Sunday, September 11, 2011

Random Acts of Patriotism

10 years ago today, I was getting ready for class. I was a freshman in college, living in the dorms. The radio-alarm went off and I groaned, annoyed that the jockeys were yakking about some airplane thing, rather than playing music. I smacked the "off" button and rolled out of bed. I shuffled into my clothes and dashed to my sign language class. I was late.

By the time I even got up that morning, it was all over. Living in California, on Pacific time, it had already happened. As I slid into my seat, the teacher began to speak solemnly about the graveness of the day and I looked, confused, around the room. The red headed kid whispered to me about the twin towers being hit. I had no idea what he was talking about. It didn't mean anything to me. I hadn't heard the phrase "twin towers" before.

In the deaf community, everything happened so fast, closed captioning couldn't get on the tv's fast enough. I remember mass miscommunication going on, and some deaf residents in Sacramento, terrified that
OUR "twin towers," the Tower Bridge, had been hit. It really illustrates how chaotic things were that morning.

Our teacher spoke briefly, only a moment or two, and told us that this was sad but we had to go on. She started the class and the students shifted uncomfortably in their seats while she signed and we struggled to learn through our anxiety of not understanding what was going on outside.

After twenty minutes or so, students started running down the halls, and administrators started knocking on the doors. The campus was being evacuated. Everybody was to go home. NOW.

My "home" was on campus. My other home, my parent's homes, were 400 miles away. I walked back to the dorms where I had lived for a measly 6 weeks and watched the entire building parking lot empty out before I even got there. If you had a home to go to, off campus, go to it, they told us. If not, stay in your room, close the blinds and stay put. Keep your lights off. I hunkered down on my bunk style bed and watched the news, called my dad.

All of my siblings called my dad that day. We weren't sure where he was. A businessman who traveled constantly, he lived in suits and carried a briefcase. I knew he was flying that day. I didn't know where he was. I called him all morning. At some point I reached him at the house. He had been at the airport, boarded the plane, long delay... then ordered off... Saw the tv monitors. Thought it was a video game. Then he just stared. I think that's all we could do.

In the weeks that followed, I couldn't stop looking at the pictures. The images burned in my mind. I saved them to my computer and would look through them, listening to the same songs over and over again. I cried, a lot.

My mom flew on one of the first flights that went out after the flight ban was lifted. As the flight landed, the crew sang the national anthem. It was scary, and heroic all at once. My cousins were trapped in Europe on their honeymoon, unable to get home.

Not long afterwards, my dad was transferred to Manhattan for work. I went to visit him in January of 2002. The site still seemed to be smoldering through the snow. We didn't go down there, for the sake of going there, but in our rambling walk we found ourselves meandering along the plywood wall that sheltered the pedestrians from the sadness within those walls.

Those walls... first, layers upon layers of 'Missing' posters. Family members, friends, "Have you seen me?" Last seen on such and such floor. Pictures, beloved father, mother, friend. Slowly, as those people were found, or realized not to be coming home, the wall of missing posters had become a memorial, covered in letters and flowers, teddy bears, flags, "I miss you's" and wreaths.

Stunned, I watched a man stand in front of the makeshift memorial, smile and pose for a picture in front of the posters.

I threw up in a crowded Mrs. Field's Cookies afterwards.

I was so angry.

While my dad was at work, I explored the city on my own. Standing in Rockefeller Center, watching the ice skaters, a plane flew over head, low, and loud enough to hear. All of the people around me stopped what they were doing and looked up. The woman next to me started to cry. I couldn't help myself either. I pulled a crumbled napkin out of my pocket for a tissue. Everything was so raw then. So untrusting, and just waiting for the next blow. I still feel that way now, just in a different context.

On that trip, I noticed something beautiful. Flags. Everywhere. I wanted to turn it into a personal project. Just recently coming out of my high school photography course, photography was still on my mind. Everywhere I went I shot film. Flags, memorials. "Random Acts of Patriotism" is what I wanted to call it. "UNITED WE STAND" spray painted on the back of a u-haul. Flag decals attached on the back of subway cars. They were everywhere. It was beautiful. I came back with, I don't know, hundreds of pictures. I still have them all. But with film, you know, it was the dark ages, especially since I was a history major and only doing it for myself. They're sitting in an album somewhere. Someday I will try and scan them in here, but today, I think the memory is enough.

Where were you?

1 comment:

jrkaman said...

I was in 10th grade. I remember having to use the restroom before class and the school only gave us 5 minutes between classes and the bathroom I had to use was ALWAYS crowded. I was late for class. I came in and everyone was watching the tv in the classroom. No TV was ever on except for Channel 1 once a week. I remember sitting down, looking at the TV and wondering what was going on. 10 minutes later, tower 1 collapsed. Everyone was shocked. All day we watched TV. We went home that day and my sister was in a panic. She just HAD to go get gas in the car. There were lines around the block at the gas station. That night I dreamed of airplanes crashing into buildings. It happened night after night for awhile. Slowly they faded though. Life went on. I never forgot though.