When I was single, I was a serial alarm snoozer. The alarm clock I used was 14 years old. The buzzer no longer worked, so I was roused to waking by a local FM station. Instead of the usual music at 6 AM Pacific, there was a news report. I hit the snooze button, so I didn't learn yet that a plane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. While I slept for nine more minutes, a second plan crashed into the South Tower. I played the snooze button game for nearly an hour. Each time, a little more of the news reports seeped into my consciousness. When I heard the newscaster say that the South Tower had collapsed, I bolted out of bed and turned on the television in my bedroom.
I was stunned by the sight of the smoking tower that remained, and the hole where its twin had been. I was sitting at the end of my bed, in my pajamas, when the second tower fell. I gasped and my chest tightened. I could barely take another breath as tears sprang to my eyes. After many long minutes, I tore myself away from the television. I couldn't bear to look at that empty space, to think of the people that had fallen with the tower, to imagine the heartache that was being felt, simultaneously across our nation. I popped into the bathroom long enough to pee and wash my face. I brushed my teeth in front of the TV, once again riveted by the news coverage.
Over the next hour, I slowly readied myself for work. When it seemed like nothing else catastrophic was going to happen, I drove to work. Traffic was lighter than usual. My boss, her eyes bright and manic, met me at the door and asked if I had heard. She queried everyone who entered. One coworker hadn't heard. He lived alone and only listened to CDs in the morning.
We sat at our desks, not working, sending each other links to news sites with streaming coverage that hadn't yet been overwhelmed. BBC was the most reliable. Coworkers with family in New York went home, or hadn't come in. Scheduled meetings occured, but attendance was spotty and agendas were ignored.
My boyfriend's mother was stranded in Chicago. She'd flown there from Michigan, hours before the attacks, on her way to California. I was throwing a surprise birthday party for my boyfriend's 30th birthday that Saturday. (The attacks occurred on a Tuesday.) She was going to stay with a friend, who would bring her to the party. No flights were going in or out of any airports. Eventually, she was able to fly. She arrived in California on Saturday, a couple hours before the party started.
I didn't learn an important lesson on September 11th. That day wasn't a catalyst for change in my life. I remember it like it was yesterday, though. That gasp. My chest tightening. The smoke and the rubble. The shared experience of our nation, united by tragedy. Shaken out of our daily routines. Our world shifted and never returned to what it had been before.