9/11 - The Day the World got Darker
It was just another day really… No classes to attend, no teaching classes to give either, so I was just sitting at home pretending to put together some research points towards my MA thesis, but really scrolling through the web on my slow dial-up connection looking for something interesting to read, and watching Derrick on the TV. Nothing better than a daytime German detective show dubbed in French to pass the time.
Until the phone rang.
“Have you seen what’s happening?? Attentats!!”
“What on earth are you talking about? I’m watching Derrick and drinking coffee. Want to meet up and hang out?”
“Put the fucking TV on. Someone has bombed the World Trade Center in New York. LOOK!!”
I groaned and changed the channel and then just sat there in silent shock with the receiver stuck to my ear. All I could see were images of smoke billowing from one of the tallest buildings in the world. I couldn’t even register what the reporter was saying, I couldn’t even read the words that were flying by on the bottom of the screen, but it appeared that everyone was in the same type of shock and no one really knew what was happening.
“Can you please come over right now? This is scaring the shit out of me and I don’t want to be alone here.”
“I’m on my way, will be there in 10 minutes.”
I sat there with the receiver still in my ear and waited. No one knew what was happening; the journalists were trying to scramble together as much information as possible and everyone was obviously in a state of shock and fear. And then all hell broke loose, a silence, and then the reporter’s voice saying that it appeared that another plane had crashed into the second tower.
The moment that that happened the world knew that this wasn’t a freak accident. Two planes flew directly into the WTC towers and exploded inside. I sat glued to the TV, trying to make sense of it all. There was no way on this earth that two aeroplanes had flown directly into the Twin Towers by accident. It was too precise, too calculated. I let my friend in, he made some coffee, and we continued to watch the news together, in silence. There was a hush, a chain of images and then the reporter’s voice, trembling slightly, announcing that there were two more planes in the air somewhere, two planes that had turned off their radios and were most probably heading for the Pentagon and the White House.
Then a plane crashed into the Pentagon. The images on the TV screen hovered between the Twin Towers with the smoke billowing out of them and the Pentagon where there were also clouds of smoke appearing from what looked like the center, and the reporter who was obviously as shaken as we were, civilians all over the world watching in horror as the biggest terrorist act ever carried out was taking place, live, before our eyes. Three planes crashed into important American landmarks, a fourth plane still in the air, possibly heading for the White House. All of those people dead and dying, all of those people trapped above the flames and the smoke, waving for help out of the windows so high up in the sky. I saw something black fall from a window, and then another, and realized that people were jumping to their deaths rather than waiting to burn or die of asphyxiation. There were no real words to describe all of the feelings that were going through my body at once, pain, sadness, confusion, disgust, anger and also the feeling that this couldn’t be real.
Then there was a rumble and all voices stopped talking, and as if in silence, one of the towers just collapsed into a huge cloud of dust and debris. It didn’t fall down sideways, but floor by floor, as if a huge hand had come out of the sky and shoved it down from above. I say in silence, but only because I heard silence in my head, the world had stopped and the impossible had taken place.
“All of those people!! Oh my God, all of those people!! How could they survive with THAT falling on them??”
And then the same rumble, and the collapse of the second tower. I just hoped that those who were trying to escape the second tower had made it out, because all that was left was clouds and clouds of smoke and dust. The TV went silent for a second, while the commentators tried to gather their composure and explain what had happened right there, in Manhattan. Visible on screens worldwide, the entire world population had been able to see a terrorist act gone completely right, probably even better than had been expected in their wildest dreams. More images on the screen, and then the reporter giving us news of a plane that had gone down in Pennsylvania, probably the last hijacked flight that had fortunately not met its intended destination.
I continued to watch the scenes, listen to the words, hoping that it was all a huge farce, a prank to see how gullible we were. I was speechless. My friend refilled my coffee cup a few times and went out to buy cigarettes, as I couldn’t move. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t really formulate any sentences. I realized I was in shock and then felt terrible, as I was lucky to be thousands of miles away, in the comfort of my little apartment in France. But then again, how safe was I? How safe were any of us anymore? Planes had been hijacked before, not one, but four in one go, right under the eyes of the American officials. Before this plane hijackings were used as a way to extort some kind of deal, money or other (apart from the Lockerbie bombing). When had hijacked planes been used as deliberate weapons to kill? The name Osama Bin Laden was said over and over again, as many times as the images of the attacks spiraled over the screen. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t even think straight. I finally got through to my mother in California, and she had only heard the news when she got to work, had been spared the horror of seeing it all happen on live TV. I saw those people die when they jumped from the top of the towers. Flying through the air, all hope lost.
