Monday, September 11, 2006

Remembering

Apologies to those who come to this blog for escape. Around this time of year, people share their stories of where they were when it happened. I didn't even find out what had happened until it was all over, but I figured I should finally write down my memories for posterity or myself or the ether or whatever.

I was entering my Senior year at Virginia Tech in September of 2001. That morning, I left my dorm around 8:30 AM to get my allergy shot at the health clinic. Around 9, I walked clear across campus to my Digital Design II class. I vaguely remember some Core of Cadet guys talking about something – an accident? – but I didn’t hear anything to suggest it was something they’d seen on the news. Class happened as it always did, with no hint of what was going on outside.

Class ended around quarter to 11 and I headed to my Acting class. Those who had shown up were talking crazy. “The World Trade towers are gone. And someone crashed a plane into the Pentagon.” My first thought was that I had stepped into a Tom Clancy novel. I’d just been to New York the month before. The Twin Towers had been there, tall and gleaming in the sun. I’d had a good photo op of them too, but getting the picture meant weaving through a crowd to my sister, who had the camera, then weaving back to actually take the picture. I’d get it next time.

The accounts from the few students who had apparently been watching the news yet still come to class seemed entirely unreal. Two planes – one for each tower. And a third in D.C. It couldn’t be an accident. Something was horribly wrong. It didn’t really hit me until the teacher finally arrived, in tears. Class was canceled. “It’s just too much.” She said. “The thought of 6000 people dead…” It was before we knew the real numbers. But it was the first number I heard. 6000.

I walked out of class, trying to think of where to go, what to do, what had happened. I ran into a classmate as she stepped off the bus. She’d been running late. “Where are you going? Why aren't you in class?” she smiled, oblivious. “Class is canceled,” I choked. “Why? What’s wrong.” Smile gone. “The World Trade towers in New York are gone. Someone crashed a plane into the Pentagon.” Her face dropped. “I have to go.” And she ran off. Her father worked at the Pentagon.

So I walked alone to Owens dining hall. They had TVs there. Maybe I could catch a glimpse of the news. The few people I saw on the way were walking very quickly with phones to their ears. Calling home. Calling anyone they could reach.

Owens itself was more crowded than I had ever seen it, with people standing in every available spot within view of a screen, but it was silent. I don’t even remember the TVs having the sound on, just closed captioning as usual. I quietly grabbed some food to-go and craned my neck to see as the cashier rang me up. I an airplane hit a tower in a burst of flame. Then I walked quickly back to my dorm.

I turned on the news in my room and found out there was a fourth plane, this one in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. Someone had missed – or been stopped. My roommate came home, freaking out. She couldn’t reach her parents, who lived in northern Virginia and worked at the World Bank. She insisted on keeping the news on when I tried to turn it off. At one point, I remember her screaming “Where the f%!# is Bush!” Giuliani had long since appeared on screen, reassuring the public. But where was the President?

A lot of kids on campus were from northern Virginia, near D.C., and had parents who worked in or around the city, which made the news frustrating to watch. We could see what was happening in New York, but the news on the Pentagon was sparse, somehow a minor disaster next to the catastrophe in NYC.

It was an emotionally draining day, even at that distance. I can't imagine what it must have been like for those who were there or who had loved-ones in harms way. Five years later, we still can't forget. So instead, we remember together.

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