In the five years I’ve been doing this journal, I’ve never done an entry on September 11th. Instead, I’ve posted a poem—“The Goodnight” by Louis Simpson—or an excerpt from Lorrie Moore’s “How to Become A Writer,” because both were able to convey what I wanted to say better than I could, at the time. All weekend, I’ve been trying to decide what to do today. If, because it’s now been five years, that maybe it’s time to do something else, move on. I decided I would try, but to be honest, even just typing these few lines feels wrong.
I wasn’t in New York or D.C. on 9/11, and I can’t imagine what it was like if you were. Obviously, we all have our story of where we were and what we were doing, each unique to ourselves. I was at UNC, teaching an Intro Class. It began at 9:30, and I remember before it started, someone was saying something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center, but no one had heard anything that had been confirmed, yet, so we just went ahead with class. By the time we got out, at 10:45, everything had changed. Someone had pulled a TV into the middle of the English Department office and people were just gathered around it, packed into the doorway, everyone just watching, silent. We were told to meet with our 11:00 classes, if only to reassure them, and I remember thinking that I was the LAST person who should be reassuring anyone, I felt so shaken. But I took a deep breath and walked into my class anyway, where people were crying and scared, and I just did the best I could, which is all you can ever do. At that point everything was so chaotic: there were tons of rumors, and misinformation, stuff about car bombs and more planes and all that. I told my students to try to be calm, and to keep watching the news but to understand that not everything they were hearing was confirmed. I told them I could not explain what was happening, because I knew no more than they did, but that we were not going to have class so that they could go call their parents or family members. And then I let them go, and went back to my office, where I sat on the phone for a long time, trying to reach MY best friend, who was living in New York at the time. I finally got hold of her dad, who said he had spoken to her, which was a huge relief.
As I left campus, there were more TV sets set up in the pit, the big meeting place between the cafeteria, the bookstore and the student union. On every screen, there was footage of the towers burning, the Pentagon, and people were just standing there, rows and rows back, staring up at them. The weirdest thing, to me, was that there were so many people who weren’t watching, weren’t paying attention in the least. As I stood, looking up at someone reporting from New York, I could hear a group of girls a few feet behind me, chattering away about their plans for that night: where they were going, what they were going to do. Like it was any other day. Which was so weird.
I ended up stopping at my cousin’s on the way home, just because I didn’t feel like being alone. She had two small children at the time and had just moved from New York about a year earlier, and was working the phones, trying to reach people. As soon as I came in, she handed me the baby, and I remember I took him outside and just stood there. It was this beautiful, beautiful day, and the baby was gurgling, and I remember it just felt very strange, to think that something so awful was happening not so far away and yet here it was just this lovely, late fall day.
So now it’s five years later. I’m not at UNC anymore. That baby, my cousin Eric, just started first grade. Time has passed, the way it always does, and today, it is beautiful here. Blue sky, sun shining. Reading over this, I feel like maybe I should delete it all, and just put up the poem, or the excerpt. Maybe I will. Or maybe, I’ll just leave it as it is, knowing there is nothing special about this story other than the fact that it is mine, and I will never forget it, be it five years or however many, go by.