I continued to watch through-out the night, fell asleep to the same images that I woke up to. All regular TV shows had been suspended and the news reports kept coming in the rest of the next day. Death tolls and interviews and pictures of women running for their lives, covered in dust and debris. Statements from different terrorist groups, images of people weeping and people cheering, a collective feeling of horror in most places, chants of joy in certain countries. Death is death. It kills you just the same. I couldn’t wrap my head round the enormity of the acts, the change that they brought to the entire world. The day those planes crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and into a field in Pennsylvania, was the day the world changed. No country was safe anymore, and no country would ever be safe again. Ever. During the Cold War we feared nuclear attacks, but we also knew that they would never really happen, neither the US nor the USSR wanted to commit that much damage and death. Not really. But on September 11th 2001, a new evil emerged from the darkness and bared its teeth to the world. There would be no warning, no amnesty and no guilt. You were going to die, wherever the fuck you may find yourself in the world.
I lost the little hope and optimism I had left that day. For weeks afterwards I was obsessed with watching the footage, over and over again. I followed the war in Afghanistan with baited breath, with some anger that it had taken such a terrible act to actually care about what was going on in Afghanistan. I think that I couldn’t help feeling like it was too little and too late. I started to stay in as much as possible, just in case something else happened. The TV was on day and night, with me waiting for the next attack, the next images of death and destruction and hatred and sorrow. A plane disintegrated above Queens and all of the national TV channels went on high alert until it was determined that it was just a “regular” crash, based on some kind of technical fault. Engine failure.
I started suffering from brain failure. My slow decline into depression that had started months before took a nosedive, right down into the pits of the dark world that surrounded me. There was no hope left inside. Food tasted bland, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything apart from the news, terrible chick lit novels and my thesis. Sylvia Plath? Why not, I mean I was more than willing to crawl right under the bell jar with her, snapping it tightly shut. We could breath the same foul air together, but at least we were protected from the outside world. Three CDs on eternal rotation on my CD player: Tim Buckley’s Greatest Hits, Tom Wait’s Used Songs and Bob Dylan’s Desire. A Tim Buckley cassette compilation I had made was in the shower, nothing else. The Cure’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me on my record player in the living room. I couldn’t drink alcohol anymore, it just made me want to vomit. My dreams just turned to nightmares, so it was better off I didn’t really try to sleep, just toss and turn and think of death and how much warmer it felt than life.
How can something so much bigger than you, something that effects the world as a whole, something that triggered events that would never end, wars that had no meaning, more death, more hatred, more despair, affect one person in such a way? Why did not let it change me for the better, why did I crawl away into a hole and hope that I could hide away in death, because life had no more happiness to offer? I felt like I was wasting away, I withdrew myself from my friends and stayed in my apartment, cuddling my cat and watching the news. There was no more hope. What happened to the girl who was an idealist? Who lobbied for the rights of the Tibetan people in front of cinemas and bars? What happened to the girl who tried to talk to everyone about the fate of the Afghan women under the Taliban? What happened to the girl who cared, who wanted to make a change, who wanted to make things better?
She lost hope. The day those planes crashed into those buildings was the day I finally lost the will to survive.
“Want to go out for a drink? I’m out with the boys at the usual bar, everyone is asking about you and is wondering why they haven’t seen you for a while.”
“Ah… I’m in my pyjamas. It’s too late, I have class tomorrow.”
“No you don’t! You have one class a week this semester, and don’t use the thesis excuse, I saw how far along you are. Take a night off, come out and have fun. Please. I miss you. We all miss you.”
“Don’t just say that to make me feel better love, I know you will all have fun without me. I… Just… I just can’t right now. I don’t feel well, I feel like I may puke and just want to stay in bed. I love you.”
“I love you too… I’m worried. I’ll bring you coffee in the morning.”
What did I say? Lost all hope.