Ten Years Ago

[Trigger warning for discussion of 9/11 event and PTSD.]

On September 11, 2001 I was living in a small house east of BYU campus with my roommates.  They were women I had been friends with since our freshman year, women I loved and respected.  One roommate had just gotten back from an internship in New York City, and we had a religion class together that morning at 8:00.  We were getting ready and eating breakfast and chatting.  Our other roommate called from her early-morning job to tell us to turn on the television.

We clicked it on and found the news easily.  I still remember seeing the footage of the first tower that had already been hit.  We saw the second tower get hit as we were watching to see what we had missed.  We were in shock at first, and then my roommate started crying and then I joined in.  She said “I was just there!”  I thought of my grandma who was in NYC visiting her sister at the time.  I tried calling her, but the phone call didn’t go through.  I figured that there were a lot of people wondering about their loved ones too.

I kept thinking of how I was asleep when the first plane hit.  I was sleeping as people died in that airplane.  My roommate and I watched the news until it was time to start walking to class.  Then we turned the TV off and walked out our front door.  As we walked out I realized that there were balloons and crete paper all over our door.  There was a banner that said “Happy Birthday K!”  It was my 21st birthday.  My visiting teachers or someone else in my ward had decorated our door to wish me a happy birthday.  I smiled a little through the tears and commented on how I didn’t feel much like celebrating.

All throughout that day on BYU campus I attended my classes and ran to the hallways between those times to watch the constant news footage emanating from various TVs extension-corded from offices and classrooms.  I saw the footage of the pentagon.  I saw other surrounding buildings collapse.  I saw the replaying of the two towers each getting hit, and I remember when the first one collapsed into a heap.

In some classes we had our scheduled lectures.  The instructor might comment briefly on the tragedy, but then move on to the lesson material.  But by the afternoon I was in class and that teacher scratched the lesson and asked us how we were feeling.  It’s all a bit of a blur to me, but I remember someone saying that they didn’t know what they were even doing anymore by going to class, getting married, having kids.  I had been thinking something similar, that I didn’t want to bring children into a world where things like this were happening.  It was too scary.  Then someone shared a quote from C.S. Lewis about his experience with war, how he could enjoy life again and not feel guilty, how the ugly things in the world didn’t mean that we wouldn’t feel love and joy again.  Obviously I can’t remember the proper quote, but the feeling of it still stays with me.  I needed to know that I was connected to other people on that day.  I was not alone, and we were all mourning together.  And even before this day in September, other men and women and children has seen war, tragedy, and death.  They knew how I felt, too.

I still sometimes seem to suffer from a bit of post-traumatic stress disorder because of 9/11.  Whenever I see a shadow in the sky I feel a pang of fear.  Whenever I drive on the highway near our airport and a plane is landing or taking off, I sometimes jump and have to take a deep breath.  I sometimes drive into Phoenix and as I turn south to drive past the skyscrapers back to the highway I see planes flying behind the buildings and I remember the footage of September 11, 2001.

I think this year will be a good time for me to reflect on how I felt that day.  Every year since 2001 I have focused on my birthday.  I don’t watch the news.  I don’t watch the memorial services.  I go to dinner, I celebrate with my family.  I talk with people about how it’s a strange birthday to have, but I don’t talk about it much.

In general, I have distanced myself from the attacks.  I don’t read the 9/11 books.  I don’t watch the 9/11 documentaries or films.  I wasn’t ready to deal with all those feelings.  I had so much going on in my own life at that time during BYU that I wasn’t ready to process it all until now.  But this year, on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, I think it will be meaningful for me to face all of this.  I’d like to read the news a little, to turn on MSNBC, to watch a documentary, to sit with everyone today and be present.

Where were you on the morning of 9/11?  What were you doing?  What were you thinking?  Did you lose anyone in the tragedy?  How did you feel in the aftermath?


kendahl is a queer fat left-handed INFJ synesthete mother warrior activist social worker abuse survivor unapologetically brilliant powerful witch

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18 Responses

  1. Corktree says:

    I had no idea how much reading about this and thinking about it in this way again would affect me, but I’m crying right now as I read your words, K. And right before I sat down to read, I turned on an operatic/instrumental track that I love called “Acceptance” as part of my prep for meditation, and it just compounded the feelings and made them so real again.

