by Michael Jones
|Flag at half-mast. 9/11/11|
I think everyone can say where they were on 9/11 and what they were doing at the time they found out. My wife, and every other adult I knew at the time, was at work. Our son was at school, in the sixth grade. I was a stay-at-home dad with our daughter who was a little over one at the time. The generic question that we teachers ask every year is what were you doing? Or, what were you thinking? How has the world changed?
What hits me most as I think back was the noises and silence. I can almost feel them.
The day was like any other, watching Bear in the Big Blue House. It was a fascinating show. An overgrown bear, living with his friends and playing games. My daughter’s favorite part was when Bear would hold his nose to the TV and “smell” what the children watching had eaten for breakfast, shrinking into me as his nose came closer and the snuffling started. Bear and his friends would noisily sing songs and I would bounce her, giggling, on my knee as I sang along, sometimes making up the words to fit whatever mood I was in.
The phone rang and it was my mother-in-law, frantically trying to find out if Julie had flown anywhere that day. Weird question since she had only flown one time for work and it had been a month previous. I stated no and asked why. She explained that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center and it looked like we were under attack.
After she shrilly convinced me that she was telling the truth, and I convinced her that Julie was at work, I switched the channels and sat. I watched as the footage was replayed over and over. Sounds merging into each other. Planes crashing, people leaping to their deaths and the towers falling. Plumes of smoke, people crying, wanting, no feeling in my soul, like every other able-bodied man, that I needed to run out and join the military. I was hypnotized.
Throughout the morning, the cacophony of the phone ringing over top of the newscasters’ voices interrupted my thoughts. I spoke with my wife and all of our parents, holding Izzy on my lap, wondering what kind of world we had brought her into. I briefly debated getting Mac out of school and heading to my in-laws farm and decided against it. What good would that do?
Still I sat and stared at the TV.
I looked at another image of people dying and wailing and looked at my daughter. What the hell was I doing? I was sitting here subjecting my daughter to this. I knew that she was captivated by Disney Channel so surely she might be captivated by these images, too.
I thought back to some of my college professors who had lived with the threat of terrorism in other countries. They had said that while they were always on guard, they knew that life had to go on. Experts on television were saying the same. If you lived in fear, the terrorists would win.
I made a decision then and there. I switched off the TV and got her dressed. I placed her in her stroller and went outside. It was the hardest step of the day. I did not want to leave the chaos of noise, crying spectators, buildings crashing, phone ringing non stop.
The sun was blinding as I started down the street. The first thing I noticed was that our street, which was normally busy with cars, had only a few cars slowly making their way down it. The people driving them looked slack jawed and scared, almost like zombies. Some were obviously crying and distraught. Others were staring absently forward. The sound of talk radio wafted from their cars as they passed. No one else was outside walking.
I looked down at my daughter. She was sitting up, looking around, having a great time. As I continued to walk, the second thing that hit me was the silence. No booming stereos, no yelling, even those few cars on the road were quieter. We were the only two left in this apocalyptic atmosphere, walking to God knows where. Not fleeing attacks as the poor souls in New York were, but fleeing none the less.
I heard birds, looked up and noticed what every one would later say was the eeriest part: no planes. No trails of exhaust, no engine sounds, just bird song.
I would return to the house after an hour or so and it took strength not to watch the coverage with Izzy there. I would wait until she took her nap. The silence would evaporate as the television hissed and warmed up. We would talk about the attacks later with Mac who was scared by some of the insanity that would be prevalent for the next few days, in particular a grown man walking the streets of our village wearing a gas mask.
With time, the planes started flying again, cars were booming, a much called for war was looming and life went on. Every year at this time, I can remember what I was doing, what I saw, where I was. What I try to remember is what I felt as I sit and type this. The silence. The silence of the skies, cars, people. The feeling of that silence in my body as it weighed down on me then and now, still struggling to grasp that short amount of time when the world stopped.