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?