9/11: My retrospective view
There’s much to be said in the media on this day, seven years after the tragic events of 9/11/01 took two of the nation’s most prominent buildings from one of the world’s biggest and brightest skylines.
I’m not the media pundit who is going to put things into perspective. I didn’t know anyone involved. I have no family or friends in the Port Authority, NYPD or Fire Departments in NYC. I don’t have any words of wisdom or insightful claims to make on this day that flags fly at half staff.
My recollections were initially fuzzy, because I was asleep when the World Trade Center was hit. I awoke, probably an hour or so after the initial attack to a roommate explaining it to me. I then flipped on the television to find the news on every channel. Children at home, too young to go to school, were thrust away from Blues Clues to an endless cycle of news and hysteria.
I don’t ask “Where were you?” Everyone knows where they were. We don’t have to re-tell the story, we just know. Just like my mother, who in 1963, remembers where she was when John F. Kennedy was shot. She remembers exact details of her ninth-grade class at Lancaster High School in Kilmarnock, Va. and the principal coming over the PA system telling the school the President had been shot.
I have no such memory of my initial reaction. I do have the images of the replays burned into my memory, it’s something that is inescapable to me. I walked through campus, classes cancelled, students milling around in disbelief, many looking feverishly down at their cell phones trying to get a signal. Not everyone was calling to find out the whereabouts of people they might know.
I know my mother was in Milwaukee, scheduled to fly into Newark, N.J., later that day to connect to the Newport News airport. It took me five hours to find out she wasn’t allowed to board the plane. She was in the airport when it went down. Again, she knew exactly where and what she was doing when she saw the news.
There isn’t much I remember about 9/11/01 … I just know what happened, what I watched over and over on television.
I remember September 12. Standing in front of the Batten Arts & Letters Building at Old Dominion University, checking to see if my classes were cancelled. I stood outside, smoking cigarettes with my friends, talking about what went on. My friend Kevin was rifling through a Time Magazine where he found a picture of Osama Bin Laden. He fashioned a poster out of the picture. Before this moment, I had a brief idea of who Bin Laden was.
I took this picture …
Two years later, I found a strange connection to 9/11 … finally. Hurricane Isabel had just formed off the coast of Africa and started to churn through the Atlantic. On September 11, 2003, I found an eerie connection to the date — I boarded an AirTran flight from Newport News/Williamsburg International and flew to New York City. I landed at La Guardia and made my way to Manhattan. It finally dawned on me as I was eating an overpriced quesadilla from TGI Fridays on the corner of 34th Street. I was here. It was two years to the day. A rush came over me, nothing like I’d experienced two years earlier. Now, I was connected, albeit distantly, but still not directly.
It was the 2003 World Championships in New York City. The event was slated to take place two years prior, two weeks after the attacks. They were moved, shifted, and awarded back to New York City. I covered my first World Championships and arrived on the two-year anniversary of today’s memorable date.
I remember this day more vividly than the date of the attacks. Perhaps it was the allure of the World Championships, but I believe mainly, it was the fact I stood a short distance away from where the horror for our nation unfolded. I saw Cael Sanderson walking towards the New Yorker hotel. Some Russian dignitaries outside smoking a cigarette, my bill from Fridays, a homeless man pushing a dilapidated shopping cart through the courtyard next to Madison Square Garden. I heard people talk about “going to Ground Zero.”
I’m not an overly patriotic person. I hate politics. I avoid conspiracy theories because of their absurdity, but I know this happened, because I felt it.
My experience and relationship to 9/11 are minimal, somewhat trite and overly uninteresting. My mother ended up getting back to Virginia four days later, having to take a Greyhound from Milwaukee. Again, these experiences and memories are not something I’m making light of, they’re not stressing importance of what I was doing. Less than a week later, another significant event occurred.
As I finished covering the Worlds and wrote my last story for USA Wrestling, I checked the weather to see “where that Hurricane was.” Isabel was then a Category Five story and heading towards the Eastern Seaboard. I flew back into Newport News, got a ride back to Poquoson from John Graham, the founder of the Virginia Duals, and saw my hometown bracing for a storm.
Isabel dropped in intensity and ended up hitting us pretty hard. My hometown, decimated by flooding, millions of dollars in damage. My mother’s house was spared. My old El Camino … totalled, enveloped by five feet of the Chesapeake Bay.
It’s not ironic by any sense of the word. Within the span of a week, the mourning of 9/11 and the devastation caused by a Hurricane crashed over me. I’m not going to forget those images, even though my mind was elsewhere seven years ago. It’s cliche and trendy to say, but honestly, I will never forget.
May our thoughts be with the friends and families of those lost during the 9/11 tragedy and their attempted rescue. To the firemen and police and volunteers and EMT crews who braved horrific scenes to do their jobs, you are truly heroes.