As we approach the 10-year anniversary of 9/11/01, everyone is telling their story of where they were, who they were with and what they went through that day. It’s something I’ve reflected on in the past, but with the round number anniversary, I feel compelled to share my day as well. I wasn’t there, I didn’t lose anyone and nothing happened to me. But at the same time, like many people that day, my whole world changed.
In September 2001, I was 20 years old and I had just moved into my first “real” apartment in Santa Monica, CA. I was still looking for a part-time job, having made the decision to permanently relocate to Los Angeles from DC after concluding my summer internship at The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn. And I was taking 12 units at Santa Monica College, scheduling my classes for Monday, Wednesday, Friday, so I would have two whole days to work as well as Wednesday and Friday afternoons. I was primarily hanging out with my friend KB (name changed for use on the Internet), who was working at hotel in Beverly Hills. We had met at Kilborn and we were both looking for that next entertainment job.
On September 9th, he returned from a week-long trip to New York, job hunting, and we both experienced our first California earthquake. On September 10th, I spent the day in classes and KB worked the day shift at the hotel. On Tuesday, September 11th, I didn’t have class and I didn’t have a job yet, so I had planned to sleep in before tackling some homework and looking for more jobs to apply for.
Around 6am, my house phone rang. I muttered about the phone waking me up on a day I could sleep in, especially when the caller ID said “Unknown Caller.” It was my dad, calling from his business trip in the Dominican Republic, and he sounded like he had been crying. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but he told me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. “On purpose?” I questioned, unable to comprehend such an act. I turned on CNN to find the Towers burning, the Pentagon was on fire and there as a hole in the Earth in Pennsylvania. My dad and I cried through the phone on each other and finally hung up when there was nothing else to say.
I called KB, to see if he was at work. He was numb and at home, so I begged him to come over. I realized as I stood there in my living room with my whole world on fire, that KB was really the only friend I had in this time zone. I was striking out on my own as an adult with this new life, but at that moment, I just wanted someone to hold me and tell me it was going to be okay.
I wandered into my room, looking at my AIM Buddy List, seeing my friends and needing a connection. I went down the list, asking them if they were alright, telling them that I loved them. My mouse hovered over my friend Kristin. Her mom worked at the Pentagon, but I didn’t know where in the building. I didn’t want to find out over IM that her mom was gone. I left her name unclicked for the moment and went to the bathroom to throw up.
KB came over and found me, like a zombie in front of my 13″ television. Every channel had the same images, buildings on fire, Towers falling, people running, crying, screaming. I closed my eyes, but the images were still there, burned into my brain. Ten years later, I can still see them. I sent an email to my X-Philes for Christ mailing list, one of several I would send that day. I gave out my cell number for anyone who needed to talk. No one called and I didn’t call anyone, but I wish that we had.
I called my mom, over and over again, until I finally got through to her. She was in the basement of the church with her preschoolers; it was their first day of school. Our church was about 20 minutes from DC and since no one knew what was going on, they were in emergency mode, hiding out until someone, anyone could tell them it was over. I could barely talk, I was crying so hard to finally talk to her. She tried to calm me, but had clearly spent the day trying to keep seven 2-year-olds calm and it was wearing on her. The signal cut out after only a few minutes, but at least I had heard her voice.
Sometime that afternoon, KB decided we had to get out of the house. The news was making me sick and it wasn’t helping either of us. We got in his car and drove to the beach to play cards. It was a beautifully, sunny California afternoon. There were no planes in the sky, no cars on the road, no people on the streets. There were a few homeless men talking at the picnic table adjacent to ours, but otherwise, the place was deserted. It was eery out there, like the whole city was holding its breath. Two of the planes had been bound for Los Angeles and we didn’t know if there was something else planned.
Finally, it got late and we headed back to my house. I checked in with my friends again, including Kristin, whose mom was absolutely fine. She had been evacuated and was on her way home before she even knew what the threat was. Another friend’s father worked at the Pentagon, also came out alive. He had been at a meeting on the other side of the building that morning, and was stopped by a co-worker in the hallway on his way back. That chance encounter saved his life, as the plane went right through his office.
The rest of the week was a bit of a blur. We had blood drives in Los Angeles, full of celebrities, as well as plans for a telethon for the victims and their families. I had two job interviews, one on Thursday and one on Friday. The one on Thursday ended up being the job I got, working at a medical clinic, primarily staffed by Sikhs. On my first day, I helped organize a benefit for a member of their congregation who worked at a convenience store and had been beaten because he also wore a turban, like many Muslim men.
However, I remember driving back from the other interview on that Friday. The interview had been downtown and I had a long drive back along Santa Monica Boulevard. At noon, there was to be a moment of silence for the victims. Being Los Angeles, no one stopped their car, but it did get quiet as we drove along. A few cars in front of me, a woman, driving a convertible, raised a small American flag in her hand and held it that way all the way to the 405 freeway, never wavering. It was a small thing, but watching the cars around her and the people on the sidewalk, I could see it making an impact.
Ten years is too short a time to really gauge an impact. The first time I got on an American Airlines flight from Dulles to Los Angeles, my stomach was in knots until we landed at LAX. I never end a phone conversation with my parents without saying “I love you,” just in case. My life has changed in ways I never could have predicted 10 years ago, none of which have anything to do with 9/11. And yet, when I see the images, hear the stories, think about that day, I’m 20 years old, standing in that shitty Santa Monica apartment, with a cordless phone in my hand, my dad’s voice breaking in my ear and the world on fire on my television. I don’t see that ever changing.