I will preface this by saying that I have not had the best of weeks. While many of you reading this know that I tend to love the drama, and will readily pull up a chair and a tub of popcorn whenever shit goes down, I do NOT like to be the one in the middle of the drama. Or put there against my will. Or worse, my own stupidity.
It is ASTOUNDING how I can unintentionally make things worse for myself. I’m amazed I’m still functioning in society, really.
10 years since 9/11. Holy shit.
I didn’t experience it the same way some people had – I wasn’t there, and I didn’t know anyone personally who had died. Living in Georgia, I felt like I experienced it all through a thick filter, or a lens smeared with vaseline. I was surrounded by a lot of people who had never been any further north than the Carolinas, let alone been to New York City. As a result I turned a lot of the horror and shock inward, and became very very numb for a long time.
I was on my way to campus for a department meeting when they reported the first plane to hit the WTC. It dominated the conversation for the first part of the meeting. Bizarre accident? Drunk pilot? Weird! Before we then moved on to the business of SCIENCE!
As the meeting wound down, my adviser went to speak to a part time faculty member who had come to the door, and they both spoke in hushed voices. Then my adviser walked back in the room and spoke loudly to get everyone’s attention. ”A plane has just flown into the world trade center.”
Uhhh, yeah, we know.
“No, I mean, another one.”
Immediately we fled to our respective labs and turned on radios. There were no TVs in the department and remember this was before you could get streaming video on computers (not that our lab’s ancient mac and pc could have even handled such a thing). We huddled around the stereo in the lab and listened to what happened. The planes had been hijacked. The buildings were burning. They were bringing down all planes that were in the air. Some planes were not responding. We only had descriptions of what was going on.
After a little while, the news was getting repetitive and there was no new information, and I thought that I had to get SOMETHING done that day. I had some overnight E. coli cultures that were ready to go to prep for plasmids, so I preoccupied myself with spinning them down and adding the buffers needed to extract the plasmid DNA. At one point I had to go to the lab next door to use some piece of equipment…I can’t for the life of me remember what or why…was our centrifuge not working? Anyway, I was over there for a couple minutes and when I walked back over with the preps I was confronted immediately by the post-doc. ”Another plane went down! Near Pittsburgh! South of Pittsburgh!”
Oh shit. My parents lived south of Pittsburgh. Hell, most of everyone I knew in the world at that time lived south of Pittsburgh.
I dug out my cell phone and dialed my parent’s number. Mom answered. Oh thank god. ”There is a plane down near Pittsburgh, have you heard anything?” ”I don’t hear sirens or see flames, so it’s not anywhere near here!”
It wasn’t. It was near Somerset, an area I had driven through frequently when I was in college – right between Pittsburgh and Johnstown.
Crap. I left my samples as they were and sat with my labmates by the stereo again.
Eventually, my adviser walked into the lab and announced that she was going home. Because if ever there was a terrorist target in Atlanta, it was the CDC. Located right next door to the campus. Oh, in fact, right next door to the building we were in.
Well that was a terrifying thought. And at that, we all scattered to our homes. By ourselves. I curled up on my couch, dragged Sadie up with me, and glued myself to CNN for the next 48 hours or so. This was 2 years pre-Kev, and all I had was Sadie for comfort. She didn’t know what was going on, but she liked sleeping on the couch behind my legs as I watched the horrific videos over and over.
Numb numb numb.
I remembered…how old was I? 14? 15? On one of several visits to NYC with my family. Going up to the observation floor of one of the buildings of the WTC and thinking it was so incredible that any building could be so tall. I remember standing on the step in front of the floor to ceiling windows and leaning against the railing so that my forehead was touching the glass and I could look down, down, down at the miniature cars that drove by. I remember jumping back with a small scream as a robot with big circular brushes crept up the window I was looking down. There were machines on tracks that cleaned the windows, and one had scared the crap out of me.
I think that was the same trip when we ate at the Hard Rock Cafe, and as I waited outside with my grandparents while my brothers and parents browsed the gift shop, an older gentlemen walking by stopped and asked me if I was a prostitute. I was wearing a Penn State tshirt, plaid shorts, and a fanny pack.
New York, man. Boggles.
But that feeling of being so high up and still on solid ground, that stuck with me. And now it was gone, it was all gone. Reduced to a giant hole and a pile of rubble, and the remains of countless loved ones, and no one around me seemed to understand the enormity of it like I did. So I let myself go numb and wrapped it around me like a blanket and then like armor as I watched my country go to war, and war again.
I wish I was stronger. I wish that I felt some kind of intense, patriotic surge on this day. I wish I could raise my fist and scream that the terrorists didn’t win. But I can’t. They didn’t win, but neither did we. I don’t think anyone has won anything in the past 10 years. I think we all lost and continue to lose a little more of ourselves every day.
Maybe I’m just still numb.
The funny will return later, I promise.