Whenever I look at a digital clock and the time reads 9:11, I shudder and feel a sudden depression. Then I'm annoyed with myself that five years on, I can't shake that response. Yet whenever I hear a politician refer to 9/11, I don't feel the same shudder, just anger at the way it's used as justification for bad decisions, for hollow and redundant remembrance.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, my newspaper didn't come. I was getting ready for school (I had just started a Masters program in English then), and I needed some kind of noise as I ate breakfast and drank my coffee. So I turned on the Today Show around 8:30 and went around my apartment. I had finally sat down on my ratty, twenty-year-old couch to sip my coffee and drift mindlessly on pablum before heading to a class on modernism, when the show comes back from commerical to a shot of the first tower on fire with part of a jetliner sticking out.
Katie Couric was interviewing an NBC producer who lived near the towers by phone. As the second tower was hit, Couric was asking a question. She continued asking through the shot and through the producer's screams of "Oh my God!" for about five seconds. For that reason, to this day I cringe when I see or hear Couric.
I called my mom and told her to turn on the television. I went to class, where I was the only grad student in a class of 30. Before class, people were talking, sharing rumors (a bomb outside the State Department, hijacked planes all over the country), and I felt like even more of an outsider, unable to share in what they knew and didn't know.
After class I spent some time trying to log onto news sites; I informed a fellow grad student, Bill, of what had happened. Several times over the next few years, he reminded me that I was the one who made him aware of what was happening on September 11.
I tutored a foreign-exchange student in the Writing Lab, part of a new building designed to house all the university's tutoring and career help centers. I kept looking away from her essay to the 80s televisions on rolling stands in the distance, when through the crowd around the TVs I could get a glimpse of the towers falling. "Why are all those people watching the TVs?" she asked.
"People flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon this morning."
"Why would people do that?" she said, now unable to think about the essay that had been the cause of her day's anxiety until then.
"I don't know," I said.
I went home afterward and watched news coverage all day, glued to recurring shots of jumpers, of the tops of the towers surreally sliding earthward, taking the rest of the towers with them. Footage of concrete dust billowing, then blackening the street, then giving way to a gray haze. Tom Brokaw and the skyline of wind-blown smoke behind him.
I had bad, predictable dreams in the weeks afterward. I tried to write a September 11 story after declaring only awful ones would be written. I have nothing new to say, nothing new to feel about it, nothing new at all. So if you've kept reading, thanks.