    I was living in Boston at the time and my mom had just left a day earlier to fly back home to San Francisco. I too was called by someone and told to turn on the TV as I was getting ready to head out somewhere, and I remember just crumbling to the floor in shock. My reaction surprised me, and it wasn’t until later that I realized that it was because they had said something about the flights being bound for California, and I just couldn’t stop equating that with my mom getting on a similar flight shortly before it all happened. So my reaction was somewhat selfish, but I couldn’t stop thinking about families that weren’t as lucky as me, and I just dwelt on it for days.

    But like you, I’ve found it difficult to watch memorials and related material over the years. I tend to notice the day when it passes, but I think I shove the feelings down and try to just move on. But I think I want to start using it as a day to devote more to service and increasing the sense of connection we can have with others, especially for my children.

    And happy birthday K! Celebrating life sounds like a good way to go on days like this, and I think the sentiment of that C.S. Lewis quote is very powerful. We can still cultivate the joy and show love, even in the midst of trajedy and fearful times. Love you.

    • Kmillecam says:

      Thanks for writing this Corktree. I am not surprised to hear that we have processed the day similarly, considering how we tend to have a lot of similarities in general. I hope that the wave of emotion helped you process it a little more, and be with it.

      I watched some documentaries yesterday, but not as much as I wanted with little ears and eyes around. My 6-year-old had a lot of good questions for me and my husband. The most interesting statement he made was after he asked “why did those bad guys fly the planes into the buildings?”, thought about it, and then commented “I don’t think that makes sense that they thought it was good to fly the planes into the buildings and scare all the people and kill them”. Indeed.

  2. Arnold Stovall says:

    You are one of 5 people that I personally know quite well that share a birthday today. Amid the doom and gloom that accompanies a day like this, I always found a sense of comfort with my friends birthdays. I don’t think I could explain why. Maybe it was a renewed awareness on this day in particular that life is fragile and that some things, friends in particular, are more important than the minutia of everyday life.

    I woke up to my mom yelling to my dad that the TV says it may have been a bomb, and ran across the house just in time to see the second plane hit on live TV. I was horrified and speechless. I remember being as confused as anyone on TV was about why this was happening. I also remember being scared when projections, speculations, and fear began to dominate the airwaves. Exaggerated by fear, the death toll was estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Living near San Francisco brought a realistic fear that something in my proximity might very well be a target. I was transfixed on the news until the dilemma of a college class vs. current events in humanities arose. I ended up going to class only to be dismissed by a professor who insisted we do important things with important people that day.

    And I think birthdays are pretty important.

    • Kmillecam says:

      Wow, that’s a lot of people sharing my bday 🙂 I love the perspective you have on this, and I had never thought of that before. I’m glad you found comfort in the birthday aspect. I also hadn’t thought about the fear of living near SF, but that totally makes sense. If I had been home at the time I am sure I would have felt that fear too. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It makes a difference for me.

  3. Diane says:

    I was, and still am living in Philadelphia. I was on a Septa bus heading towards kinkos to make and send copies of my resume. While I was on the bus someone said there were bombs going off in New York. I headed back home.
    Which was a good thing because all modes of transportation was automatically shut down.

    I remember during the next few days how quiet every thing on the street sounded(odd for Philly, especially South Philly) I was sleeping at one point and herd a big blast on the highway and bolted out of bed. My heart was pounding. I raced thru the house to see if everything was okay, and then I checked outside. There was nothing wrong. I’m not sure what made the noise, but, I do remember feeling very scared.

  4. Doe says:

    I was a grad student in religious studies at ASU ten years ago, also working in the advising office. I had to work that morning so I was up early and knew what was happening. But I didn’t know the towers had collapsed until I got into work. I also had class that day and felt compelled to go. It was a class about icons. Part of our discussion had to do with the Trade Centers as icons of various aspects of American society and culture.

