The night before, Monday night, I had been out all night with my friends Tall Jon and Jen. We worked the third shift at different call centres in Jacksonville, and we were used to staying up all hours of the night. For some reason, all three of us were off on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and Monday night was our Friday night. I can’t even remember exactly what we did that night. Whatever it was it involved our usual senseless shenanigans, alcohol and stupidity. I think I got home at like 600 in the morning since I usually get off at 4 am.
After checking my email and wandering around on the internet for a little while, I got into bed around 800. I guess Tall John never made it that far because it was almost 9 when he called, drunkenly slurring, “Oh my God, turn on the TV, like some dumbass just flew a plane into a building in New York.”
Even back then I was an avid news watcher, but I limited myself to celebrity gossip and political scandals. Anything involving foreign policy, economics, or anything else that mattered was usually cancelled. An idiot pilot flying into a building did sound interesting but I was so tired that I didn’t want to go into the living room to see it. “I’ll look at it later, I told him. CNN repeats everything.”
“No, wait. I think it’s like… Wait a minute.” John was silent, I guess he was paying attention to the news. Then he sounded much more sober than he had a minute before. “I think it’s like something more serious. Hold on a second.”
Okay, curiosity piqued. I got out of bed and went into the living room. My sister’s friend Boo was sleeping on our couch and she must have been watching a movie the night before because the surround sound was still on when I turned the TV on and the reporter talking was loud and blaring in the living room. Boo rolled over, annoyed that the TV had woken her up.
John was still on the phone. “Oh, shit. There is another plane!” he was shouting in my ear and sure enough, he was right. I was just in time to see the second plane crash into the other tower. I was like, “What the fuck?”
John said, “What are the odds that two planes crash in the same day? Crashing a plane is like so random. Like once every ten years or something.” Okay, yeah, his facts are probably off but the reporter was looking all concerned, “There appears to be another plane. Something is very wrong.”
Boo is now wide awake. “What movie is this?” she asks me.
“I don’t think it’s a movie.” I sat down on the couch and John is on the phone with me, neither of us are concerned about our precious, but measly daytime minutes.
I sat down, figuring that I wasn’t going to go bed anytime soon. Boo was no longer interested and she turned over to go back to sleep. I don’t remember what channel I was watching, something local, and I switched it to CNN because I hate local news reporters. CNN appeared to be more “confirmed” in their reports, anyway. I was sitting there listening to stuff about a possible terrorist attack, and I was like, “Doesn’t that, like, only happen in the Middle East, or whatever?”
I was so dumb back then. I had been to college, but being well-educated is not the same as being well-informed. I barely knew who the president was. I knew, but not really. I was just another dumb American, floating through life, completely clueless about the world around me. I never heard of Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, or any of that. I heard of Afghanistan, but I couldn’t remember for the life of me where any of that was.
So, while the reporters are going on and on about the implications, there is a new flash that a fire has broken out at the Pentagon. Then like fifteen minutes after that, I am watching Aaron Brown and right behind him the one of the towers starts to come down. John is still on the phone, “Oh, shit, oh, shit, oh shit! It’s crashing! Oh, shit.”
Aaron Brown, renowned reporter, is trying to keep his professional composure, but even if he is like, “What the fuck!” as he tells us that the South Tower is coming down. There was so much smoke and crap everywhere, people running screaming down the street like one of those apocalyptic movies. You know how in movies, they always blow up New York? That’s what it was like. So surreal.
They made an announcement that flights were grounded and John told me that his mom was supposed to be going to the Bahamas, or Bermuda, or somewhere later that day and he wanted to call her to see what she was going to do. He hung up, and I went to knock on my sister’s door. She was asleep. She also works third shift.
“Hey, uhm, something very strange is going on. Like, maybe we’re at war. Somebody bombed the World Trade Centre in New York, or flew the planes into the buildings or something. I don’t know,” I told her. She was so sleepy, like, “Whatever. I’m tired. I’ll see it when I get up to go to school.”
“Maybe there won’t be any school,” I returned.
I went back into the living room to watch some more of this strangely unfolding disaster. They were talking about how the firefighters had rushed into the collapsed tower and now most of their first responders were seriously injured or dead. Then the other tower collapsed. Then they started talking about a plane had gone down on the Pentagon. The another plane had been shot down because it was going to the White House.
Who knows about all the conspiracy theories that came out of 9/11. I can’t talk about something about which I know very little. But then they said the plane hadn’t been shot down, that the passengers had crashed the plane to save the White House.
I sat for hours. I knew I was supposed to be going to work at 7 that night, but at 3 that afternoon I was still watching the news, watching replays of people jumping out of buildings, people running in the streets, screaming, all those people marching across the Brooklyn Bridge during the evacuation of Lower Manhattan. I watched the interview with the guy from Cantor Fitzgerald and how he got lucky because he took his kid to his first day of school.
Something like 650 of the 975 employees of Cantor Fitzgerald died because their offices were at the top of the towers. That’s like, the whole company, practically. The guy was crying on TV, and even though I hate men who cry, I was crying too because it was so depressing because he was like, “I just wanted to take my kid to school.” Then the reporters were crying because by late that afternoon people were out with pictures asking if anybody had seen their husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, children.
