Thoughts & Essays

September 11, 2001

I lived in Michigan on September 11, 2001. I had a doctor appointment, first thing in the morning. I worked third shift back then, so I think I got home from work, got cleaned up, and headed straight out to the doctor for an 8 a.m. appointment. I remember driving to the appointment, just music on the car radio, the two morning DJs running their mouths between songs.

The doctor appointment took about an hour. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary there. This was pre-24-7 Internet connections, mind you, well before we all had smartphones in our pockets and/or constant Internet access at work.

You could go all day and never hear a bit of news. I sometimes think back and wonder how long it took the doctor’s office to find out what had happened while I was sitting in my appointment.

After my appointment I headed back out to my car to go home. I fired up the car and the radio came on. The DJs were talking about something in hushed, grave tones. You could hear the horror in their voices. I froze in place, car running, trying to figure out what the hell was happening.

I was listening to Z93’s morning DJs. They were semi-famous (infamous?) in the area for their “Joe & the Poor Boy” morning show. Joe was known for his edgy, vulgar, wannabe-Howard Stern act, and the “Poor Boy” was whoever they could find who would put up with Joe for awhile. These guys had exactly zero reverence for anything, so to hear them serious and audibly upset was… well, it was pretty alarming. If Joe was taking it seriously, man, some real shit had to be going down.

I drove home, listening. I had come in right in the middle of their coverage so it took a couple of blocks before I started piecing together what was happening. These guys were morning shock jocks, so covering news wasn’t their specialty. They didn’t know to do regular recaps of their coverage. There was a lot of “Oh, oh my god. Jesus. Okay, hang on, folks, um…” going on. They were deeply shaken by whatever was happening.

All I could really make out was that something pretty fucking awful involving planes and the World Trade Center had happened. It was scary.

I got back home and ran into my apartment, taking the stairs up two at a time, calling to my then-boyfriend, “Turn on the TV! Something’s happening! Something bad happened!”

“What?” he called back. He was on the computer in the little office area we had set up in the corner of the living room. We actually had broadband Internet access at the time, which was still pretty uncommon back then, but he was playing video games, not reading anything. Even if he’d been on the Internet, the odds of finding the news were a lot lower. There was no Twitter, no Facebook, not even MySpace yet. News wasn’t baked in to everything you did, then.

I ran into the living room, out of breath, and grabbed the remote, flipping on the TV and turning to the first news station I could find: Fox News. My heart was hammering. I barely even knew what Fox News was then. It just came before CNN on the channel listing.

“What’s happening?” the boyfriend said, coming over to see what had me so worked up.

“Something bad. Some kind of disaster. I think a plane hit a building in New York?”

We looked at the TV. Fox was replaying footage of a plane hitting a tower. The anchor was calmly telling us it was the second plane, hitting the second tower. Holy shit, I thought. That has to be on purpose.

“Jesus,” the boyfriend said, then went back to his video game. I sat watching, transfixed. I heard about the first plane as the anchor recapped, then the second plane. Is this an attack? Are we under some kind of attack? I thought as I watched.

Two planes don’t hit two different towers by accident, I thought. The anchor broke in. There was word of a third plane. It had hit the Pentagon building.

“Oh my fucking god,” I said, hushed. The boyfriend looked up from his video game. “Another plane just hit the Pentagon.”

“What?” He said, attention finally off the video game. “What’s happening?”

“I think we’re under some kind of attack. Like, the US.”

We sat and watched the TV for a few minutes. Suddenly I remembered, “Shit, wasn’t Steve going to D.C. today? Did he leave last night or this morning, do you remember?” A friend of ours had a work trip planned. He was supposed to be in Washington, D.C. that day.

The boyfriend didn’t remember. “Can you call him?” I said. He got up to call. There was no answer. He left a voicemail.

“I’m pretty sure he left last night. I think,” he said, worried.

We continued watching. A fourth plane was reported crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. No one on TV was sure if that crash was related to the attacks. The anchor people were calling them attacks by then.

We watched all day. At some point we flipped between different news stations to see if the coverage was any different, but other than the anchors, it wasn’t. I think we finally settled on CNN.

We were supposed to have a gaming night that night. We met up with the rest of our gaming buddies at one of their apartments. Steve was a member of the gaming group and no one had heard from him yet.

We’d all left him messages. He was, I think, the only one of us who had a cellphone at the time. The gaming group sat in the tiny living room of a tiny apartment, books, dice and paper scattered about as we watched the news.

We compared memories of Steve telling us about the work trip he had planned and how he wouldn’t be here tonight, finally coming to the consensus that we were pretty sure he’d left the night before, and therefore probably wasn’t on the plane that hit the Pentagon. We had no idea what his meeting was about or where in D.C. he was supposed to be. It seemed unlikely that he’d be anywhere near the Pentagon, but none of us had ever been to the area before, so we really had no idea.

We made a half-hearted attempt to run the game. I think we were running a D&D campaign at the time. The new 4th Edition had come out recently. None of us could keep our minds on the game. Papers, books and dice lay forgotten.

We talked about what was happening around town. The gaming session met up around 7pm, so there’d been a good hour, two hours between most folks getting off work and us getting to the gaming session. Gas stations had lines out of their parking lots, snaking down roads. People were lined up trying to get in. Gas stations around town had jacked up their prices. Some were charging as much as $4 or $5 a gallon around town. Gas that morning had been like $1.50/gallon.

I think we finally gave up trying to game about 9pm, 10pm, something like that. The boyfriend and I went home. He went back to playing video games. I watched more news, even though there wasn’t anymore actual news to be had. The anchors were just repeating themselves.

By the next day, life was back to “normal,” mostly, for us in Michigan. Gas prices were back down to something reasonable. The world hadn’t ended. Someone heard back from Steve. He was fine.

We went normal places. We did normal things. Nothing had changed.

The TV news was wall-to-wall replays of the WTC buildings toppling. The skies were silent because planes weren’t allowed in the air. Everything had changed.

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