Tuesdays were my favorite.
As a member of the Army ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) in college, Tuesdays were the only day I didn’t have to line up in formation at 0600 on the other side of campus for PT (Physical Training) – or Physical Torture, as I called it. It was basically an hour long gym class from hell.
I slept in.
I awoke around 0930, central time, in my dorm and turned the local rock station on the radio. Sometimes their morning show DJ got a little raunchy. This morning, the main guy was going off about something, I was only half listening. And then I caught, “….yeah, and then planes flying into the World Trade Center, man. I mean, wow, the devastation and <insert odd giggling here> ….this is….I’m so….people are dying, man.”
I strode across the room and turned it off. That was a new low for this radio station. Joking about planes flying into the World Trade Center in New York? Wow. That was beyond diabolical and had no business being on the air. I was disgusted. How could you even joke about something like that?
My roommate had already gone to class, as I stood there. I was in the middle of Illinois. It seemed really odd to me that they would be joking about something so specific, so far away. I wondered for a moment if there was any shred of truth to this. I turned on CNN to check.
And the breath got caught in my throat. The second tower had just fallen.
Like the rest of America, I sat glued to my television screen. That odd giggling of the DJ was not disrespect: that was the utter disbelief of what was happening in real time and the rule of no silence during a radio broadcast. My boyfriend lived down the hall (I was on a co-ed floor) and I ran to his room, trying to make sense of it. We then heard the Pentagon was hit – his mom worked near there. We tried to call her but the lines were busy all day. We were on eggshells, waiting for her to call. We learned later she was safely evacuated.
I called my dad at work. After everything I said, he answered with, “I don’t know, Simonne. I don’t know.” This was new territory for all of us.
I walked to my human biology class in a daze. The large lecture hall only had a smattering of students, all of us dazed. Our prof walked in with tear streaked mascara and shouted at us, “What are you doing here? Go back home, just go back! Class is cancelled.” She grabbed her stuff and sobbed as she walked out.
I walked like a zombie back to my dorm, not sure of what was suppose to happen next. I had never been to New York. I never knew anyone from New York. Yet in this moment, I felt like New York was home. It was a very strange juxtaposition that only made sense in the wake of the tragedy.
PT resumed the next day and I couldn’t wait to hear what my Lieutenant Colonel, the highest ranking officer on campus, had to say about all this. Right before our run, he huddled us up and spoke about the terrorist attack. “We got this, they’re not going to win, we will respond. Don’t worry. We got this.”
Hoowah! America would come out swinging and win, just as we always had.
Our college put together a rally on the Quad with a speaker from the Army. Classes were cancelled so everyone could attend on that sunny September Thursday at high noon. My boyfriend chose to stay in the dorm and play video games, but I was there. Everyone showed up, every group was represented. It was like a funeral, everyone was somber and quiet, yet it helped console the student body.
The Saturday following was our first home football game. I was part of the ROTC Colorguard during the national anthem. When we were out on the field, I can’t even begin to describe the silence. The stands were filled to the brim and yet when I closed my eyes, it felt like I was standing alone in the stadium. No movement, no sound, no babies crying, nothing. It was the strangest, most ethereal silence I have ever experienced. Nothing else has come close to it.
We had a Field Training Exercise where we were suppose to take Blackhawk helicopters to the location – needless to say, we took school busses instead. Five months later I got on a plane to fly out to Washington DC for a week. Friends freaked out, “How can you fly after what just happened? Aren’t you scared?” No. I also walked alone at night and refused to live in fear.
Today, 18 years later, this post-9/11 world is still unfolding.