Sunday, September 11, 2016

The 9/11 diary entries

[This is a combination of two diary entries: one from September 22, 2001 -- my first entry since the attacks -- and another from October 6, where I fleshed out some of the details. All of the words are original.]

But the thing that's most important and that has pretty much dominated our existence for the past 11 days are the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. I've been a bit consumed by it lately (I've amassed a healthy collection of magazinzes, largely un-read so far) and have written my fair share of stuff about it for my journalism classes.

The need to record things for posterity compels me to start at the beginning of this thing, from my first day of Digital Journalism class, which was interrupted by someone from the Journalism office delivering the news. It was just after nine, so the 2nd plane must have just hit. A student worker knocked on the door and said "Just so you guys know, 2 planes just crashed into the World Trade Center." I guess they wanted to leave the ultimate decision up to the professor, although it was abundantly clear to us that the first day pleasantries could not go on. One girl, in fact, emphatically insisted that class adjourn so she could make a phone call. She left almost immediately.

Our friendly messenger told us that there was a TV in the 5th floor office. Although I could have gone outside and seen it for myself in a matter of minutes, I went upstairs.Maybe, as Jeffrey says, I just didn't want to see it for myself just yet.

An older professor, who I had never seen before, was watching the TV in the lobby. It was tuned to NY1. The professor was crabby. He ordered us to file in quietly and take a seat. The image was worse than I expected. I don't know what I expected. I knew that a plane had hit the Empire State Building in the 30s, and that building survived (duh). But I wasn't prepared to see all that billowing black smoke. The anchors had precious little idea of what happened. It was clear that I wouldn't be getting much in the way of news just yet. So I left. On my way, I saw the girl who needed to make a phone call, and she seemed okay. I thought everything must be okay.

Outside -- a gorgeous day, flawless sky, 70s, etc -- the students didn't seem rattled at all. I allowed myself to be convinced, if only for the moment, that it wasn't as bad as it seemed. I went to the bookstore. All seemed normal. I was prompted to ask the cashier if she heard what happened. She had. That was all. She hadn't seen it, but she knew. Did I want a bag?

People still seemed largely oblivious -- save for a few people already throwing around rumors ("It was a Delta plane -- red and blue -- definitely"). I still had it in my head that I could attend to scholarly duties and do some research for an assignment on Charles Dickens, so I walked to Bobst Library on Washington Square South and LaGuardia Place. And then I saw the smoke.

At that point, 9:15, the Towers were still standing but with large, gaping, smoking jagged gashes. The Towers had the trick of taking on the color of the surrounding sky. On rainy days they were stark and gray. At sunset, they glowed orange. On September 11, they were deep blue. Deep blue with large black gashes spewing black smoke. There wasn't much evidence of flames, only a few isolated fires could be seen throughout the exposed floors. But the smoke was thick and black.

I actually went into the library.I didn't realize at that point how many people had already died in the plane crashes (let alone how many more would die a short time later). I didn't think the Towers would fall. I thought that it would take forever to fix that, and that I'd have to look at those gashes every day for the rest of the school year when I walked to class. That is, until they covered it with an ugly-ass blue tarp or scaffolding or something.

But it slowly started to hit me that this was something more terrible than I originally thought. I tried to concentrate on the volumes and volumes of Dickens before me. I never realized how narrow the hallways in the library were. I got dizzy. I wanted to go back to the dorm. I left, having accomplished nothing at all.

The crowd outside was bigger now. As I walked north up University Place to my dorm on Union Square, others were going south. Some had professional looking cameras. I started to run.

No one spoke. People were still trickling into the streets. Standing in the middle of them. Most of the cars didn't even honk. Everyone who had a car parked on the side of the road had returned to their vehicles and turned on their radios, opened the doors and windows so people could crowd around and hear. Each had turned to a different station, making a cacophanous sound that told me the whole story as I ran north. "White House evacuated." "Could be more planes." "Possible explosion at the State Department." Occasionally I'd look behind me, but not for long.

At the dorm, someone chose this to be the time to get their hand scanned for our high-tech security system. This caused the line to enter the building to grow, and tempers to get short. When Mr. Brainiac was done, the guard asked who was next. None of us gave a damn about handscanning, We wanted to go back and try to connect with our families. I ran back to my room to see suitemate Laura in her bedroom watching the news. "Enjoying the chaos?" she asked. [editor's note: I hated Laura]

I too put on the news and tried the phones in vain. I decided to go back outside where I thought my cell phone would work. I didn't know that none of the cell phones worked.

I ran back outside to see the first tower enveloped in a cloud of dust. When the dust cleared, there was no more tower. I raised my camera to take a picture. It was then that I realized that my hand was shaking.

Two people came out of the subway behind me. Ostensibly, they had been stuck on the train since the attack and knew very little, if anything. "What the hell happened here?" the man asked. I tried to tell him, but he walked past me. My cell phone was no help. I went back inside.

I got off on the wrong floor. I turned the knob of the wrong room, shaking it in frustration, not realizing my mistake. A girl opened it and stared at me. I stammered an apology. She said that she understood, that everyone was a bit mixed up.

The next few hours kinda run together. I remember talking to John before my parents as his was the first number to go through. I finally reached Mom and Dad on AIM. They were evacuating the Navy base in Philadelphia. Jeffrey came to my room. He had seen the second explosion and even though he knew I was okay, he wanted to be sure. Christine was eating a sandwich that she had brought from the bakery where she worked the day before. The bakery, Ecce Panis, was in the WTC concourse. We watched the bakery not exist anymore.

We watched the news for nine more hours. We watched 7 WTC fall. At 11 pm, we turned the TV off. We couldn't sleep, so we played Trivial Pursuit.

The next day the wind shifted and everything below 14th Street was barricaded (we live between 15th and 16th). It smelled awful, like burning chemicals. Jeffrey and I went to Pennsylvania, where we contiunued to assure the curious that we were indeed alive.

Since then I have been mighty cynical. I've been frightened by the sudden spurt of red, white and blue bloodlust, and "war fever," although it seems that more people are beginning to hold off on wanting to go to war (although our president doesn't seem to be one of them). I was initially tuirned off by what I perceived to be empty gestures -- memorials and poems in Union Square, "light a candle at 7 pm", "wear a ribbon, buy a flag" -- but I'm beginning to soften.

I guess I'm most concerned about my little brother going off to war to fight an undetermined enemy. I'm saddened by the backlash against Arab and Afghan people (Jeffrey and I ate at Bamiyan tonight, and were happy to see that it was fairly busy). I'm depressed by the barrage of Missing Persons posters for people that I know are pulverized. I'm concerned that I'm not more horrified at the fact that I just witnessed the destruction of thousands of people, let alone the skyline of the city that I love. I worry that it's all going to hit me @ once -- in a public place. Maybe the produce section. I'll just start screaming and throwing lettuce or something, jjust generally disgracing myself.

I'm  mad at the people that are letting fear control them, like my friend who didn't want to go out tonight because she heard there was going to be biological warfare. The only times I felt really touched were when it first happened, when my Literature of Journalism professor wanted to casually blow it off, when Conan O'Brien almost broke down during his monologue, and when I thought my president was going to declare war. I'm sure it will hit me sometime. In the meantime, I'm looking for a job and carrying on with life, because that's all I know how to do right now.

Bad writing, but I thought it was necessary. Sorry to bore you.

11:25 pm

[Editor's note: it's not bad writing, kiddo. And it will hit you. Buckle up.]