I hesitate to add my voice to flood of 9/11 remembrances, but when I consider what’s happened in the ten years since 9/11/2001, I feel compelled to share my story of the most polarizing national event in my adult life. 9/11 will be the event my children will ask, “Do you remember where you at?” as the Kennedy assassination was to my parents. I believe in the power of stories, so oblige me if you will.
I was working on my first undergraduate degree at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. I had just recently broken up with my girlfriend of three years and living with my younger sister who just started her undergraduate work. I had spent the evening doing what one would expect of a twenty-something the previous night—drinking until 4am, trying to get in some coed’s pants, and walking home alone around 5am.
I don’t know what time I received the call but I remember being shocked by hearing my recent ex-girlfriends voice on the phone. It is even more interesting since this was before I had a cell phone (yes kids there were days before having cell phones) and I didn’t even have caller ID (yes kids there was a time the phone would ring and you’d have no idea who was on the other line). I fuzzily remember her asking me “Are you watching this?” I thought maybe it was already the evening and she wanted to talk about something funny on the TV, but I was even more shocked that she called me after a few weeks of no conversation and started the conversation with such a strange statement. She informed me that a plane hit the World Trade Centers and everyone was freaking out, but what she really wanted to find out was if my sister was okay.
Why was she concerned about my sister? Well that is the real story and my six-degree connection to the WTC. My sister had been dating a friend from her high school who just joined the Merchant Marines and was transferred to NYC. While my ex and I were together, my sister was planning a trip to visit her boyfriend in NYC and was excited about being able to go to the top of the WTC— in fact it was the thing she was most excited about. My ex knew she was planning the trip to happen during the few weeks since we separated and was concerned that she was in NYC.
As fate and providence provides, my sister was there just a week before 9/11 and had shared her pictures of the WTC and regaled me with the stories of the view from the WTC. It still gives me shivers to think that my sister passed by offices and people that in a few weeks would be devastated by the horror of 9/11. It’s eerie when one thinks about all the people we pass by in life and what happens to all those near contacts.
The rest of the day I was glued to my TV, I watched in disbelief as the second plane hit, as the towers fell, and as the world changed. I had multiple calls from family and friends as we discussed what had happened and how the US would respond— there was so much uncertainty that day, so much speculation, and so much fear and anger everywhere.
The next memorable call came from my sister— since there were no cell phones or ability to text I had no idea where she was and my parents kept calling me asking me if I heard from her. She was on campus and just had her afternoon classes cancelled, but the busses were cancelled and needed me to pick her up so she could get home. In order to reach me she had to wait 30 minutes to use the payphone and had to borrow change in order to make the call—again no cell phones, can you imagine that kids? I got my exhausted, un-showered, hungover self off the couch and started to make the 3 mile drive to pick up my sister. It took 45 minutes to get through the insane traffic and I watched hundreds of cars lined up at the gas stations and watched as the price went up to $6-$7 dollars a gallon— I was lucky enough to fill up my truck the previous day for a nostalgic $1 and change per gallon (yes kids gas use to be around a $1 a gallon).
The remainder of the day was bit of a blur, I know I went back to sleep and that evening went over to some friends to drink and talk about everything that happened.
But that is just the story of that specific day, what really hard to wrap my head around is how much I’ve gone through in the ten years that followed:
- Took a job that transferred me to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
- Accepted a second transfer to Athens, Ohio
- Bought my first house
- Left that company, sold my house, and moved back to Indiana
- Lived with my parents, went back to school, and became a certified teacher
- Got married, bought a house, and had my greatest achievement—my daughter
- Sold my second house, moved to Michigan
- Went through a divorce
- Changing careers, again
In the past ten years, I’ve lived in four states, had three careers, owned two homes, had twelve different addresses, been through a marriage and divorce, and became a father.
Life is a complex journey, the world continues, and the memories, pain, and effect of 9/11/2001 will be with us forever.