Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

I am struggling as I start to write this. Partially because 9/11 was such a tragic event in my life, one that has left an imprint on my mind, but also because it's hard for me to get caught up in the hype. I think for me, the wish had been that by the time we reached the ten year anniversary so many more of us would have moved on, that would have come out the other side a stronger, better country and at times I don't think we've done that. It makes me worry even more.

We are afraid of everything and the older generations don't trust much of anyone. They've used the attack as a justification for their distrust and their hate and it makes me nervous to put so much attention into something that I've seen breed hate. It might be different in other parts of the country but I've seen people of my parents' generation that I respect say things over the past ten years that I can't believe anyone would say. It's cheesy to quote Star Wars but fear does breed hate and hate does lead to the dark side. Ten years later I worry we're still walking a very fine line between light and dark.

Still, over the years I've realized that the story of that day from my perspective had such interesting twists and turns that it's worth telling.

The first we heard of it was in calculus I recitation (that's the Tuesday/Thursday class where you meet with the TA and do example problems and where we took all our quizzes). When the TA walked in the kids in the front of the class were talking about a plane hitting the World Trade Center and the TA actually looked at them like they were nuts and asked what movie they were talking about. When they said it was real he then told them they were nuts and shook his head, starting the class.

It must have been a quiz day, maybe (Meag probably remembers better than me, we were in the same class, but not the same recitation I think) because we were out early. As I got to the student center a classmate grabbed my arm, pointed to the tv and said "you won't believe what's happened" but then he walked off. When I looked up at the tv hanging in the post office it was nothing but a cloud of gray smoke, which didn't mean much of anything to me at the time. In fact it looked like the TV was broken, which wasn't unheard of. Shaking my head I got my mail and started up the stairs to go through the building and back to the dorms, and a crowd was gathered around another television. I asked someone I knew from SWARM (our spirit group for football) what was going on and he told me "a plane flew into the WTC". When I asked if it was a Cessna he corrected me and told me no a big one, 757 or something. "Well that's ridiculous. It's near impossible to maneuver an airplane that size, that close to the ground." (Snotty first year Aerospace Major at your service).

I left them, headed back to the dorms where I ran into a friend who lived in Freeman the boys' dorm attached to mine. I begged sweetly and he let me in their side door, which was a shorter walk through their hall to the annex to mine even if I was supposed to be escorted down the hall. I got about five steps inside before, Chuck, one of my friends on first floor Freeman grabs me and drags me into a room that wasn't his with two guys I didn't know. Now he's really explaining what happening to me and I watch in terror as the first tower collapses. Next thing I know I'm waking up my roommate who was still asleep, demanding she turn on the television ("Which station?" "Any station!") and I hear her lose it when she watched the replay. By the time I'd run back to my dorm she and I watched the second tower collapse together.

Classes were canceled before my 2:30 class, but it wasn't like anyone was going anyway. The university, right in the middle of Atlanta, went on lockdown and most of the kids with parents who lived in the suburbs left for home. Before I graduated I wound up seeing my college close maybe twice more and the college in KY where my parents live closed much faster than Tech did. Tech didn't close, not for much of anything. That they closed was huge. Those of us who stayed were out of town kids, or just the few who weren't afraid to leave. They sent home the entire staff, but our dinning hall staff, or the head of it at least, refused to leave. She let whoever wanted to go home go home, but the story was she said that if she left we wouldn't eat and she wasn't about to let an entire campus of kids starve out of fear. I still think she deserves a medal.

At one point I sat with Sara (my roommate) and friends from first floor Freeman, huddled in one room, all of us in shock, all of us sitting closer than normal, all of us shaking no matter the strong fronts we all put on.

To say that everything changed is an understatement. Even now, I live with it every day. I work for an airline, I'm working on a new configuration for an aircraft and we're discussing procedures and additional securities to keep the cockpit secure. I walk through TSA more than most. I know all of it. I don't need a special day to remember it, I live it constantly.

Still, there are some interesting moments to my story. That room with the two guys I didn't know that I was pulled into? One of the guys, Kevin, would years later become one of my best friends. We never met when he lived in the hall next to me, but third year in college we'd become fast friends, date for a while, but stay best friends. He remembers Chuck grabbing some random girl and her standing in his room for a while watching the coverage with them. It took us a few months to figure it out, but it was each other. Call it fate, call it chance, but it's interesting to me.


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