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9/11 has become one of those dates that is etched in the minds of Americans, an event that has come to represent many things other than just the date of a terrible and devastating terrorist attack. As the ten-year anniversary quickly approaches, I have tried to make a point to separate that event from all of the other associations I have come to have with it. No matter how anyone feels about the wars we have been involved in since that day, the unfortunate racist reactions it sparked in some, our current political situation, or the ways in which our country has handled the War on Terror, 9/11 was a day where we all felt unified, protective of our fellow Americans.
For my mother’s generation the assassination of JFK was the event for which everyone has a clear memory of where they were when they heard, the event that changed things. (And after this, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.) For my generation, 9/11 is the defining event that everyone can remember with that clarity. I was at the beginning of my first semester at Rutgers University and lived in a tiny, shabby basement apartment with a close friend from high school. I remember waking up that morning to a phone call from my mom on my cell phone. I was groggy and barely aware of what she was worked up about, something about one of the trade center buildings collapsed, or blew up, or was hit by a plane or something. I think, at 19, I was probably likely to have gone back to sleep had she not urged me to get out of bed and turn on the news. I rolled out of bed, and stumbled out of my room to wake up my roommate Nina, and my friend Pilar who had stayed over the night before. We were all half asleep and I remember feeling sort of ridiculous for waking them up, thinking my mom was just worked up, overly worried about safety as usual.
Nina and I had not gotten it together to order cable yet. I don’t remember why, we probably didn’t have the money. We tried to adjust the tv antenna enough to get a picture on a local news channel, but unfortunately our basement apartment was not conducive to good reception. Nothing would come in. I still felt like all of this was unnecessary, but we turned on the radio, just to see what was going on. We found a news channel just in time to hear the second tower fall. Huddled around the radio like that, the three of us wrapped in blankets, listening to earth changing news instead of watching it, felt like something out of the World War II era. I didn’t know what to think, what could have happened, whether to be scared, or angry, or sad, I just remember a keen awareness that whatever was happening was big, and that it would change things.
Pilar was freaking out because her dad worked at The World Trade Center. She was trying to call him, to call her mom to see if she had heard from him, but by now cell phone reception was spotty, and soon our phones would stop working all together. She headed home to be with her mom, and Nina and I got dressed and headed to the student center where they had the news playing live on a huge monitor. We stood around drinking coffee with about two hundred other students watching the news, barely anyone speaking. Because we were in New Brunswick, not all that far from New York, many students had family members and friends who either worked or lived in the city. The news was repeatedly showing footage of the towers imploding, or falling, or exploding, there were horror stories of people jumping out of windows. I think we both had goosebumps. I was worried about Pilar’s dad, other friends’ parents. (It turned out Pilar’s dad was fine- he’d had a meeting across town that morning, but we didn’t hear this until later that night.) We tried to call home, but cell phone providers were overrun and we couldn’t get through to our parents. I think that may have been the last time I remember using a pay phone. (I have tried since then, but they never work anymore.) We got in my car and headed home to Princeton to be with our families.
The worst part about that day was not just what happened, the people who lost their lives, the unexpectedness of it, the destruction of one of the most iconic parts of the New York City skyline, it was the uncertainty, the anxiety, the palpable vulnerability. At this point we did not know who was responsible, Osama Bin Laden was not yet a household name, and we had no idea what else was coming. A plane went down in Pennsylvania, something hit the Pentagon. We were under some sort of attack, but no one knew who was responsible and when it would end. I was glued to the television for a couple of days. The most recent election had been the first I could vote in, and I had been staunchly anti-Bush and had felt disheartened that our country had elected someone like that. But in the days following 9/11 I remember watching him speak and trusting him, because he was our leader, and this was a bi-partisan thing, this was something that we were indisputably in together. I felt intensely patriotic and American. Of course as time passed and the shock wore off, as varying opinions emerged as to what should happen next, these feelings subsided somewhat, but it broke the bubble. The sense of impenetrable safety I had felt growing up had dissipated, and that was something that would never be the same again.
Ten years later, I am a resident of New York City. I am in my second year here, and I love New York. The skyline I am familiar with does not have the twin towers, and it doesn’t feel impenetrable. Osama bin Laden is not on this earth to witness the ten-year anniversary of his atrocious act. But as this ten-year anniversary looms right around the corner, I am trying to remember and recall the only good thing that came from that day, that connectedness I felt with my fellow Americans, with my fellow humans. The feeling that political differences were just differences of opinion, the feeling that all differences came second to the most important thing, that we were all, in one the ways that really mattered, one and the same.
Ann Eggers is in her senior year as a communication and culture major at CUNY SPS. She is an ex bartender turned full time student who lives in Brooklyn, NY. She loves cooking, trying new restaurants, good bourbon, The New York Times, books (to read and collect,) flea markets, outdoor movies and traveling. She recently completed a cross-country trek and is looking forward to a little down time at home before finding the next adventure.