Monday, September 11, 2006

Where Were You?

(To those who are sick of the constant barrage of 9/11 anniversary coverage, I duely apologize. (We have no TV reception so I haven't reached overload yet))

Where were you five years ago this morning? As I rummage through old papers, I find wrinkled yellowing copies of the Daily Universe at the bottom of the box. They've got the familiar pictures on their front pages. Holding them and seeing what age has done to the paper makes that day seem so long ago, but I just watched the video archive on Foxnews of the news coverage and it feels like yesterday.

I had just broken up with my first girlfriend and subsequently met Jenny. I was finally a BYU student after several failed attempts at being (re)admitted. I had just started my first real upper level physics classes at BYU. One of them was classical field theory. The homework was due by 8:00 am that Tuesday morning, so I was up there by 7:30. I remember the TV was on in the faculty lounge, though I didn't stop to watch since I'm not exactly a morning person and wanted to get back to bed. I walked back down the hill on south campus and returned to apartment 18 in southridge (or was it 16?). I honestly don't know why, but I turned on the TV.

I remember actually thinking that maybe it would be nice to start off the day with some news for a change instead of sleeping in. I saw one of the towers of the trade center with smoke coming out of it. I thought, "Those stupid New Yorkers, what have they done now?" It looked like there had been a fire in the building. Then I heard someone mention that a plane had hit it. I imagined it was some kind of small commuter plane. It was about 7:55. Someone then mentioned that a plane had also hit the pentagon. "Now THAT's not normal" I thought. I wondered why I couldn't see the other tower. Was it the position of the camera? Was it enveloped in the smoke?

Then I saw the tower collapse. Just like that. I realized why I couldn't see the other tower since all I saw was empty space behind where the now collapsed one was. I think I yelled to my roomates upstairs to get down there. Josh and Burton came down sleepy eyed, whose faces turned into ones of wide-eyed disbelief once they realized what had happened. Somehow, when someone tells you that two 110 story buildings just collapsed potentially killing tens of thousands of people, here, in America, it takes you a second to realize what the person said, and several more to even believe it.

Now there were three of us silently watching the coverage. Before the tower collapsed, I saw footage of hundreds of firefighters running in a line towards the building. Now, they were walking slowly in a line away from it, some with there heads down, crying. That was what first welled up my tears. The sight of the collapse was too shocking for tears, but seeing those big tough firefighters cry made me lose it too. I remember seeing footage of people hanging out of windows with smoke billowing out of them. I saw a picture of people jumping. That picture made me sick. Not vomit sick, but I was literally shuddering and had to look away. Within an hour we had a good 10 people watching, and many stayed most of the day. I don't think I left, except to go to class, which I'm pretty sure was canceled anyway.

Where were you that morning?


JonnyF said...

Actually Nick, you lived in apartment 12 at Southridge...
I was mere 5 weels off my mission. I remember, that my family met me at the gate. It wasn't strange then, but it seems strange now.
I had an 8:00 class in the Clyde Building. On may way there, I saw an old mission buddy (Ben Rhoades, some of you might have met him) who had a class in the Clyde building at the same time. He told me that an airplane had run into one of the World Trade Center Towers. I didn't believe him. It was too much to believe, and besides, he's the kind of guy that likes to play practical jokes, tell people things just to see if they'll believe them, etc. We didn't have time to talk anymore before class. I remember wondering about it the whole hour. Neither the professor nor any of the students mentioned anything about it, but I increasingly believed what Ben had said. I went home after that class, and turned on my radio since I didn't have a TV. I quickly found a station that was covering it and listened. I remember it took me several minutes to take it all in because I tuned in in the middle of what was going on and just the shock and disbelief. I think I actually changed the station once or twice to make sure it wasn't some fake broadcast like War of the Worlds or something. After I was convinced I yelled at Darrell to come up to the bedroom and listen. I don't think Jared and Warren were in the apartment at the time. We listened, and at some point brought the radio downstairs. I suppose we could have knocked on a neighbor's door (like Nick's) and watched on TV, but we didn't really know anyone yet and weren't really in "making friends" mood. Actually, I wasn't particularly good friends with Jared or Warren at the time either. I think Jared still thought I was weird from my rant about the "communist" way in which they wouldn't sell me an All-Sports pass without the football tickets. It's possible that I still thought Warrens name was "Ward".
I don't remember when/if Jared and Warren came home or if they already knew what was going on when they did. I don't remember if I went to my Accounting class that afternoon. All I remember is that at some point I called Brentar to take me to the store to get groceries. After taking me back home to put them away, Brent took me back to his apartment and we watched the TV coverage at his apartment until fairly late at night.

