Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where Were You?

Ten Years Later, copyright Jennifer Geisert 2011

I was tying the shoelaces of my black Converse low-tops in my ex-boyfriend's lounge, getting ready to walk into Camden Town. When I sat down on the futon and lowered my head to watch my fingers in the ever-familiar task, life was normal. When I raised my head again, everything had changed. He had turned on the television and we saw the fire and smoke pouring out of the first tower. The headlines were being typed across the bottom of the screen, white letters on BBC red. I thought it was a made-for-TV movie. And then I realized it wasn't.

I had left my home in California for London less than a month earlier. I was going to be starting my freshman year at art school in just two weeks, and I was using the last of my free days to get to know my way around north London. We were going to walk from Kentish Town into Camden Town for an afternoon spent wandering the markets and most likely the pubs. There was a game we had; see how many times we were offered drugs by the rasta men walking up and down the high street. They would mutter "Hashweed, hashweed, hashweed," and sometimes we'd hear murmurings of "coke," the sharp "k" in harsh contrast with the drawn out "oh" sound. That day didn't exactly go as planned.

It was a clear sunny day, similar to New York. It was early afternoon when we turned on the television. It must have been just after the first plane struck. We watched the smoke and flames pouring out of the gaping hole in the tower. All I could think about was the times my parents and I would fly into Newark airport to visit my grandmother, and how I'd always look out of the windows of the planes as we were landing to see the Twin Towers. That was the closest I'd ever been to New York.

We watched in horror as the second plane struck. We watched in horror as people began leaping out of the windows. We watched in horror as the first tower, and then the second, collapsed. The human toll was unbelievable. We watched as the news coverage changed to the Pentagon, and we saw the gaping hole in the side of the building. We saw the flaming field in Pennsylvania. I called my dad in California to see if he'd heard from my aunt's family in Union City, New Jersey, my grandmother in Pennsylvania. He told me to stay indoors, there had been rumors that planes might be headed for all the tall buildings in major cities around the world - I was to stay away from Cannary Wharf. (If you know the geography of London, you'll understand how ill-informed we were at the time of the location of Cannary Wharf in relation to Camden.) We watched as the news programs began to replay the horrific events from the start, over and over and over again. We watched the people in far away places shooting off guns and dancing in the streets. I couldn't understand why people hated my country so much that they would do this.

I know we went into Camden Town later that day, but I don't remember what we did or what I saw. I don't remember if I cried at that point. I don't remember a lot.

In the days and weeks that followed, people would hear my American accent when I was at the grocery store or the post office, and they would come up to me and express their condolences, saying they hoped that no one I knew had been affected. I would thank them, amazed at the kindness of strangers.

The first time I flew home after that horrible day, I was sick with the flu. My ears were so clogged up I could barely understand the questions the American customs official was asking me. My mother burst into tears as soon as she saw me coming out of arrivals. I wasn't afraid of flying, but that changed. As time wore on, I became terrified of airports, flights, turbulence, security alerts. I can't fly now without feeling nauseous.

Ten years later I'm back in California. Life has gone on. I have lived through a changing world, as well as a terrorist attack in my then-home-city of London. Today we mark the decade anniversary of 9-11, and my hope is that we move away from anger, fear, and hatred, and into unity, community, and forgiveness. Of course we will never forget, but I hope that we can rise above.

World Trade Center Wreckage, Yorba Linda CA, copyright Jennifer Geisert 2011

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