In September of 2001 I was just starting my third year of graduate school. My oral exams were scheduled for Friday the 7th, and after three months of almost nonstop studying, I was looking forward to cutting loose afterwards. My original plan had been to get the hell out of town right after my exams and spend a long weekend celebrating in NYC, but in the end I was just too exhausted. I decided to delay it until the following weekend.
On the morning of the 11th I woke up later than usual, and since Morning Edition went off the air in Grad School City at 9 a.m., I didn't turn on the radio immediately. About 9.50 I turned it on, in anticipation of the news summary at the top of the hour, and was surprised to hear what seemed to be a live broadcast. I didn't have a t.v., and the radio reports were confused and hard to understand. The second tower came down and I woke my folks up on the West Coast.
It had been supposed to be my first day back at my job at the university press, so eventually I got myself ready to leave. I didn't imagine they actually wanted me there now, but I couldn't think what else to do. At the same time, I didn't want to leave my radio. Instead, I took it with me.
Five minutes after I'd left my apartment, purple plastic radio in hand, I ran into a friend who'd also lived in Manhattan for several years. We stopped and stared at each other. She pointed to my radio and laughed, sort of, saying, "So you've heard. . . ? Of course you've heard." We stood there a while longer, making nonsensical conversation. She was on her way to teach her second or third class of the semester, and she kept saying, "How can I talk about the fucking sonnet today?"
"Yeah, really." I said.
"Except, I mean. . . isn't that what the terrorists want? For no one to teach Shakespeare again? Fuck them! I WILL teach the motherfucking sonnet!"
Eventually we parted and I got to work, where everyone was there but hardly anyone was speaking above a whisper. One of my favorite editors said it was the Taliban, it was Afghanistan, and he was the first person I heard mention Osama bin Laden. I had no idea what he was talking about.
I went to New York three days later, as I'd planned, staying with Bert, who lives below 14th street (which until that morning had been blocked to non-residents). That acrid smell was everywhere, and whenever we left his apartment there were posters of missing loved ones taped to every vertical surface all up and down the avenues. The photos were all from parties and weddings and family reunions, the dead wearing fancy clothes, holding children and petting dogs, smiling broad, broad smiles.
We didn't actually do anything that weekend. We just sat on Bert's couch and drank ourselves into stupefaction.
I was talking to my mother on the phone as the second plane hit the WTC. I woke up and turned on the Today show after the first hit, but before the second one, so I called my parents to see if they knew what was going on (I knew they would have been awake since at least 7am).
I'll never forget her saying she was sure "Arafat and the PLO" were behind it all. I told her she was nuts, that they didn't have the resources to pull off something like that. I remember this part so vividly: I said to her, "Mark my words, Mom--this is the work of the Taliban and that guy they think blew up the Navy ship, Osama bin Laden. He's a multimillionaire, and he has the money and resources to do something like this."
I don't know how I was so sure about this, but I remember how my voice shook with conviction when I said this to her. I had been reading about the Taliban for years, because of the horrible way the oppressed women, and I had been reading up on Bin Laden because of the attack on the Cole. But I don't why I made the connection so forcefully. For whatever reason, I have never felt so sure of anything in my life.
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