Today is September 11, 8 years later. I remember everything about that day and I’m writing it down so I will remember, I’m writing it down because someday my little girl will ask me where I was and what I did that day.
In September 2001 I was just starting my first semester of college. On Tuesdays we had pagination class from 9 to 11, and as we were all getting settled before class started one of the second years came in and told us they were hearing something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. At this point they still thought it was a little propeller plane or something and that it was only an accident. She went on her way and we started class, learning about the Macs we were now using and all the keyboard shortcuts we would need to know to work efficiently in Quark.
At 10 am we took a break, and when we walked out into the hallway we found the world had changed forever.
Since I was in the print journalism program almost all my classes were held in what was called the media hallway of Loyalist College. Along the media hallway were televisions hanging on brackets, so the broadcast journalism students could watch the news or play the pieces they were producing for class. Starting that morning and for about two weeks afterwards those TVs were broadcasting CNN all day every day.
I started the break by walking over to one of those TVs, surrounded by my classmates, not knowing what had happened between the first news that a plane had hit and what I was about to see. I’m pretty sure the first tower collapsed just as I started watching. I went to the payphone down the hall and tried to call my mother. She wasn’t at her desk. All I could think was that there might be threats to Ottawa and that maybe her building was evacuated because it was one of the taller ones downtown.
And then they inexplicably and frustratingly called us back into class.
I doubt any of us learned anything in that second hour.
I didn’t have any classes between 11 and 1 and I spent those two hours watching the news and trying to reach my mother – until I finally reached my sister at home. She said Mom and her coworkers were gathered around a TV somewhere in the building and that everything was fine. Once I got off the phone with her, I called my Dad.
My Dad is a journalist, journalism professor and specializes in natural disasters. There haven’t been many times when I thought calling him would make me feel better, but that day it seemed perfectly natural that he would be the one to call. Despite being pessimistic about the whole event, the numbers likely dead and how much worse it could get, he did put things in perspective and calmed me down. He also told me that it was highly unlikely that anything would be attempted in Ottawa – not important enough.
By that time airspace across North America had been closed and the decision had been made to have fighter jets circling Toronto every hour on the hour. Those fighter jets just happened to come from CFB Trenton, about a fifteen minute drive from my school. Every hour those jets would fly overhead and startle us, and remind us.
At one o’clock we all filed in to our photo journalism classroom and sat down, waiting to be taught more things we weren’t going to remember, numb by that point. And my professor surprised my by sitting on his desk and looking out at us and asking: “Has anyone talked to you guys about what’s going on?”
I was so relieved that we would have two hours to talk to each other, to try and make some sense of things. At that point I don’t think any of us had considered what might come next. It was too scary to wonder what might come next.
When I look back at that day my actual memories are clouded a bit by what I know now. I know now that the event was precisely planned, I know that we were never in danger – my family and I. I remember that people flung themselves from the buildings thinking that falling was a better way to die than burning up, and I’m glad I wasn’t watching when they made that decision. I know that all the estimates of the number that would end up dead were wrong – some were off by tens of thousands. I know that there will always be conspiracy theorists looking for the ‘truth’ behing 9/11.
And I know that I will always flinch when this date comes around, and that I will always cry when I remember the pain of it – watching helplessly and with a total lack of understanding, thinking about those people and the decisions they had to make – try to run or accept your fate with the world watching. I will remember not knowing what was going to happen in the shadow of knowing now. And I will always think of this story and how little we can ever actually know.