I woke up on September 11, 2001 about 10 minutes or so before 9AM. I don't know why I woke up at a time that was ordinarily too early for me. I turned on my clock radio, hoping to hear the 9AM news in a few minutes. Instead, I heard an eyewitness to the first plane hitting the World Trade Center talking about that. I thought there had been a horrible accident or something with air traffic control had gone terribly wrong. Then, this man on the radio said that another plane had just hit the other tower. I jumped out of bed, and ran to the TV, knowing that it was something far more serious. I watched the TV coverage almost all day and throughout the night, until 5AM the next morning, (I started with CNN, switched to CBS/KDKA, and ended up watching a simulcast of the BBC on CSPAN, just for some variety), except for the few hours in the evening when I went to my church's special service.
I missed the first tower collapse - I'd gone downstairs to talk to my grandmother for a little bit. When I returned to my TV and saw a building collapse, I thought I was seeing a replay of it. Then I saw the word "Live", and realized that I was watching the other tower going down. I screamed. At some point that morning, my grandmother, in a small, frightened, voice, asked me, "What's going on?" (I'd never heard her sound like that.) I replied, "I don't know." Me, who usually will talk forever about anything - I suddenly had nothing to say.
That afternoon, I sent an email out to my three friends in Britain, saying I was okay. I figured the news coverage they were getting was probably saying that flight United 93 went down around Pittsburgh, like the initial reports here in the US were saying, and they all knew I lived there, so I didn't want them to worry about me. (Actually, it went down about 80 miles from the city.)
Not long before I left for church, I saw the last building collapse - 7 World Trade Center. I was a bit numb at that point.
It took about four weeks before I found out that two members of my high school class died that day - a member of the NYPD, Paul Talty, and one employee of Cantor Fitzgerald (the company that lost the most employees that day - 658), Jimmy Geyer. Plus, seven other graduates of my high school, including another member of the NYPD and the captain of the FDNY's elite Rescue 1 squad, Terry Hatton, (whose wife was Mayor Guiliani's assistant). I didn't know him, but his younger brother was in 8th grade with me. Also killed was the son of one of the teachers at my high school, and about 30 other people from Rockville Centre (pop. 24,500), the town I had lived in. RVC was one of the hardest hit places on Long Island.
I completely freaked out after 9/11. I stayed home, unless I absolutely had to go out, ate big bags of Halloween candy, (I gained 10 pounds in no time!), and got so bad that I started thinking that the nut in the desert who planned the attacks, would want to kill me too because I went to that high school. I also watched planes in the sky to see if they were going to crash into a building.
I had to go to New York City in December 2001, so that I could see normal life. I thought that if I could see New Yorkers being normal, then I certainly could also, back in Pittsburgh. Of course, the first chance I got, I went to Ground Zero. And every day of my trip, I went back to a part of wall in Penn Station where there was a missing notice for Jimmy Geyer, and some graffiti for the other victims from RVC, and just stood there and cried.
They found remains of Paul Talty in October 2001. Jimmy Geyer has never been found.
I'm still a bit freaked out about it all, and a bit obsessed. It still makes me cry long and hard, too often and too easily. Most of what happened that day was too close to me - the World Trade Center attacks hit the part of me that will always be a New Yorker, and United 93 was too close to me, literally. (Here in Pittsburgh, the local news coverage every anniversary is more about United 93 than New York or the Pentagon.) Every year on the anniversary of the attacks, I spend all morning watching the commemoration ceremonies and/or a rebroadcast of the original TV coverage from that day.
I still haven't recovered from that day, and I don't think I ever will. It came after a summer that included two of my relatives' deaths, one of whom was exactly my age, which also freaked me out. I now think of 2001 as "the year everyone died".
And every once in a while, I'll still anxiously watch a plane flying by.
Copyright © 2010, 2015 Vivian Campbell All rights reserved.