Jenny said...

I was like you Jon—when I heard about it, I thought it was some kind of sick joke. I was walking down to the KMB on the south end of campus, probably to go play the piano for some MDT major's voice lesson. I had just passed the Clyde building and turned left to head down the stairs when I ran into Dan.

Dan was a friend of my roommate, Heather, and we had hung out a few times and made an improv cd together with Heather when he had a recording tech class. Nice guy. Slender, blonde, round glasses. So when he stopped me and said hi, I wasn't expecting to hear the words that followed: "A plane crashed into the World Trade Center." Just like that. Not "did you hear?" or "what do you think abou this?" It was so abrupt and so ridiculous/absurd from my then-world view that I thought he must be joking or maybe that I had misheard the joke.

In response, I laughed. I know that sounds horrible, especially looking back on it now, but at the time, I couldn't help it. Dan gave me a funny look (a "what the hell are you laughing about" kind of look—entirely appropriate from his point of view) and said "I don't think this is something to laugh about."

When I realized he was serious, that a plane really had flown into the tower and that the tower really had collapsed I felt literally sick. I'd been home from my mission 8 months and I still hadn't really dealt with my emotions about coming home and not having my dad there—I tried to avoid the reality of his death by keeping busy in school and work. And to be confronted by death again in such an abrupt and massive way was really disturbing.

I spent the rest of the day trying to maintain some type of normal routine (class, study in the library, work, study in the library, dinner, study in the library). I felt like it was important to try to keep things normal so that my emotions didn't overwhelm me, which they did anyway. I didn't listen to the radio. I overheard conversations and put together what was happening. I didn't watch the tv (we didn't have one). I didn't read the newspaper the next day. I didn't see images of the towers falling until last month when we were at Nick's house in Seattle and there was a special about 9/11 on the tv.

That day was significant for me in two ways: it opened up personal emotions that I needed to recognize and experience in order be able to think about my dad again; and it completely rearranged the emotional values and mores of my community/country. I always think about the days that followed as an experience of combined private and public grief. It's odd when I think about it—that I worked through national tragedy by means of personal loss.

And then I met Nick a few weeks later.

randy said...

I and my sister, Kimberly, we driving to school, going east on Main when we heard it on the radio. Although it's not like I thought it was untrue, I just "couldn't believe it".

Julie C said...

I was walking to an early morning class, and I went through the library to pick something up. The towers were on the news, so I stopped along with about 40 other people in front of one of the TVs and watched. It felt like a movie, except I knew it should feel more real. When I got to class, the professor said something about the towers, and then we had a lecture. It wasn't until the devotional was changed that I started to feel like it really affected me. I don't know if feeling that detached is good or bad, but the same thing happened when there was the earthquake in Seattle - I just didn't feel like it was real until I talked with my mom who had been there in it. With all the disasters all over the world, sometimes they seem less real unless you know someone or meet someone from there.

erin said...

I was walking to work that morning and hadn't turned on the tv before or heard the radio. When I got to good ol' Provo Art & Frame, everyone upstairs was crying. They told me what had happened and I couldn't understand quite what they were saying or what it meant. All of us knelt down amidst the glass shards (or is it chards? Hmm, not sure...) and prayed. My boss had a son in the Marines which brought the situation close. All day we listened to the radio and when I got home I couldn't tear myself away from the tv. Long after everyone else had gone back to their other stations, I was back in my sawroom at work listening to NPR--with headphones when the others said they couldn't stand it any more. A few days after the attacks I was in my sawroom at work and heard a list of names of confirmed dead at the Pentagon and heard my good friend Brady Howell had been killed, and everything seemed to be significant in a new way. It's interesting to think how things were different and how I would have thought things would feel more different now than they do.

An interesting note is that just last week I got a letter from my little brother who is in Portugal on a mission. He said there was a Sister Howell--in his mission who said she'd been my roommate. It's Brady's widow and she's still serving.