I heard the buzzing of the alarm clock and reached for the snooze button. Always did hate those things. The snooze idea was lost on me though. The high window that we had never curtained poured bright, hot sunlight down onto me. It was hot that summer, and we didn’t have A/C. Not that it really mattered, as the only south facing window was the one over my bed. The rest of the house stayed cool enough. I turned the alarm off and left the overheated room.
Grabbing a cold soda from the fridge, I curled up on the couch, still not awake. Any other day and I would have dozed for a while on the couch before starting my day. It was only on Tuesdays that I made myself get up. It was book study day, and Teri would be there shortly to pick me up. I had just enough time to let the mid-morning newscaster’s antics wake me up. I only had a portable 5-inch television, and it only got one channel, but it did the trick. I switched it on sat back to listen, my eyes still sleep glazed.
“A plane has hit the World Trade Center”
Well, that was odd. It sounded like even the newscaster was confused. It got my attention and I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, leaning forward to see on the small screen. The footage that reached across the country first was a long distance shot, and details were slower coming. As the news team tried to process information, we watched the second plane hit. It appeared as though a small, private plane was aiming to thread the needle between the towers. Until it hit.
Even then there was no indication as to what had truly happened. As news teams on site tried to gather and disperse information, my hometown news team simply tried to decipher the video. By the end of the scheduled newscast, the video had been slowed down enough that the newscaster’s were “fairly certain” that it was no accident. We still didn’t know that it was a commercial aircraft. At best guess, it was believed that some person of wealth had chosen to commit suicide and simultaneously target the tower. We didn’t know that the two planes were connected, although some guesses were made that perhaps the pilots were playing a bad game of chicken.
The Pentagon getting hit by an airplane made no sense. I realize that I was half asleep at the time, but I remember thinking that something must have been in the water on the East Coast, because folks had lost their minds while in the cockpit. First, two rich folks play chicken and crash into the World Trade Center, their little planes wouldn’t do too much damage to the steel building but still, folks would lose time at work while the building was repaired. Then the navigation system on a commercial jet goes wonky and the whole plane crashes into the Pentagon. Okay, Pentagon is crashed into and we must protect the President, so himself is now aboard Air Force One. Somehow, my not quite coherent mind came up with, “all the crazies are flying planes, and we just put the President of the United States into the air.”
The hijacked plane that went down in Pennsylvania was an entirely different news story. By that time, the “we interrupt this program to bring you breaking news” was running on a ticker tape at the bottom of the screen. Somebody had put together the incident at the Pentagon and the fact of the fourth plane still being in the air. The cell phone calls from Flight 93 had made news. We knew that it had been hijacked and speculated that they might try to intercept Air Force One. Then reports started to flow that citizen heroes had chosen to go out fighting. They knew that they wouldn’t survive and chose to stand up for those who didn’t know that death was coming on silver wings. Those heroes stood to say, “you may hasten my death, but I will stand between you and the innocent. You’re going down with me.” We heard recordings of the goodbyes as the camera panned the wreckage of Flight 93. Can those heroes claim this honor?
It was later that it was all connected. That we got video that was close enough to see the size of the planes as the hit the towers. That we knew that the towers would fall. That we watched them fall. That we wept as people chose a swift death at the end of a long fall, to the slow painful death of asphyxiation or burning.
At some point it clicked with me that this would mean war. That there was no way that we could not strike back. I thought of my brother, who was still available to be recalled into the Air Force. Of my friends, Boats and Teri, both still active reservists. Of their son-in-law James, recently discharged. Of my cousins, Andrew and Shelli, both recently discharged. How many would I say goodbye to? It hit me then, that Teri was an hour and a half late to pick me up. I wondered, was she already called to report? I had no phone, so calling and making sure folks were okay was not an option.
I had a doctor’s appointment that afternoon to see about a sprained ankle, so I grabbed my cane and headed for the bus stop. Along the way, I stopped at some random store and bought a small American flag. I stuck it through my ponytail and with swollen, red eyes nodded my respect to the burly guy with matching eyes put two huge flags into the slots on the back of his pickup. I remember that it seemed like a hush had fallen over the world. There was little traffic. The kids weren’t blaring their stereos as they drove past. The only revved engines were the ones that had flags attached to their vehicles. With no wind to speak of, they had to get moving to get those flags flapping in the wind. Every car I looked into seemed to have a teary-eyed driver.
It would be a peaceful time for a few days while we processed. There was an increase in courtesy, in respect. People were more patient for a few days.
I know that this is a little cliche, doing a 9/11 piece on 9/11, but I have never taken the time to write my memories of that day. I did not write this to be political, but I will say one thing in terms of politics. My dad taught me never to throw the first punch, but if somebody ever hit me, I was to hit back and finish it. He did not teach me to hold a grudge. He did not teach me to continually beat the pulp out of whoever hit me. He taught me to finish the fight and walk away. Be aware of the enemy and on guard, but walk away, perhaps the enemy will have learned not to punch.