9/11 - 20 Years Ago Yesterday
Updated: Dec 12, 2021
I only have three brief memories and one email from the entire 9/11 catastrophe. The flashes are seared into my mind like short, punchy video clips. The rest? Well, since it took place only nine months after my big car wreck, I still wasn't converting memories into longterm storage overnight with any sort of consistency. This is all I remember about it.
YOU SHOULD KNOW: When I write about things like this, it's descriptive. You might wanna look away and go find something prettier to read.
September 11, 2001
28 years old
Colorado Springs, CO
I'm in the kitchen when I get the call, so I go to pick up the roam phone in the living room, not the one on my desk in the office. Over in the far corner, I reach beyond the futon. Midnight blue suede mattress. Jewel-tone throw pillows. Jewel tone fuzzy blanket draped over the back.
The phone doesn't match, which is why I've got it hidden behind the lamp. The cream plastic is yellowed with age. It's cordless. Bulky. Old. As I pick it up from its charger cradle, I'm facing the window. It's early enough that the blinds are still down. Also cream. Also old. The morning sunlight casts a goldish haze over the room when I say, "Hello?"
"Hey," William replies, his customary grumbly self. "It's me."
My face brightens at the sounds of my dance buddy's voice. "Hi there."
"Are you watching?"
"You don't know?"
William is a Vietnam Vet, a Ranger for multiple tours, so he's always on alert. But today his tone is different. There's an urgency to his understated growl, and his "can't be bothered" casual drawl has been replaced by the Staff Sergeant clip.
"What don't I know?" I ask, not really sure if I want to find out.
"You need to turn on the TV."
I glance across the room at the 13" TV/VHS player that squats on my antique, mahogany table. I covered the TV with a fringed gold-and-black scarf in an attempt to hide its dingy, outdated lines, because this room doubles as my dance studio. The decor is all gilded, exotic belly-chic, duplicated by the thirty square-cut mirrors that cover one wall. The old phone and the even older TV are eyesores, remnants from my first apartment in college.
I don't want to lift that scarf and turn the box on for the same reason that I covered it up in the first place: because I don't want my nice, pretty ambience ruined. These days, I need as much nice and pretty as I can get.
My recovery is going so badly that they had to medically remove me from my job a few weeks ago. I'm about to lose my lost wages in a couple more months and I have no idea how I'll pay bills once that happens. Driving in this town is becoming a nightmare, some of my doctors are giving up hope that I'll ever be pain-free enough to dance again, and all the disability agencies keep telling me I'm ineligible because I'm too old, not old enough, and have no kids.
I've become used to facing bad news like ripping off a bandaid, so I lift up the scarf, grab the remote, and click on the dinge-black eyesore.
Every channel is emergency news. When the anchors switch over to the wreckage of what used to be the Pentagon, my eyes go huge. My mouth drops open. I almost drop the phone, too.
"Are you watching?"
William's voice might as well be coming from the East Coast. Mine feels like it has to teleport in from Baja before I can finally get it out. "Yeah." My mouth barely moves. "I'm watching."
The newscasters keep talking. So does William. The voices on TV are strident and stressed. William's is flat. Terse. The screen switches to the New York City skyline. Two stark towers jutting up above all others. A plane. Too close. I can't blink. That's a plane. Like--a plane! Right there in--
It slams into the tower. My eyes slam shut and I my body jerks away. I stand facing the sunlit-backed blinds in the goldish-creamy haze of my living room.
I am no longer watching.
I've turned the TV back on, but every few seconds, I keep having to fucking look away. More like flinch.
Rolling clouds of smoke. Burning wreckage. A vertical avalanche of glass, smoke and steel--
I can't watch.
And the second tower going--
Tiny silhouettes plummeting--
I want to puke.
Ground-level videos shake in time with pounding footfalls or ground-rumbling thunder. A camera shudders, lurches, drops. Black.
What the fuck! Was that somebody's up-close death we just watched?
