I passed one of the doubles on the first floor of my door and noticed that it was not only full at 12:30 in the afternoon, but that the collection of people in the double was oddly disparate. I was a bit of a social butterfly, so I knew who got along with whom and who hung out with whom. To see that cross section set off a bit of curiosity, but it was a beautiful day outside and I was almost late for class.
"You don't know?" Of course I didn't know. I had just woken up; so I admitted as much. "The Trade Center and the Pentagon- they're both gone."
So I did the only logical thing and assumed she was playing a joke on me. I thought for a moment she wanted to see if she could get me back to the dorm and make me late for class. I asked a courtesy "Really?" and then said I should go see if class was cancelled. I walked the other two minutes and figured that was some sort of sick prank.
When I opened the door to my classroom to see only my professor seated there, it hit me that this wasn't a joke at all. She stood up and said that because of circumstance we were not going to be having class today. I asked her what she was talking about and she laid it out in factual detail--the way you would expect a professor to tell a student that the world was coming apart at the seams.
She asked if I had any family in New York, or knew anyone who may be involved. I said I did not and asked if she ahd heard of anything we could do to help. She suggested that I go to donate blood if I would like to to do something--this is before the realization hit us all that the attack left pieces of people and not people with pieces missing.
I remember almost everything that day in exacting detail. I remember how the lipstick of the friend that first told me about the attacks looked like latex instead of lipstick. I remember how my professor had an unruly sprig of blonde hair on the back of her head. I remember the coolness of the air and the startling clarity of the sky and the sun. But I do not remember the walk back from classroom to dorm. In my memory I am being told what had transpired and then I am watching it in that same double I had passed only fifteen minutes before.
"Has anyone seen Lisa?" That was the first question I was able to ask after watching the video over and over. Vanderbilt is part of a program called Posse, which provides scholarships to students from New York City's public schools. She was the only immediate connection I had to New York City and was a popular figure in the dorm.
No one had seen her. I walked out of double just in time to see Lisa coming out of the center stairwell. She was gorgeous as always and carrying a bookbag as if she were on her way to class. I asked her what she was doing and she said she was going to class. I asked her if her dad--who provided security to lawyers in Manhattan--was okay. She asked me why people kept asking her that.
I told her the World Trade Centers were destroyed and she dropped her bookbag.
The rest of the day is a blur of increasingly less important actions. I went to Lisa's Russian class to tell her professor that she was from New York and would not be in attendance that day. A group (I can remember doing everything in groups that day for some reason) of us went to another dorm to watch the Chancellor give prepared remarks. We decided to go to Meharry Medical Center to give blood. The Red Cross was swamped and Meharry had a sickle cell anemia test going on. When we arrived I was number 342; they were on 115.
There were three phlebotamists working what should have been a simple sample gathering for testing of a predominantly African American school population for a genetic disorder most common amongst African Americans. Those three phlebotamists were America writ large: they woke up thinking they knew what would happen. Then they were overwhelmed. We were all overwhelmed.
We left the blood drive without donating. We were not sure that they would even get to number 250 before closing.
Since we had spent three hours there, we were all hungry. And I needed a drink. Our group- ten at the moment- went to O'Charley's and I went to the bar. I had just recently gotten a cell phone and the only person I wanted to talk to in the world was my Dad. I wanted someone to tell me it was going to be okay. I needed that.
Two Jack and Cokes later I was on the phone with my dad and crying. I had lost my mom, suddently, six years previously and the only thing I could think about was how many children there were who were going through what I went through. There were people who had seen their mothers and fathers off to work with a usual routine. Maybe, like my brother, they forgot to tell their parents how much they loved them the last time they spoke. I forgot to hug my mom. In hindsight it's the little things that loom large while the larger things fade into a sort of mist that permeates memory.
He told me it would be okay; that I was safe. I did not want to be safe: I wanted to be living in a world twenty four hours younger. I wanted things I could not name and which I had never wanted before.
It was during dinner that George Bush broke in to give a speech made famous for its complete lack of memorableness. I believe the line that began it was something like: "Today America suffered a great tragedy." I turned back to my mass produced chicken parmesean and wondered if he was going to tell us next that the sky was blue. We decided, after listening to him, that we needed to drink heavily because he was going to see us through this crisis.
In retrospect I did not know how drunk I would need to get to be relieved of the fear of that man in that moment: I would have had to have drunk myself to death at the age of 21.
I did not live in New York City and I did not live in Pennsylvania and I did not live in Washington, D.C. I did not know anyone in the Trade Centers though there were people on campus who received phone calls before the collapse. But all of that is irrelevant. I was an American and someone has attacked my country. It was not Pearl Harbor where a fascist regime decided to attack military assets. It was an attack on the people of this country, not the military. And it broke my heart.
It also taught me the true meaning of terror. I have always had a very powerful imagination, so it was not hard for me to imagine all sorts of grisly scenarios. And then there was the fact that Vanderbilt's burn ward was the best in the region, so victims from the Pentagon were brought down. You never notice the sound of planes until it's gone. The silence, however, makes more pronounced the sound of medivac helicopters carrying more wounded to the university hospital in the days after the attack. Each sustained roar was another invitation to realize that someone in this world wanted to kill you only because of the country you grew up in.
I do not need a fictionalized account of any aspect of 9/11. I have my own memories and I have long ago stopped imagining grisly scenarios. I do not need a man behind a lens, or a man with an agenda and a pen to tell me their vision of that event. That event is branded on my soul.
For these reasons, ultimately, I will never forgive Republicans. They have taken the specter of 9/11 and turned it into a commodity. They have gleefully taken the very defining moment of terror and worked it into a political weapon. They have promised us protection, but never delivered. Instead Republicans--politicians their voter accomplices--have pushed this country into an untenable position while wielding the cudgel of 9/11.
They have dehumanized the memory so fresh in my mind. I do not need to see their thoughts on the path to 9/11. I do not need to see Oliver Stone's crafting of a story about 9/11. I do not need need any of that, because I am of the generation to be defined by that action. It is from my peers, mostly, that the fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan have come. It is my next 50+ years that must be spent untangling this mess they have used 9/11 to make.
So please, conservatives, keep your fantasies and fictions about 9/11 to yourself. I've seen that show already and I don't want to watch it again.