate the pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving.

So we play Taps on 9/11 and Amazing Grace and remember the stories because you’ll have children to tell who will look at you as blankly as you look when you hear of JFK or Martin Luther King (or Lincoln) and think it’s just a point in History and it will truly become Patriot Day and that is good and healthy but never forget we honor our patriots because we were given reason to remember that is what we all are. We are all Americans. We are the patriots.

And may we never forget.

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