Numb

“9/11/01: It is 11:53 p.m. … I am feeling so numb, I can’t even cry.”

It was around 9 AM on a gorgeous, sunny Tuesday.  I was driving on Route 5 west of Williamsburg, on my way class at VCU.  As part of my usual routine, I was listening to the local morning radio program “Tommy and Rumble” on WNOR FM 99.  The radio hosts were interviewing a woman in Manhattan who was describing the view from her apartment window, smoke pouring from a building in her skyline.  I waited for the punchline.  Even after I heard the woman scream, “Oh my god, another one just flew into the tower,” I was still waiting for the punchline.  Whatever this woman was describing, whoever she was, it wasn’t funny.

I drove the rest of the way to school in a daze.  I don’t remember parking my car but I did run to the commuter lounge where a large crowd of people stared up at a television mounted on the wall.  The room was silent except for sniffles and shuffling of feet.  We all watched WTC2, the South Tower, collapse together.  It was so surreal.  Just a little over one month earlier my youngest brother Ryan, Karl, his dad David and I were all standing on the observation deck of that same tower, snapping pictures and enjoying a day of sightseeing on a hazy day in NYC.  Unsure of what else to do or how to feel, I picked up my book bag and went to organic chemistry class.

Class began at 11 AM.  Our professor carried on with her lesson plan, seemingly oblivious to the disaster.  I sat in the front, near her, feeling pissed off and confused that she never once acknowledged the morning’s events.  She didn’t veer from her lesson plan, her overhead projector, her multicolored Sharpie markers, her chemical structure drawings.  Looking back, I can appreciate her attempt at normalcy.  Maybe she was trying to hold herself together while everything around us was falling apart.  At the time, I couldn’t even hold my pen to take notes.  My hands were shaking.  Her hands were so steady.

My head hurt so badly.  I couldn’t connect with anyone from my new-to-me cell phone, all lines of communication tied up with frantic phone calls from around the world.  I ran into a friend in an auditorium on campus.  People had gathered to hear a college official speak.  I don’t remember what was said.  I didn’t want to go home.

My second class was at 2:30, a philosophy class taught by an Israeli professor.  We talked about the day then.  He talked about his experience in the Israeli army and about the motives of terrorists.  I remember thinking, “How can you understand the motives of crazy people?”  He let us go early.

I don’t remember driving the 45 minutes home.  I curled up on the couch and inundated myself with news coverage.  I cried and cried and cried.  Karl came up from work.  I don’t remember talking.  My head felt like it was full of wet paper towels.  The images of paper and ash swirling, people jumping, masses running from clouds of debris, are forever burned into my mind.

I wanted to do something.  I was upset that I had just donated blood a few days earlier; I wanted to donate blood to help with relief efforts for the survivors.  Then I heard about the number of black tags needed in triage…there weren’t going to be many survivors.

Your life will forever be affected following disasters of this magnitude in all manner of ways.  Anyone who has ever flown post-9/11 knows the hassle of TSA screenings.  In 1994 I graduated from a high school in OKC, less than a mile from the Murrah Federal Building.  It was destroyed in 1995.  Not long after, I was home from college, visiting my mom where she worked at the Tulsa District Courthouse.  The parking meter heads at her building had been removed and curbside parking spots were barricaded, all because some delusional nutcases backed a rental van full of homemade explosives into the side of a federal building.  In 2007, I was in graduate school at Virginia Tech when another delusional nutcase opened fire on dozens of students and faculty.  Now, the VT community operates an alert system complete with text and computer messages warnings for everything from inclement weather to on-campus threats.

Everyone can play Monday-morning quarterback, saying they saw the signs, “someone” should have done “something”, but placing blame will never undo what has just occurred.  You can only make changes to avoid similar future events and move on.

It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come in 10 years.  I remember thinking on that day in 2001, and for days to come, “Will we ever be the same?”  You won’t ever be the same but it does get better.  Humans are very resilient.

Our view from the Staten Island Ferry (8/01)

The view from below (8/01)

George Willig 5-26-77″: He scaled WTC2 on Karl’s 1st birthday (8/01)

Our view from the observation deck of WTC2 (8/01)

My brother Ryan, striking his tourist pose (8/01)

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