    We moved here from New Jersey, where we lived while my husband worked “on Wall Street.” He reminded me he’d been in the basement renting a car the day before the first attempt occurred several years before 2001. He was at Chase then. He’d felt the building shake from two blocks away. When we left the east coast he was at Merrill, in the World Financial Center. Seeing the building on TV in 2001, was bizarre….all those little pieces of paper, empty as a tomb (http://rondak.org/diary/images/stairs384.jpg). As the day went on, he heard from friends and coworkers who’d miraculously taken their children to school or walked instead of taking the train that day. Some of our children’s friends and acquaintances lost parents. I kept remembering how I would go into the city to meet David for a concert, play, or dinner, and he’d meet me at the top of the escalators in the Trade Centers with red roses. That became my iconic WTC image. I cry every time I think of it, that I’ll never meet him at the top of those stairs ever again. Sounds silly, since we didn’t actually lose anyone, weren’t even there. But memories like that are so powerful. It was several years before David could go to the city and actually go down to the site. I went for the first time last year. Natasha and her husband live there now, and I have to admit I do worry about her being there. But it’s an amazing place to live and work.

    • Kmillecam says:

      Thanks so much for sharing Doe, and for painting the picture of what it has been like for you and your family. I have still never been to NYC, even though my dad was born there and lived in Brooklyn until he was 5. I would love to go there, visit Ground Zero and see where my family used to live.

  5. Caroline says:

    I was getting ready to go student teaching. I remember seeing the news that morning and rushing over to wake up my husband and tell him what had happened, but he just kind of grunted and rolled over and went back to sleep. He’s not a morning person. That day was emotionally fraught for the students I remember. A lot of talking about what they were feeling. And I remember my husband saying, after he woke up and watched the news, that this was a game changer — the U.S. wasn’t going to be the same now.

  6. Sijbrich says:

    I was on my mission in Argentina on 9/11. I remember we had had a district meeting that morning like every Tuesday, and afterward we were in an investigator’s house and I was focused on trying to start teaching a discussion when the father kept rambling on about some twin towers being knocked down in New York. It totally didn’t register with me and I tried to just steer the conversation back to the discussion. It wasn’t until after lunchtime we got a call from our district leaders saying we were supposed to stay in our apartment for the rest of the afternoon until further notice. We got to leave the next day, but we were encouraged to avoid talking about it with people and to avoid watching TV in their homes. The daughter of a member said something about how she heard rumors about it being the start of WWIII, which kind of freaked me out. At the time I had an Argentinian companion, so I basically didn’t have any other Americans around me to really work through what the heck was going on. I will remember it as one of the few times that I felt really homesick and wanted nothing more than to be back with my family (I’m usually very independent and suffer from wanderlust). Some details I didn’t learn until months later, like that it was airliners that crashed into the towers (I thought they were just kamakaze, one-pilot deals), thanks to my last companion, who was the first companion that had actually been in the US during 9/11. So I don’t feel like I had any opportunity to really mourn the event until I was at home for the one year anniversary and I watched a news show and bawled in disbelief while watching the images of it happening for the first time.
    Over the last several years since then, I kind of remember during the day, but don’t get very emotional about it, but this year, it made me tear-up just waiting in line at the grocery store and seeing magazine covers with “9/11 Kids” on the covers that never knew their fathers that were killed that day. I, too, find myself sort of avoiding watching all of the memorials for fear of just feeling horrible, but on the other hand, I think it is crucial to still make an effort to remember and to teach our children about it.

  7. April says:

    I was watching the news with my roommates when we saw the second tower go down on live television. It was so painful to witness the deaths of so many people! I spent much of the day frantically emailing people to verify that friends and loved ones were okay–I had a former roommate who worked at the Pentagon and my brother was also living in DC. They were alright, but I learned the next day that one of my old neighbors lost her husband at the Pentagon. I arrived at my first class of the day and everyone looked awful. The teacher asked us to decide if we wanted to hold class. He said that on one hand, everyone was upset and it seemed appropriate to forgo everyday activities out of respect for those who died. On the other hand, the terrorists wanted to shut down the American economy, so continuing to do our daily activities was a way of showing the terrorists that we wouldn’t let them win. I don’t remember what we decided!

  8. Alisa says:

    I was driving with my mom to the hairstylist to prepare for my bridal photos that morning when we heard the news on FM 100.3. When we arrived at my stylist’s, she said the second tower had just been hit. We watched them fall as she curled and pinned my hair. We then met the photographer and walked around Murray park, me in my wedding gown, posing with flowers and smiles. Later that day, I returned to Provo for my graduate seminar on Women’s Renaissance Literature. The professor asked us if we wanted to cancel, but I think we were still so much in shock, and anxious to do something and be around people. So we held class. It may seem strange now that my bridal photos went forward and so did my class, but in all honesty I had seen enough of those images repeating themselves across the TV, and the class was a welcome respite.

