I remember that day.
Collective loss is painful, and sears itself into our consciousness. The brain not only remembers the visuals of the day, but the sounds, the smells . . , the feelings. Pearl Harbor, JFK, Challenger, Columbia all resonate with people, but 9/11 cuts a little deeper.
I was working for CVS at the time, in the Batesville Indiana store. We had just received our weekly truck. One of my employees and I, had been there since 1 am, unloading the truck, sorting the product, and had begun stocking the shelves. It was just another day.
At 8 am, our co-workers started to arrive at work. The smiles, the jokes, the discussions, the process of opening our drug store for business that day had begun. I began listing the chores I wanted my staff to execute that day, and one of my supervisors began the process of preparing to open. Just another day.
At 9pm, we both opened the store for business, and ended our shifts. I said goodbye to Megan, the pharmacist that I had been crushing on for months, with something clever and pithy, and then left the building feeling full of myself because I had made her smile, and blush.
I got into my car, turned on the radio, and started for home. Back then, I listened to the Smiley Morning Show on WZPL because the DJ suffered from ADD, and his show was often irreverent, silly, and entertaining. Just what I needed in the mornings. It wasn’t that morning. They were just uttering random words, still in shock obviously, trying to convey what they were watching on their in-studio television.
Then came the realization that cut through me a like a long hot knife that started just above my stomach, raced up to my head, and then sent chills throughout my body. It was just after 9am, and the second plane had just hit the South Tower. KJ’s voice came over the air: “We’re under attack.”
I’m not sure how I made it home, because I surely wasn’t focused on the road at that point. I had driven that course of back roads for months now, so it was obviously autonomic at that point. I entered the house, dropped everything and turned on the television. It didn’t matter what station, because by now, it was on every station. That alone demonstrated the severity of what was happening, I had almost a sixty channels at that time, and it was on every single one of them.
Out of habit I turned to MSNBC, and watched as they trained their cameras on the World Trade Center from a distance. I just watched. Mesmerized. Shocked. Speechless. Thoughtless.
Not too long after, I remember the reports coming in that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon. That’s when I realized that day, this was our Pearl Harbor.
Within a half-hour, that felt like hours, the South Tower crumbled. It was like watching one of those implosion demolitions. One of the tallest buildings in the world, vanished into a cloud of dust and ash. One of the anchors gasped, and whispered something about the people still inside. My heart broke, and I cried.
Reports had just started coming in of another plane going down in Pennsylvania, when the North Tower joined it’s companion. I can’t remember how I felt at this point, or very much of what else happened next, as I’m pretty sure my brain just shut down at this point.
I remember that day . . . and the days afterward.
I remember that we were still a fractured nation, having just come out of nasty battle for the Presidency. Partisanship was at an all-time high due to the polarizing effect that the Clintons had on this nation. The days after 9/11 saw a nation grieving together. A collective call for vengeance, or at the very least, justice. I hadn’t seen many American Flags over the eight years of Clinton’s presidency, but I would see them everywhere for a year following that day.
I saw a congress unite. I saw Democrats and Republicans stand united. I saw strangers embrace. I remember thinking that patriotism was coming back to America, and people would return to a “Country First” mentality.
It did, briefly. But 9/11 wasn’t our Pearl Harbor after all.
Today, we’ve returned to the partisan bickering, social cliquing, finger pointing, and just outright stupidity of the 90’s. I see a country more divided than ever, with Hollywood and Main-stream Media and Wall Street and the religious right all telling us how to think, and vote. I see an entire generation of kids taught the lessons of self-interest, instead of self-sacrifice. I see this nation’s politicians, lobbyists, pundits, and businesses dishonor the hundreds of thousands of deaths of Americans that have occurred since that day, because of that day.
I see nothing on the horizon that’s hopeful.
I saw this country unite after the worst attack on American soil in history. I watched us grieve together. I watched us seek justice collectively as a nation. Then I watched as we eventually shrugged, got bored, and went home.
The world changed on that day, but it didn’t last.