By the time my sister woke up, the local news had reported that all downtown businesses had been shut down, that most college classes had been cancelled. I tried to call my parents, who lived near the governor of Florida, who is Bush’s brother, and all the lines were jammed. I guess everyone was calling everyone.
The reporter said, “America is at war.” So, being a military kid, to me, that means, get suited up. We were always hurricane prepared so I figured all of that stuff is useful for war time. Boo said, “I think I should go home.” Yeah, probably. I did an inventory of useful items: water, canned shit, batteries, blankets. I thought we might have to drive to Tallahassee to find my parents.
In my mind, we were under attack, like, any minute now enemy bombers would fly over the city and start bombing shit like London 1944. I told my sister we needed to get gas for our cars. Hers was already filled and when I went to the gas station, the one up the block, usually the most expensive, was selling gas for $5.99 a gallon.
I debated whether or not to buy the gas. The line was very long, and in the end, I decided not to. Even though my car was more fuel efficient, my sister’s car was bigger and if the whole family had to be together, we would fit in hers. Better to not waste the money just in case we needed if we had to flee to Canada or something.
See where my mind was going? I was an American Idiot and they told me we were at war, and I was like, “Okay.”
I kept trying to call my parents but I couldn’t get through. My sister and I debated whether we should go to Tallahassee. There was an announcement on local television that everyone who was stationed aboard a ship docked at Mayport had to return immediately. Next to Norfolk, Mayport houses the most ships, and Cecil Airfield, like 15 miles from house kept fighter jets and other shit like that.
All of those jet were taking off. I guess they were going to DC, or whatever, and I really, really thought we were in a war zone. Jacksonville does not have the significance of New York, DC, or LA. It’s not a cultural jewel, a financial centre or any such, but it has huge naval facilities. I felt like we were going to be on the front line, so to speak.
See how I was a moron?
I dated a guy who was stationed aboard the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy which went to New York to sit in the Hudson. I never saw him again after that. Nothing happened to him. Nobody died aboard the ships, or anything like that. It’s just that, we never crossed paths again. We never called each other again. It was kind of weird.
There was another announcement that all buildings above 7 storeys would be closed, which was my office. My sister’s building is a block from mine, but hers was flat. I told her if I wasn’t going to work (even though I was already off), she shouldn’t either I said, “Well, if they think something is going to happen to buildings 7 storeys or higher, what if my building gets blown up and yours is so close?”
We stayed home because the news told us that we should wait until further notice about what is going to happen. Tall John and Jen wanted to come over because the president was going to speak to the nation, and we were going to sit around and pretend to be intellectuals and discuss the situation.
We went back to work on Thursday and Friday, and I worked for a very large, international bank at the time, which has a very strong presence in New York. Before I logged in, we had a big meeting to discuss everything. My company had lost employees at the World Trade Center, but that was not the focus. Turns out my company had direct with some of the hijackers and if reporters called, we had to say a certain verbiage.
Nobody even thought about our millions of New York cardholders calling about their dead family members’ cards, or how should they mail their payments, or whatever the case may be. For weeks, I had to sit and listen to crying New Yorkers calling to ask about death benefits, wives trying to access dead husband’s cards, or kids trying to figure out how to pay dead parents bills. It was crazy. On Monday, they finally had verbiage for us, but the sad part is that laws are laws and with banking and finance, everything is so strict.
I had to say, “I’m sorry, ma’am, even though your husband passed away, I cannot give you access to his account until death certificate has been filed… blah blah blah blah.” One girl, calling about her mom’s account, was screaming at me, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT WE’RE GOING THROUGH. YOU BITCH. WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO!”
I just hung up on her because I didn’t even know how to handle it. Usually, I was very rude to the customers, but it’s different when someone is dead and everyone knows what happened and the whole country is depressed. I was just like –click-. Can’t handle it.
They started putting out those hotline numbers in case you see anything suspicious, and everywhere I went, I was paranoid. After living overseas, being a military kid, and having gone through numerous bomb scares in high school, I was already on paranoia high alert. The hijackers were trained at a Florida flight school, and Jen worked for an airline. Every time a Middle Eastern person booked a flight with her, she was thinking, “Is he going to take over the plane?” John and I once debated reporting two black guys who looked “Black Pantherish” (whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean) and suspicious because they were in a beat up ass Honda with wires and other strange objects sticking out of the back. We had previously speculated that car bombings would start in the US very soon. What I knew of Islam mostly had to do with Nation of Islam and other random things I learned in childhood. I never heard of an extremist before.
I just felt like the world as I knew it had changed. I had to start being more aware of things because when I was watching the news in the weeks that followed it was rather amazing precisely everything I did not know. Who the fuck is Osama bin Laden? There was a war with the Soviets and Afghanistan? The World Trade Centre was attacked before? There was a bombing on US Embassies? Like, all this stuff that had gone on and I was in a dark hole somewhere, partying and living it up.
For me, September 11 was the day I seemed to wake up. Like, “Where the hell have I been?”