Another camera tilts upward. A plane silhouette overhead. All the confused commentary. Gaping mouths. Gasps. Backing away. The screaming. The running. So much screaming. And clouds of smoke rolling through the city like a Saharan dust-storm. Now all the different sirens. Rising. Falling. Blaring. Grunt-grooooaning. Wailing sirens. Wailing people. Wailing children, grime-smeared and lost. Or ash-coated and clutched close to somebody fleeing. May or may not be their mommy. Doesn't matter right now.
Because this is not a fucking movie.
Fuck! Can't you give me the fucking updates without forcing me to watch people die? Have you no fucking respect? Oh. Of course not. When the fuck did this culture ever have respect for human life?
At least there was one plane that didn't make its destination--hah! Fuck you, motherfuckers! Heroes. More on the outskirts, tending. More in the fray, running away. More heroes running toward the fray and still more leaping or falling unseen within the splintered steel coffins or those hijacked, human-filled missiles.
So hot it's deep-freeze. So huge it pops the bloated meatsack of me and whumphs onto the couch. I was pacing. Now I'm slumped. Just a listless sack of superheated numb with overlarge eyes and one small slash where my mouth used to flap.
The next day..
I flop onto the futon. Inhale. Exhale even longer. Finally click the clicker. All the stations are on rinse-repeat. I sort of watch it. Kinda-not-really through the corners of my eyes. I know when to look away now.
They do occasionally still sucker-punch me. There are a few new variations today. Airline departure and arrival schedules dominate the hour. Black boards with white lettering, or gray boards with blue lettering, or white boards with slate lettering.
A sprawling sea of CANCELLED.
Crowds. Silent and standing, or grumbling and milling, or waving and yelling at some poor gal behind the counter. More crowds with fists raised. And always the ash-coated crowds on ground zero.
Now we have a new sea: empty, winged missiles with upraised tails and familiar logos as far as the pavement can hold. American missiles, Delta Missiles, United Missiles, Frontier Missiles.
All parked dormant on the ground.
Yup, we Americans are United, all right, and Delta has been unleashed along with all the other Special Forces as we step into this new Frontier.
So what the fuck now?
Date:9/14/01 6:48:38 PM Central Daylight Time
From: Bella Dancer
To: Mom, Dad
Hi dudette (and copied dude). I know what you mean about the surreal...it was like that here for the first 2 days. Now traffic is subdued, I guess cuz everyone is glued to their frigging TVs.
On Wed. the overly-aggressive, hostile, impatient, wearing'-my-cajones-on-my-dashboard driving began. I do not doubt it was a direct result of all the media hype, trying to get this country worked into a foaming frenzy to go to war. They are good, the vultures, I have to give them that. With the language they use and the perfectly timed images of horror and devastation they flash.
I finally had to turn off the local news the other night, because they kept on giving flashes of the impacts--which I still refuse to look at. I may not be able to prevent the Colosseum from being built in my back yard, but I can certainly refuse to attend the "games." With all the research I have done on the Roman Empire and its twisted forms of entertainment, I have seen so much resemblance in our society that it's scary.
Well, here are two more. We've finally had someone knock us off our arrogant "untouchable, invincible" pedestal and now we're scared, so we've taken to becoming
morbidly fascinated by witnessing the deaths of other human beings. If they would have gotten live footage from inside the buildings as they were going down, would they be plastering that on the news as well? Or is it "safe" this way--from a distance where we can pretend it's a movie?
I'm sickened and disgusted by the amount of times they flash the horrible scenes over and over. How long until we're able to stomach the closeups? We are history repeating itself in its most un-glorious fashion.
So there ya go. That's where I was twenty years ago. Of course, I was enraged at the attacks, but I was equally enraged at the people using it for their agendas and profiting off of people's pain and terror.
Is it good that I don't remember anything more than these little flashes and then a great whopping nothing after I turned off my TV? It has its pros and its cons.
I know this day was a turning point for our country. Our airlines have never operated the same again. Neither have our borders--not the ones that delineate that familiar oblong shape with the jutting Florida handle. Not the ones that delineate our state lines or all the other myriad lines that have been drawn between this faction and that.
We don't tell our stories the same way either.
Wanna go a little geeker?
