Thursday, September 06, 2007

In September, 2001.

This remeniscence would feel indulgent if it hadn't been randomly determined and if I haven't been posting these memory pieces for a couple years now. That is, I didn't aim for this recollection, nor have I plunged right into it.

At the end of August, I finished up my last class at the University of Chicago. I graduated around the 27th (give or take), and went home to Michigan for a rough month. I have to be honest: I remember very little of that month except for, you know, the obvious parts. I don't remember what I was reading or what I spent that month doing. I vaguely recall that I had several family get togethers with my grandma and aunt. We may, for example, have gone out to some movies or for a drive every now and then. I was in RCIA, but I don't remember if I was attending Mass. I don't remember which, if any, of my friends were around at the time, other than Sam. It's my impression that it was a relatively still month for me. With a notable interruption.

On the morning of September 11th, my dad woke me up becuase of you know. I came down and within five minutes I saw the first tower fall live on TV. I thought it was an illusion, or something caused by distortion in the way the dust moved; I was mistaken. But my dad pointed out what was obvious – that the tower had just fallen. At this point there was a lot of news, albeit fragmented, and nobody really knew the scale of what was happening. The earlier WTC bombing and Oklahoma City were the closest comparisons, in my memory at least, and this was immediately something much more immense. A plane had gone down over Pennsylvania, and yes, by now they had confirmed that these were commercial airliners. My girlfriend was supposed to be, that morning, flying from Chicago to Oklahoma to meet her family at an army base. The scariest moment, for me, was calling Midway airport to learn the status of her flight. Was it airborne? Had it been grounded? Yes. It had been grounded in either Kansas City or Chicago. Later: It had been groudned in Chicago. My girlfriend had gotten on a bus and ridden home.

I drove into Flint to see what things looked like: if people were in a panic, if the police were out in force, if businesses had closed for the day. To slip into about my fifth clichè on this post (they're kind of inevitable when you're my age and talking about 9/11), I'd never seen the city so dead. Granted, downtown Flint is typically dead, but there are still people around on a weekday afternoon. Saginaw Street was downright silent. I drove up to St. Michael's and asked if there was a chapel where I could pray. I was directed to one, but the secretary seemed confused as to why I was there. I thought it was absurd to think that she hadn't heard, but later I realized that this was probably the case. It would have been nice for me to have told her. Later, I picked my dad up from work, and they were talking about the events on the radio.

That night, my parents gave me permission to drive to Chicago for a few days, to check in on my sister and girlfriend. I got there late that night, and (clichè #6) felt a thrill as I rode the Skyway up over the Calumet River and the Sears Tower came into view, pale and ghostly and punching holes in the clouds. I took Caitlin and my girlfriend to a diner, and we talked for several hours. I dropped my sister off at about two or three, and got into Hyde Park a half-hour later.

I don't remember much else about that weekend. Once I was short change for a parking meter, and when I asked a construction worker if he could make change for a five, he just paid the meter. Any other week, this would have been unlikely in Flint, and probably unheard of in Chicago. Saying goodbye to my girlfriend was hard, but I had Caitlin with me on the ride back. We lit a candle as part of a patriotic radio thing, and we were happy to see people in other cars doing the same thing. We drove through Gary on 90, and somehow I missed the switchoff onto 94. We had to backtrack. Caitlin had trouble keeping the wax from dripping onto her hand; probably partly the fault of my driving.

Looking back, the way that time matched up to my life strikes me as kind of weird. I left college, and for the first time in my life I had no discernable goal, no money, and few friends or family in proximity to work through things. This was my fault, largely. I'd put off the job search until the last minute, and moved to an unfamiliar neighborhood far away from everything I knew. It would end up being the worst year of my adult life. Incidentally, I was part of the 12% that disapproved of Bush, even then. I'll say I "suspended judgment" for that week, but he seemed to be harsh in rhetoric and unsubtle in thought, emphatic but only on one note. And already the compromised congress was pledging to support executive action with no indication of reciprocal intent. Already, there were hate crimes speckled here and there. The Patriot Act was mentioned. For me, the burst of patriotism was poignant and I felt it in my gut, but it only lasted for that week. I could have maintained patriotism if I'd seen a rational policy behind it. But we were playing marrionette to several actors. We were playing right into their hands.

Where were you in September 2001?

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