What can I say that hasn’t already been said? There really aren’t any good words that can express how I feel every year when September 11th rolls around. I wanted to write something anyway. I was 24 years old, and working as a travel surgical technologist on September 11th, 2001. I would take 3 month assignments all around the country where they needed extra help. During the weeks before 9/11, I was in working in Newark, New Jersey.
I met a young man named Mike during my time there. He was a very nice guy who worked in finance. We dated casually, both knowing I would be leaving soon. He was happy to show me around, and we had a good time seeing all there was to see. Shortly before I left (probably September 6th or so), we took the train to New York City. He wanted to show me where he worked at the World Trade Center, and show me around the city.
We stood in the evening air, and gazed up at the shining towers. It was that magical hour where it was dusky, but not yet dark, and the lights shimmered through the expanses of windows. The buildings went up, up, up seemingly forever. We couldn’t go in, but I wanted to. I will forever regret not taking photos that night. Back then, cameras weren’t as plentiful as they are now. He told me about this exquisite restaurant called Windows on the World way up at the top, and I wondered what it was like to eat there. We laughed and joked around, and said I should come back someday and he would take me there. The way young people do. We both knew this wouldn’t happen, but neither of us could have realized what evil plans were going to be carried out in a few short days.
As my assignment was drawing to an end, I had to decide if I wanted to drive cross country to California, or I could choose to store my truck and belongings and fly from Newark to California. If I flew, my departure date would be the morning of September 11th. I chose to drive instead, so I left earlier that way I could take my time and enjoy my drive. Many days later, I would realize how my choices might have changed my fate.
When I woke up on September 11th, I was in my hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah, on my way to my next assignment in California. I reached for the remote to turn on the TV so I could lounge around a bit longer before breakfast. I planned to spend one more night there, so I was going to enjoy a lazy morning. When I turned to the morning news, I saw the first World Trade Center tower billowing smoke from a gaping gash caused by an apparent plane crash. I was shocked. How on earth could this happen? As I watched them try to puzzle it out, people started shouting and screaming louder, and I watched in horror as the second plane smashed into the other tower. On live TV. This surreal feeling of realization that this was not an accident, it was on purpose, washed over me. It was on purpose. Someone did this on purpose. I wondered what happened to Mike. Did he have to work that day? Was he at work yet? Was he alive? I would never find out.
I spent that whole day glued to my television. Another crash, and then another. Were they related? What was happening? It felt like the world was reeling. When the towers fell, I remember staring at all the papers flitting about in the sky. Like some macabre snow globe.
The next morning as I checked out of my room, everyone was sort of dazed. I grabbed one of their complimentary newspapers and took it with me. Suddenly, nobody cared what your political affiliation, religion, sexual preference, or skin color was. We were all simply, Americans. I will always remember the flags that were everywhere as I drove. American flags were on cars, schools, homes, clothing, bags, hats, glasses, pets, simply everywhere. As I finished my drive onward to California, buildings and homes were drenched in red, white and blue. People were kinder, gentler. There was also a sense of unity that I had never felt before, and have not felt since.
Time rolled on, and I completed my last few travel assignments before I settled back down into a more permanent spot. Even though I didn’t take much in the way of belongings with me as I traveled, I always kept that newspaper. It felt important. I tucked in away into a hope chest, and that is where it has stayed for 20 years. I decided to take it out and look at it tonight. I looked at the old printed ink, some smudged. I looked for a long time at the newspapery photos with the discolored and yellowing edges. As I touched the old paper, and listened to the crinkly the pages turn, I wondered where all of the people are today who were pictured there. Some people, it was obvious didn’t make it. The images of people jumping or falling to their deaths will always be with me. But there were photos of others, running scared through the city. Where are they now, I wonder? What has happened to the unity that existed back then? I can’t help but reflect back on my own life, how far I have come, how much I have changed, where all I have been. That leads me to think about the self-destruction of our precious country. 20 years isn’t so long to go from the most unified we have ever been, to the most divided. How can this happen? Through our sadness, anger, and stories of hope, we said we would Never Forget. Never Forget.
We have had it too easy for too long. We forget that we live in the most free country on the planet. One that is ripe with opportunity for the taking. A country where everyone has the ability to make something of themselves if they want to work for it. We take it all for granted. We vowed never to forget. Unfortunately, we did forget.