Fashion Week was just getting underway in New York. George W. Bush went for an early morning jog in Florida. Iraq shot down a Predator drone. The weather was still summer and perfect and still. Until 8.46 AM, September 11, 2001 was another morning in America.
More than anything from that morning I remember the cacophony of TV news echoing through the halls of the Baker dormitory.
It was the beginning of my Sophomore year at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and I’d spent the morning at an 8am “Music Through Film” lecture and a 9:30am “Film and TV Production Concepts” lecture. I was oblivious to the special reports that were punctuating the standard morning infotainment cycle.
At the end of the second class a friend, who had gotten there late and was shocked that I hadn’t heard the news, told me a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers and that “as soon as all the news cameras and shit showed up another one hit the other tower”. She seemed excited but not necessarily scared.
In my head I pictured errant Cessnas flying with futility into the towering structures. Someone was out to make a statement of some sort, I figured.
The walk back to the dormitory was eerily quiet. I spent it lost in my own head, chomping on two pieces of nicotine gum, and trying to figure out what might be happening. No one on campus was looking at each other or talking. Maybe this was more than just two small suicidal prop planes.
As I walked into Baker the wave of sound immediately enveloped me; newscasters, eyewitnesses, reporters, sirens, screams, alarms all wrapped up into one horrible din. It was fed from every open door, bouncing off the concrete walls, hypnotizing the wide eyed and speechless residents who were glued to their hand me down tube televisions. No one was talking to each other. They watched.
I got to my room, where the door was wide open, the TV was blaring and my roommate was nowhere to be found, and the first thing I saw was the Pentagon on fire. That’s when it really hit me. Someone down the hall decided to punctuate the moment by putting on R.E.M’s “End of the World As We Know It”. I remember feeling completely helpless.
I left Baker and went to see a friend who lived in the nearby Van Meter dormitory who sold imported packs of cigarettes to lazy students. Van Meter was exactly like Baker, as I imagine all dorms on campus were: completely devoid of activity except for that now familiar horrible cacophony. While he searched his room for the carton of Camel Lights I watched dozens of people jump out of windows, their arms and legs flailing as they plummeted to their deaths against the backdrop of a beautiful blue September sky. It made me sick. I couldn’t look away.
I don’t remember watching the towers collapse. When I see it in documentaries or old newscasts I recognize it as something that happened, history, but I don’t remember seeing it happen. After buying the cigarettes, I gathered up some friends and we drove due east with no particular destination in mind. We all wanted to escape the horrible cacophony that day and in the days that followed, to rewind to the less complicated world we woke up in that bright morning, but we never did and I doubt we ever will.
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- ‘This Seems to Be On Purpose’: When We Realized What Was Happening on 9/11
- David Foster Wallace on the Post-9/11 Trade Off Almost No One Really Talks About
See the Internet Archive’s Sept. 11 TV Archive, and read profiles of each of the victims of the attacks in The New York Times’ Portraits of Grief.
This post originally appeared on September 9, 2011.