Disclaimer: This is mostly for me. I have a harder and harder time remembering things, particularly in the last few years. I just wanted to have something written somewhere. You know, for later.
In 2001, I was a sophomore at Radford University. Classes had been in session three and half weeks and were at that point where the routine felt normal but not boring. Not yet. It was my first semester as an RA, and I was excited about the possibility of mattering to someone. I was placed in Bolling Hall on the second floor in a room unlike any other I’d seen on campus. It was shaped oddly, kind of like a large closet. I grew to love it. I think the major of the moment was Communications, but by spring, it would be History. I was in the process of dealing with some choices I’d made my freshman year. I’d call them bad, but they led to good things. Still, not great.
I had a real life crush on a boy named Ben, and a fake life crush on the Dell computer guy. I think he turned out to be a pothead. I either hadn’t met Callaway yet or had met him a week or so before. Clearly, he wasn’t on my radar at that point.
My walls were covered in art that I painted myself. They weren’t very good, but I liked them anyway. I had a loft which I’d painted yellow and a floral bedspread I wasn’t crazy about, but I was broke, so they stayed. In a line on the wall were my Broadway Playbills. I think I had seven. In May, my best friend from high school Tara and I had gone to New York on a road trip, just the two of us. We saw RENT and Chicago and were on TRL. I have a videotape of it somewhere. We visited a lot of places, but we didn’t make it to the Towers. I do know that’s how I knew when we actually made it to New York. Those buildings made the skyline recognizable. I’ve been back twice since and wasn’t totally sure we were there. Anyway, that trip was just days before I turned 20.
The morning of September 11th, 2001, I was in an English class. We were talking about irony and war poetry, but the professor said later that this fact was not ironic. I don’t know. The class was from 8:00-9:15, and it was less than a five minute walk back to my dorm. As I went in the building, one of my residents was coming down the stairs. This girl was sort of a hero/freak to me. She had to be close to 300 pounds and regularly modeled nude for the art department.
As she passed me on the stairs, she said, “You need to turn on the TV. A plane just flew into the World Trade Center.” I’m pretty sure she said plane, as in singular, but by that time it was two.
I did what she said, turning the TV to one of the many channels showing the footage of the towers engulfed in smoke. The images of the second plane hitting were shown over and over again, and for a long time I was never sure if I saw it live or not. All it would have taken was to look at a clock and check what was being said, but I couldn’t figure it out. And it didn’t seem quite real anyway. If you could rewind the shots and play it again like a movie, couldn’t it be just that? Something that didn’t really happen?
After that, there isn’t much, which I now know is how my body responds when it’s overwhelmed. I remember talking to my parents but have no clue what was said. I remember dry heaving in the shower. I remember being terrified because I was supposed to be a leader now and had no clue what to do. I remember one of my residents— an asshole whose parents apologized for me having to deal with him when they visited the school once— asked if I thought classes would be cancelled. That’s all he really cared about. I remember the Pentagon and Flight 93. I remember worrying there would be more.
I have a vague impression of people stopping by my room, and that I stayed there all day with the door open, except for when I went to get food. I don’t remember much crying. That seems strange. I don’t even know if I cried, but I must have. I cry a lot. Whole hours have disappeared leaving no hint of their whereabouts.
I’m pretty sure I was on duty that day, meaning from 6 PM that night until 8 AM the next morning I had to stay in the building in case anyone needed anything. I don’t remember anyone needing me. There was a drum circle in the quad outside my building that night. Radford is driven by the arts, and there was always an art exhibition or dance show happening. I listened to the drums a long time and wished I could go out and play myself, if only to do something.
…And that’s mostly it. It bothers me sometimes that something so big doesn’t take up more space in my brain. It’s important, so shouldn’t it? Another part of me is grateful I’ve been spared too many details.
These days, I think of September 11th through the lens of April 16th. Those pictures of missing people who were just anonymous faces to me at the time now move me deeply. I understand what it is to know one of those faces who just isn’t there anymore because something that never should have happened did. And I approach it with a level of respect. I can still feel what happened, and I think everyone does. It was a national event that was meant to change our country, and New York is a place that is sort of shared with the world. Everything happens there. At the same time, it was something local. New York City is not my home, but it is home to a lot of people. I get what it’s like when someone dramatically screws up home.
Maybe it’s silly, but one of the things that stuck was this sense of patriotism. I know our country is far from perfect, but it is kind of amazing. I’m so grateful for my freedom, and I’m mindful of the people who we lost in someone’s desperate attempt to ruin it. I’m still thankful, and I remember. Not much, but I do.