I wish I could remember what I did on September 10, 2001. That is, before everything changed. But we all thought that it was just another day. We didn’t know it was the last day of… something.
Ten years ago I was working as a computer consultant at the UPS World Headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.
I was not working the morning of September 11. I was expected to be in the office at noon that day.
Around 9:45am I woke up and turned on the television. It took me a few minutes to understand what I was watching on the screen. It was NBC. The television screen was split in four sections.
Matt Lauer was in one box on the screen, the two World Trade Center towers were in the second and third boxes. There was smoke billowing out of the towers against a spectacularly blue sky. And the fourth box on the screen, in the bottom right, was the burning Pentagon.
Everything had changed, but I didn’t know it yet.
I turned on my old IBM Notebook. There were emails from friends and family in Canada. “What’s going on?” “Has everything gone crazy down there?” “Stay safe.” I wrote them all back that I was fine.
There were horrific stories of people jumping from the towers (as many as 200 people jumped to their deaths that day). It seemed unbelievable. At 9:59, not long after waking, rubble seemed to fall from one of the towers. At first someone on the news asked if part of the wall had fallen.
It was the entire South Tower.
And anyone who was watching that morning will tell you that right then something broke.
Then at 10:20am the North Tower fell.
I still wonder if 9/11 would have the emotional punch it has on us if those buildings hadn’t fallen. If, like the Pentagon, they were cleaned up and fixed up and were still in the skyline of New York. If…
But we’ll never know.
At noon I went to UPS as usual. UPS was in North Atlanta and I was living close enough to walk to the the office. I had learned that it was now impossible to get to downtown Atlanta; it had been closed (it would be days before the concrete barricades were removed allowing traffic back into the city). The two large office building across the street from where I lived (called the King and Queen due to their resemblance to chess pieces) had been evacuated hours earlier.
When I arrived at work, it seemed like most people were still there working. At some point that afternoon a woman ran from the office building in tears while I was having a cigarette (I still smoked in those days). No one said anything to the crying woman. No one said anything to each other. Maybe we were all in shock.
It was eerily quite.
I’m not sure exactly when they sent us all home, but at some point the building was closed.
It was sinking in.
After work I walked to the grocery store and bought a couple of bottles of red wine. I spent the next few weeks drinking far too much in the evenings. Others tell me they were doing the same thing. It seemed to be the only refuge from what was happening. Television was saturated with 9/11 imagery and discussion for weeks. I wrote to friends in Canada saying how much I just wanted to see something like a interview with Nathan Lane on TV again. I just needed something vacuous – so I could forget for a little while.
On September 14, once I was finally able to get downtown again, I was part of a candlelight vigil at Blake’s. I got my photo in the Southern Voice. The guy I was dating (my soon-to-be Partner… and my later-to-be Husband) flew down to see me the week after the attack. He said there was hardly anyone on the plane from Toronto.
I was so very glad to see him.
My contract with UPS ended at the end of December and I didn’t renew it. I had had enough of computers by then. I wanted to come home – to family and friends… and the man who would eventually become my husband.
I also wanted to do something different. Time seemed more important. Life seemed more important.
But, strangely, those everyday things that used to take up so much time and effort suddenly seemed less important. How could life’s tiny ups and downs have so much significance when I knew that there were people who had to decide whether to burn or jump that morning.
The next year I returned to The University of Toronto to earn a BA (and ultimately an MA) in English. I don’t think I would have done it without 9/11 shaking me to my foundations.
There were a total of 2,996 deaths, including the 19 hijackers (which I actually do not like to include) and 2,977 victims. The victims included 246 on the four planes (from which there were no survivors) and 2,606 in New York City in the towers and on the ground, and 125 at the Pentagon.
I’ll never forget.
Jeffrey, The Gay Groom