It’s September 11th.
I distinctly remember where I was when I heard about certain incidents. Princess Diana’s fatal accident? I was in the car with my family, we were going hiking in the beautiful Swiss mountains, it was on the radio news. John Kennedy Jr’s fatal plane crash? I was having coffee in a sidewalk café in South Kensington, London with my acting class buddies. I was not yet born when President Kennedy was assassinated, but I bet anyone old enough would remember hearing about that event with great accuracy. I can’t say I remember hearing about John Lennon’s death, I was young and it’s not something my parents would have made a fuss about at the dinner table.
Of course I also remember more recent catastrophes like when the great tsunami hit (I was in Indonesia, but nowhere near the disaster area) or when hurricane Katrina struck (I was in Connecticut, sitting in a red upholstered rocking chair, watching everything on tv, I sms-ed my cousin who was studying there at the time to make sure she was safe) and I vividly recall the Northeast Blackout (thankfully I was not trapped in an elevator or the subway like many others, I walked from the Meatpacking District to the Lower East Side and over the Williamsburg Bridge with hundreds of others to get home, all the while fretting that I didn’t have a camera with me, the views of Manhattan’s unlit silhouette at dusk were stupendous).
In September 2001, I was on a road trip on the west coast with two friends. Our little adventure was almost over, one of the guys was to flying to India (the other friend and I had a flight from San Francisco to New York a few days after that), and since we were near his relatives somewhere by Las Vegas (?) we stopped there on the morning of September 11th so he could say good-bye. We were greeted at the door with “Oh my god! Did you hear? It’s so terrible! Do you know anyone who worked there? But haven’t you heard? Oh my god!” etc. Before I could understand their words I saw the horrible images on the big screen tv behind them. Planes crashing into the World Trade Center. After a few seconds of complete disbelief (I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t. How could anyone?) I only felt dazed and disconnected. One of the coherent thoughts I had that day was that it must have been an inside job. Somehow. That someone knew about this and that nothing was done to stop it. I couldn’t think much beyond that. After that initial shock our trip is one big hazy blur in my memory. Calling people in New York to make sure everyone I knew was safe. Realizing our flight scheduled on the 13th was cancelled and that we were not going to get new reservations in the near future. The urgency to get to NYC. Keeping our rented car so we could drive cross-country. Taking turns driving from San Francisco to New York in under three days.
Then… I got to Manhattan. The numbness finally left me, my senses kicked back in. I smelled the smoke hanging over the city and I witnessed candlelight vigils in the parks. The city seemed quiet and people were hushed, perhaps in shock, perhaps out of respect for the perished and the missing. Only then did the tragedy become real and tangible to me. It swept over me like a rough wave and pulled me under.
I grew up a bit during that miserable time, as many people I know did. This will be one of the stories I tell my grandchildren when they ask “where were you when… ?”