Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Where Were You...?



You know the end of the question. I know I'm just another American voicing my perspective among a sea of others, feeling as if my story is paramount, when in fact it's nothing compared to the people who were actually there. Nevertheless we all experienced that day in a different manner, and each account is worth exploring.

It was a Tuesday. I was in college, sleeping blissfully away as I do every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Knowing my first class didn't start until 12:30, I was content to let my consciousness slip in and out while enjoying the softness of my dormroom bed. I can't even remember what I was studying the night before, but I do recall something odd that happened early in the morning. My roommate came back into the room with his girlfriend, something he really wasn't apt to do, as I know he had class until the late afternoon.

However, this was hardly a noteworthy event, and I continued to slip away into dreamland as they, realizing I was asleep, let me be and left the room. This was a typical college day for me - wake up late, chow down on a breakfast of milk and fruit, and scramble to class five minutes late. Nothing was amiss, nothing out of place. I didn't check the internet that morning, nor did I turn on the TV.

In fact, I didn't even notice anything wrong when I left my dormroom. Making my way across the residence hall, I passed by a large auditorium, typically used for movie-screenings, dorm activities, but never for classes. Yet in the middle of the day, the projector was in use, the television alive and flickering. Odd... I was thinking, but not exactly monumental. I didn't even pay attention to what was being played. Nor did I really give any consideration to the two televisions pumping live news coverage from the swinging exit doors. Ignorance is bliss at times, and in this case, the longer I didn't know, in retrospect, the better off I was.

Strolling along the path that connected my building with the main cafeteria, I was still painfully unaware of anything, and so I was to remain until I met with my fellows in the Jester food court. A person told me the news, confirmed the odd television coverage. One man reported to me the news the world over had seen hours ago, had had time to process and let sink it. And here I was.

Panic. Panic set in fast. Who? Who did I know? Who could be in those buildings? Friends, family? A million possibilities ran through my head. I had friends in New York. I knew people at Columbia. My cousin worked at the Department of Justice... was there a chance she could be at the Pentagon? I can honestly say the reason, the intent, the full-scale implications of the day's events really didn't enter my head. All I could think about was checking in with everyone.

I inhaled what little food remained on my plate, ran to my class to tell my TA that I just had to be sure, and bolted back to my room, containing my links to the outside world: the internet and my cellphone. So many calls, so many instant messages. Gradually the possibilities were reduced, the threats in my mind subsiding. But I still didn't know what to think, how one event could possibly evoke such raw instinct, such vivid feelings inside of me.

I never saw Pearl Harbor. I wasn't there during D-day. I don't know what Vietnam was like. Anyone can say what they like about the implications of that day, but all I can remember are my reactions. And to me, it was no different that an opening salvo, something I had never witnessed firsthand before, nor may I ever again. Five years have passed, but we all count that day among others in our lives as days to live in infamy. Do what you like based on your own experiences - change, advance, withdraw, learn, pity... just never forget.

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