Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11: What I Remember

I had been living with my seven-and-a-half-month-old son at my parents' house in Southern California for about a month. He and I got up on September 11, 2001, after a typically sleepless night, to find the television on and my mom and brother standing silent before it. I think the second plane had already hit the World Trade Center, and every news station was showing current footage as well as prior footage, at least what they had. It was obvious to all of us that the planes hadn't hit the buildings by accident, and I started to cry. My mom took my son from my arms, thinking my crying would scare the baby. I walked away to wash my face and compose myself, then took the kiddo back and fed him as I watched the subsequent footage. It was awful. All of it.

Sometime that morning, the kiddo's dad called to check on us. His voice was tearful, and he asked to come over and see the kiddo. Of course, I said yes. He came over around lunchtime and spent time with the kiddo. None of us grownups knew what to say about what had happened -- about what was still happening. I remember feeling simultaneously numb and afraid, like the world had suddenly become a much scarier place. I couldn't fathom the loss of human life, although it was clear that the loss was, and would be, tremendous.

After the kiddo's dad left, I tried to go about my day. Driving around town, the roads seemed less crowded. Everything seemed quieter. I realized much later that this was partly due to the lack of air traffic. Eventually I wound up in a nearby church. Several people were silently sitting inside, and I stayed until the kiddo began fussing. On my way out, I saw an angel pin in a pew; it was left over from some fund drive. I took it and later pinned it to my car visor.

I don't remember what errands I attempted or accomplished that day, just that I needed to get out, away from the constant replaying of the crashes and aftermath.

Upon returning home, I tended to the kiddo, eventually put him to bed, and tried to work on an article I was writing, but it was difficult to concentrate. My dad was home by then, and the TV played endlessly as he periodically shuffled through all the stations. They all showed scenes of the wreckage. There was no way to escape the news, and I felt guilty for even wanting to escape it, since the people on television couldn't escape it. I felt as though by witnessing over the airwaves, I could somehow help. I knew that didn't make sense.

I finally went to bed, slipping in next to the sleeping kiddo, his chubby cheeks lit by the soft glow of the TV in our room, and watched the few stations I could receive with the set's primitive rabbit ears. Channel surfing, I found a Mexican station, also playing endless footage of the tragedies, but in contrast to American news broadcasts, which varied prior footage with talking heads reporting the latest updates, the Mexican broadcast played one scene only: people jumping from high atop the burning World Trade Center. I didn't want to watch, but I couldn't look away.

The station played the same piece of footage on a loop, and I must have seen the same people jump at least twenty times in a row. I closed my eyes, turned the channel, then turned back. Still jumping, endlessly. I still see them.