So... today is 9/11. I'm wondering when it will no longer feel "necessary" for my generation (or the generation right behind mine, for whom this is one of their first truly dark memories) to have some kind of "personal eulogy" for the day. Maybe never. Maybe the 24/7 news cycle and the internet have made that kind of "oh, right - that's today" reaction obsolete.
I lost the last of my grandparents a few months ago. I wonder, now, if this is how they felt during the annual "oh, right..." moments of Pearl Harbor. I wish I'd thought to ask one of them (or maybe I did, and their answer was either so evasive or so unpleasant that I chose not to remember it.)
On 9/11/01 I was still in college, and on that day I drove there, parked and went to class as the whole thing was still unfolding. It was impossible to process in-progress: I was born in 1981. My memories of "American conflict" were of the Cold War ending with a whimper and of the "bubble" of sustained (relative) peace during the Clinton Years - when America was (we thought) so uninvolved in the wider chaos of the world that a has-been football player killing his wife was "The Trial of The Century" and the question of whether or not the President had gotten head from an intern was considered an Earth-shattering scandal.
As I was driving in, the news was hitting that a second plane had hit (at the time Howard Stern was my "morning drive" audio, and yes his coverage was as uncharacteristically worthy/moving as you've been told) and as I was walking to class you could tell from people's body language and half-heard conversations (good lord... the planes had left for Logan Airport... our airport) that it was slowly sneaking up on us that we might be about to live through something that 99% of use had only ever seen or heard of in movies or on TV. I sat down for class (Film Studies) but the class never started - a professor (or maybe an aide) hurriedly popped into the room and informed us that a state of emergency was being declared and all government buildings (state school) had to be evacuated.
My most vivid memory is walking across the school grounds back to my car. Some people were running. I was walking, partially because I was trying to work this out in my head, mostly because my bag of books was exceptionally heavy. Some folks who hadn't heard the news yet (this was before everyone was expected to have a cell phone at all times) were arriving for their classes, and you could see the same scene one after another: An arriving-person would stop a leaving-person, they'd speak for a few seconds, then both became leaving-persons. What immediately jumped into my head (and I appologize if some people find this "reference" crass, but it's what honestly came to me) is the scene from "Starship Troopers" where Rico is leaving camp and slowly realizes other recruits are running past him frantically - he stops a guy to ask what's up:
"War! We're going to war!"
As I made my way to the lot, one of the late "arriving persons" stopped me to ask what was going on. I remember grasping for words, unable to gauge how much this guy knew about what had already happened.
"We're being evacuated... the planes in New York..." is about what I got out, at first. I could tell on his face he "got it."
"I think we're at war."
I don't know why I said that. Maybe I needed to say it to him to say it to myself.
I didn't want to go straight home, because I knew no one would be there until later and I didn't want to just sit around watching this alone. I also needed to get to a phone (again, pre-cellphone-ubiquity days) so my play was to go to the nearby Blockbuster Video - where I used to work and where several friends (including my best friend) still worked. There would be a phone there, and people I knew (during my free-time during classes, I routinely "hung out" there to bother my pals during work), and the TV would probably be turned to the news.
So that's what I did. I used the phone there to get in touch with my family and make sure that A.) everyone was okay and B.) we were not going to do the "lets all hunker down at home" thing. So I stayed there in Blockbuster with my friend, and we (and the rotating assortment of customers) watched things unfold on TV. The Pentagon hit. United 93. The rumors of the extra "phantom planes." Then the official word started to come in - eventually from the Government but first from the hurriedly-assembled experts on the news. A name started to repeat:
"Osama bin Laden."
It wasn't unfamiliar to me. I'd come across him reading up on terrorism for some half-baked action screenplay or another, and remembered thinking his backstory and "manner" were like something out of a movie. Now the bastard had actually gone and done it.
The aftermath beyond that is kind of a blur to me. I remember being instructed by my parents not to talk about it or watch the news much in front of my younger sister, who had been profoundly shaken by the events. I remember drifting zombie-like into my job at the mall (Suncoast Video) the next day and mostly just listening to the radio with customers. I remember a day or so later, driving home through what turned into a cities-wide "we are not defeated" rally of honking car horns and impromptu vigils and a guy standing on the roof of a one-story liquor store waving a full-sized American flag to thunderous applause from a crowd that had gathered below. I remember a week or so later having a MASSIVE onslaught of customers as America all at once went splurging as a kind of collective "fuck you!!!" to the idea that Al Qaeda could even so much as "interupt" us. And yes, I remember then-President Bush's "I hear you and soon the whole world is gonna hear you!" from Ground Zero and thinking "maybe this guy will work out, after all..."
And I remember saying and feeling things - about war, about military action and... yes, about "Them" and "Those People" overseas - that sound like the words of an alien being to the "me" of today and (I can only hope) to the "me" of 9/10.
Mostly, I remember feeling angry, afraid and finally resolved to a kind of calloused cynicism as the months and years dragged on and the Bad Guys went uncaptured and the very hunt for them seemed to be passed-over in favor of an only vaugely-related adventure in Iraq. And thus, I also remember LAST year, one night in May, seeing the gossip that Bin Laden had been killed crossing my Twitter feed and running to the livingroom to tell my mother to put the news on. I remember calling my younger brother (waking him up, I believe) to tell him to do the same. And I remember walking outside after President Obama had made the official announcement as if on instinct... and seeing that others on my street and the neighboring streets had done the same. I can only assume that it was a mutually symbolic urge for the lot of us - the best way to physically express the feeling of "emerging" from the era of having that bastard as our omnipresent boogeyman. Before long people had moved to line the main street, and every car that passed rolled down it's window to wave or make celebratory fist-pumps.
I don't really know what else to say beyond that.