I was getting ready to teach a section of comp. The Spawn had been dropped off at preschool, and I was catching up on things online before I caught the shuttle from family housing to campus. When I read that a plane had hit a tower at the World Trade Center, I thought of the Empire State Building Crash in 1945, and went out to catch the bus to work.
Then I heard the radio on the bus as the first tower collapsed. My classroom was empty when I got there, and I switched the classroom TV to CNN. A few minutes later, I knew I wouldn’t be lecturing. I sat there on my desk, watching the footage of the second plane slamming into the tower replaying over and over.
Students drifted in; some, not all. We sat and watched. The second tower fell moments before class was set to start. Students drifted in and out. A few asked questions, and I’d pass along whatever I had heard a few minutes before. I started hearing the name of Osama Bin Laden. When the period was over, I headed to my office, trying to find an online news source that hadn’t crashed. I had a little luck with Canadian media, so I switched between CBC and a Toronto alt-rock station. As one would crash, I’d try the other. After a while, I rode home and stared at the television.
I called my folks. Mom told me that Dad was coming home, that she had stood on the back deck that morning, watching a sky filled with planes waiting to land at the Cincinnati airport after the no-fly order. Years later, she’d talk about the planes and the silence after they had landed, a jarring silence after years on the landing path. We spoke again a few hours later as we learned more about the police and fire fighters who had been trapped in the collapse. If anything, Mom was more shaken then — her father had been a fire fighter in Nashville, and she worried more about first responders than anyone I’ve ever known.
I spoke to Mrs. Mondo at lunch, when she called from her school. We wondered what to tell MondoSpawn, who was four. We agreed we’d pick her up together — I didn’t have a car, so she’d swing by the apartment on the way. We needn’t have worried. When we picked her up, she said the teachers had told them that some bad men had flown planes into buildings and hurt lots of people, but that nobody would do that to the preschool. I hoped the teacher was right, but we didn’t really figure there was much we could add to that, so I read news online while my daughter watched cartoons on our only TV.
After supper, I went back to campus and tried to work on my dissertation, to think about something other than what I had seen all day, but it didn’t work, so I walked back out, bought the 8-page extra section of the local paper (the only time in my life that I can remember an extra edition), waited for the bus, and rode home alone with the driver.
When I got home, my wife and daughter were asleep, so I sat downstairs, watching the news until well after midnight. Every awful thing was still awful, but I already saw the strength of my people, working at what was already being called Ground Zero. I fell asleep sitting on the couch.
The next morning, a friend of mine asked me how I felt. I said I didn’t know entirely, but I was certain that I wanted to see someone’s playhouse torn down. I wanted a response so terrible that no one would ever dream of doing something like this again, that the world would despise the people who had hurt us, not only for hurting us, but for igniting our vengeance.
I saw the peoples of other countries holding vigils for America, and while I remain grateful for that, even then I suspected it would only last until we responded. The world likes us better as victims than as avengers. I knew that then, and I know that now, which is why I have so much scorn for what gets called the “international community.” Oderint, dum metuant.
And now it’s nine years later, and I’ll be leaving for a football game in a few minutes. My life is quiet, my story unremarkable. But I remember. I’ll always remember, and I will not be content until the death cult that strikes against us is exterminated.