To the Douglas County (Oregon) 9-11-01 Project
I heard about your project solicitating individuals to write down their experiences of September 11, 2001, from listening to National Public Radio (NPR) while driving through Oregon on the 12th. I think this is a worthwhile effort and would therefore like to make this contribution to your project.
I’m from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, 47 years old, divorced, with an 18-year-old daughter who just started college in Texas. On Saturday, September 8th, I arrived in Bellingham, WA, to visit my aunt and uncle for a planned 7-10 days, after a 4-day journey from Texas.
My September 11th began in that “nether world” of partial sleep, partial dream, and partial consciousness. I was playing back two quite coincidental — in hindsight, eerily coincidental — remembrances.
First, the day prior I had received an email from my daughter asking for the email address for my friend from high school, Jim, who lives in Manhattan. She and I had visited him for the second time this past July, which reinforced her love for New York City. Her college roommate had also visited New York in the past few months, and now they wanted to plan a Spring Break trip there. She wanted to see if he and his partner planned to be there and if they might play hosts again.
Second, in November of 1997, I spent one of my most favorite days ever in New York City with a woman I had just met the previous weekend in California at a mutual friend’s wedding. Circumstances were such that we both ended up in New York that day. Using my friend Jim’s place as a base, we spent the day walking, shopping and eating in Greenwich Village and Soho. Even though she’s now married and I’ve never seen her since, I look back on that day with much fondness.
I suppose that in integrating these two memories, I was semi-consciously hoping that my daughter and her roommate might have the opportunity to create their own similar fond experiences.
My full, though groggy, consciousness was awakened by two loud raps on the bedroom door a little after 6:00am. My uncle Perry cracked the door and somberly said, “Steve, you ought to get up and come see this. Terrorists have attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”
I joined my aunt and uncle in watching the news coverage, flipping from news channel to news channel. A few minutes after comprehending the scope of the four attacks and the resulting damage, we watched in disbelief as the first WTC tower fell in on itself. I remember thinking that the cascading, swirling smoke and dust cloud looked like an atomic bomb explosion in reverse, and I thought, “This looks just like the movie ‘Independence Day’.”
With the collapse of the first tower, then the anticipation that the second might go, I began to worry about what else might be going on in Manhattan, and if Jim was in immediate danger. Then it dawned on me that his partner had two offices – one in Midtown, and one Downtown … near the WTC. And I also realized that I have another good friend, Jeff, who works for Chase Bank – somewhere in the Financial District.
We spent that day and evening trying to absorb the pictures, the commentaries, the statements, the implications, the possibilities, and the few available facts. The more images I saw and the more words I heard, the more I wanted … because I wanted it to end. I sat helplessly worrying about Jim, his partner, and Jeff, knowing that there was no point in trying to contact them that day.
After a fitful night, I decided to leave and return to Texas the next day. Rationally, I knew there was nothing I could do that would so much as blow a breath of difference to the situation. But for me, things just didn’t feel right sitting there near Bellingham in picture-postcard beauty, unable to resist the magnetic pull of the TV tragedy. I felt like I needed to be moving.
Before I left on the 12th, I received an email from Jeff — he was okay. By the time I reached Bakersfield, CA, on the evening of the 13th, I thankfully heard good news from Jim, too. But still, I feel the need to continue home.
Thanks for offering me — and I’m sure others — the invitation to write down something about our personal experiences of this somewhat-shared tragedy. I know it’s helped me.
I also want to mention how incredibly important it was for me these past two days having NPR to listen to for updates and commentaries while I was on the road. I’m so used to cable/satellite TV coverage that I had forgotten we really don’t have national radio coverage. NPR filled that need for me.