    My brother would later be sent to be an Army doctor in Iraq for a year (indirectly, mistakenly linked to 9/11/2001), and many other issues would impact my family indirectly from this event. But still, I cannot immagine what it would be like for those who actually lost loved ones on that day, or who were there at the various locations of the events.

  9. lanwenyi says:

    I was in the MTC. We thought our am teacher (known by that time for telling outlandish stories) was joking and trying to make us seem stupid by believing him. It wasn’t until a member of my district, who was from NY, was called out to talk to the MTC Pres about his family (they had called the MTC to let him know that they were fine) that we believed our teacher. We started grilling him for details.

    The rest of the next week was surreal. I know nothing was accomplished that day and the MTC was crowded until the flights re-started b/c no one could leave, but the new missionaries, for the most part, arrived on time. By the next day, the teachers were forbidden to talk about it or share details, but that only made things worse.

    I do my best not to dwell on that day b/c it ends up making me angry. Not just abt what happened that day, but also the resulting actions of the nation thereafter.

  10. Erin says:

    I was in Calculus class in my NJ high school. A kid walked in late and said a plane had crashed into the WTC. I remember assuming it was some small plane, accidental. Class went on as usual. It wasn’t until we were changing classes later that I figured out what had happened. None of my teachers had a tv in the room, so thankfully I was spared watching any of it. While several of my classmates had parents who had worked in the WTC at one point, none of them did any longer. But several classmates had spent a good deal of time in the city (my town was only a 45 minute train ride away), and the towers were a part of their life. For them and their parents it was like someone had ripped a hole in the fabric of their existence.

    I’ve preferred to avoid the books, pictures, and the site as well. I guess I did walk by once because my now-husband wanted to see it, but I didn’t let us linger long. People going and looking at it always weirded me out. It feels too much like the people who drove up, stopped, and gawked as we pumped five feet of water out of our basement after a hurricane went through. I dunno, it just never felt right to me to see tourists there snapping pictures.

  11. Aly S says:

    September 11 is my birthday too. That morning in 2001 I had been married for just over a year and I got into work a little late after a birthday breakfast with my husband. The first plane hit while I was walking from my car across campus to my office. I gathered in a nearby office with my colleagues and watched live TV footage of the second plane and the towers collapsing. I was (and am) in the Boston metro area and was terrified about what would happen next. It was so difficult to go through with the traditional office birthday party for me that day. Everyone kept saying that it was nice to have something good to celebrate, but I wanted to crawl under a rock.

    Before the attacks I loved my birthday. It was my day, a day all about me. Since 2001 it is, more than anything, a day to get through. Every year I feel both upset at the loss of my special day (because I’ve really lost every bit of excitement I had for it) and embarrassed that I could be so melodramatic as to bother mourning that when there are so many people mourning lives lost. Some years are better than others. This one was pretty rough.

    • Starfoxy says:

      I can see how that would be very frustrating and cause a lot of internal conflict. My mother in law was born on Christmas and has always felt like her birthday was overshadowed. If I were in a similar situation I think I’d pick some other meaningful day (baptism day, graduation day, menarche day, I dunno) and celebrate my birthday then. I’ve thought about offering to throw a party for my mother in law’s birthday on July 25th every year, but I don’t know if she’d like that or not. I should ask.

    • Kmillecam says:

      I’m sorry this year was rough. I have had years like that too, though this year was better for some reason (perhaps I am used to being somber and the 10 year anniversary was what I needed for closure?)

      I remember in 2001 that I had just made it onto a dance company at BYU, and they sang happy birthday to me. It was very strange.

    • Diane says:

      I think its important to note that while many innocent people died that day, I don’t think they would want those, including family members to be morose on their anniversary date. I would think they would rather us have a party. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but, if we change our day to day, then the terrorist win.

  12. Diane says:

    This is an afterthought. I am originally from New York. I’m Brooklyn born, lived in Queens and pretty much all upstate New York. I go to New York all the time. While some things are the same, there are some things that are different. I never use to get lost while walking around New York. I would just look up at the buildings and I would automatically know where I was and know what direction I needed to go.

    Now, I occasionally get lost because I can’t look up and see the tall building that use to be there. Now, there’s just a big empty space

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