Saturday, September 10, 2011

That Day

It was a school day. I was a high school sophomore. After waking up and showering, I got ready for class. My high school operated on the block system, whereby instead of seven or eight classes of less than an hour each were crammed into one day, three or four classes roughly an hour and a half long were spread over A and B days. The B days had a kind of study hall period in the early morning, so that one needed not be there until 9:30 or thereabouts. That Tuesday was such a day, and so I was able to be more leisurely about getting ready.

My mother, having worked the night shift at the hospital the night before, called the house. No surprise there. From what I remember, it was a typical phone call: be there in 15 minutes (or whatever), don't forget to put the garbage out.

Then, before hanging up, almost as an afterthought, "Turn on the TV, the World Trade Center's been attacked."


Such was my understanding of the wider world around me that the phrase 'World Trade Center' sounded familiar, though I really had no idea what it was, not even that included two iconic twin skyscrapers. In any case, it was news. I went over to the living room TV and switched it to some station, any station, to the chagrin of my younger, hockey playing brother who had been watch ESPN.

And here memory, notoriously unreliable, fails completely. I don't remember what I said, much of what I immediately felt, or even what I saw. I might have seen the live 8:28 (my time) collapse of the second tower, but probably not the 7:59 collapse of the first. But everything is fragments.

At the school they had the TV, a box large-screen sitting on top of a rolling cart, airing coverage of the unfolding disaster. Classes proceeded as normal.

A friend of mine was somewhat bewildered, saying, "They cancelled classes at my dad's school when Kennedy was assassinated."

Being so removed from the disaster, the following days felt less alarming than slightly menacingly strange. The grounding of nearly all air traffic felt particularly off because the high school is located in front of our town's landing strip, and descending aircraft were an unremarked feature of everyday life.

My brother was angry with Muslims. My mother and I explained to him that collective punishment was wrong, and used as a personal hypothetical his Chinese friend whose life would be made more difficult by an attack by China. He came around.

We heard about people saying very unkind things to the Egyptian family with whom we were friends.

Strange times. Strange times, all and ever.

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