All these things I've been writing about lately...this has always been one of my primary ways of coping: a dive into fantasy. I write fantastical tales set in imaginary worlds that don't look anything like the one that has caused my deepest damage.
And yet, it's all still in there. It's there in the plot lines and it's there in the characters. It's rife through the themes, telling everything that I was unable to either remember or talk about. It bleeds through in garish pools if you know what you're looking at. My bent toward darkness and grit has always been a thousand times more Batman Begins (2005) than Batman Forever (1995). That's probably why the Dark Knight Trilogy is my favorite of them all.
Stories are one of the most fundamental ways that humans deal with trauma, pain, loss, confusion, suffering. It is the oldest and most enduring way that I have dealt with mine, ever since I was a little girl.
Any traumatic interruption in the timeline of What I Thought I Was Going To Do Today/This Year/With My Life is stark when you look at the Before and After. For example, when I brought in my book of collaging art to show my first neuropsychologist, she was astounded at the abrupt change in colors, structure, and placement, saying nothing of the content.
It's like two different people pasted collages into that book.
And really, they were two different people. Because I was killed instantly by that drunk driver in 2000. I just didn't die. That's why December 21 is my RebirthDay. Many things reincarnated. But not all. Some of them I deeply mourn to this day.
I'm sure there are countless people for whom September 11 is the same.
The bulk of my fuzzy knowledge of that event and how its aftermath impacted this country is mostly based on what people have told me or what I've read about it. For me, 9/11 is just one of the myriad art installations hanging in my gallery of The Crash Year. It is summed up in a single fancy frame that's been divvied up into four panels:
The Phone Call.
The News Bombardment.
The Sea of Cancellations.
The "I'm So Done" Email (that I don't actually remember writing)
Otherwise, this incident paints smears through those fuzzy Impressionist paintings that suffice for my memories over the past two decades. Sometimes I'm aware of it, like the stark changes to airline procedure when I finally started flying regularly again in 2007, and the noticeable drop-off of student interest in belly dance amidst anti-Arab sentiments.
Most of the time, I don't consciously recognize its effects. It's just...this feeling I can't put into words.
I amar prestar aen.
The world is changed.
Han matho ne nen.
I feel it in the water.
Han mathon ned cae.
I feel it in the earth.
A han noston ned gwilith.
I smell it in the air...
~Galadriel, Fellowship of the Ring
I've told you about how it feels like I've been in a walking-coma for the past twenty years, and about how sometimes, out at the nurse's station, they will turn the TV up loud enough that I can clearly hear what's playing. Once a year, I catch snippets of people telling stories about 9/11--this thing I understand was a really big deal, yet I have barely more personal memory of it than I do of WWI or Caesar's Gallic War, even though I lived through it and it happened in my own country. This is yet one more way that I feel like an alien, trying to comprehend the world around me.
As such, this event is something that I have to CHOOSE to remember each year.
And I do. Sometimes it takes an external reminder, like yesterday when I got up early, spent the day out in the garage with my dad, and left my cell phone inside. I was so wiped out I didn't even look at the calendar. I did the same thing today, and only realized that it was the 12th this evening. (I never know the date unless I look. Often I am even fuzzy about what month it is. Thanks, Dain Bramage.)
That's why this post is called, "20 Years Ago Yesterday" instead of "Today" like all the others I've done for this this 20th Anniversary year. I might be a day late, and I might not have access to the same connection as the people around me, but it's all in there. Somewhere.
The place where I'm #AllInThisTogether with you is simply buried under the wreckage of twisted steel, burnt rubber, and smashed neurons. So I send up a beam of light for you in that place where I once stood--where I should have been standing through that whole catastrophe, but where there is only stillness. Tonight, I pay homage to a very different monument than in any other post of this series.
Tonight, all my silences are for you.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS - Following the White Rabbit (Because I Can't Not)
--OR: If you want to read the rest of the 20th Anniversary Series from my big car wreck, it starts here: DECEMBER 18: 20 Years Ago On This Day
--OR: if you want to know about the car wreck that started this anniversary series, you can read about that HERE.