I want to discuss the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. I am sure lots of other people will have things to write and say and I myself have written and talked about the subject quite a bit. However, it is for all those reasons that I am doing something a little different in this post. I am going to write about the day as I remember it. Not after refreshing my memory by looking at lots of different notes or source materials. I am writing about it as I readily remember it after just a few days short of the ninth anniversary of that event. I know enough about memory to know that some of my memories are likely to be inaccurate. But here the story goes…
In those days I woke early on any Tuesday. There were times when I worked as a substitute teacher at one school for weeks at a time but there had been few of those streaks at that time. I would have more of them in the next year and the one thereafter, but I did not know that then. In those days I usually worked one or two-day contracts at a time. Those contracts came in by phone early in the morning. I worked just a bit less than four days a week on average with plenty of five and three-day weeks and as few as two plenty of days as well. I had a small farm leased out that required some attention and a small distribution company that distributed about ten different intellectual properties to hundreds of gift shops, bookstores and institutions as well as to conferences of individuals that also took some time. So the lack of work was not so bad when I had a day off. I also had just gone on the previous Monday for a job interview with a friend who had worked with me on a university newspaper called the Vermilion. He was the Assistant Sports Editor at the newspaper in the same city as that student publication. This was now a paper owned by the Gannett chain and had lots of resources that were a delight to see. I asked for a job to string some games during football season and he offered me a job as a part-time sportswriter at night and on weekends when I was not subbing. I filled out the basic forms and toured the office that evening. By Wednesday I had taken my drug tests and gotten the results back and by Friday been approved for an ID badge and to fill out the longer forms. With all that done I had also been assigned my first game the next Friday .
That day I had woken up early and while waiting for a call that did not come during the usual period of time between 6:15 and 6: 40 had continued some preliminary preparations for the new job and the specific first game. Then I was feeling a little discouraged about the day off and also aware that I had agreed to take some afternoons at one of the schools in town on days when I did not have a whole and was thinking that might happen. I checked my gift for my brother’s Catholic Confirmation that Tuesday night. I finished filling out the card. I decided to dress and put my subbing supplies in the truck and go visit my grandmother so that if I got a call from the school in town I would be ready. I was feeling a bit grumpy and blue I think and so decided to deal with my love life.
In this Moslem related disaster in a modern country it is not entirely without relevance that although I have never been in a full-fledged polygamous relationship ( I have had more than one girlfriend at a time who knew each other) I have always known that was my sexual orientation. Truly polygamous men do not fall out of love nearly as easily as they fall in to it and that is why they accumulate attachments. So while I had never been with the woman I was thinking of that day while I was married I had never forgotten her either. She has married since (and divorced) but she had never been married in those days. Even as I type this I still have feelings for her and some other women but we are very clearly not involved. In those days we had been dating for a few months but not heavily and then she had gone off to Houston allegedly to be a flight attendant we had talked about corresponding and visiting but that had degenerated into yet another in a series of messy and gradual break-ups which was not entirely clear in its termination. I felt I had to make it clear. I wrote her a somewhat anguished and demeaning e-mail saying that it was now clear to me we were not together and so I wanted to say it in writing. Part of my anguish came from the fact that in the dark side of my worldwide net of friends there had been rumours that something bad would be launched against the United States in the early years of the two thousands and I worried about her. I did not know any of this specifics but I figured Islamic terrorists would probably fly and not bicycle into the country.
I sent the e-mail basically severing communication with my flight attendant sort of ex-girlfriend and hopped into my truck. I bit down on the bitterness of this and called my grandmother to make sure that today would be a good day for me to go over as we had discussed. She said it was fine and I drove from Big Woods a few miles and past the turn to the rural post office where I had and still have a box. While I was waiting for the Perry drawbridge to be lowered back into place over the Vermilion Bayou I turned on the radio. The news was that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center in New York and had probably been a terrorist attack. I called my parents on my cell phone and drove across the bridge while talking to my mother. She said they would turn on the TV. I called my grandmother and told her I was still on my way and to turn on the TV. She said she was already watching it. I pulled in and was watching the television and discussing the whole situation with my grandmother and her housekeeper when we saw the second jet hit the second tower.
In agony I called my flight attendant girl’s mother and asked her if she knew if her daughter was OK. She said that she did know that she was alright and staying on the ground that day. My voice did not crack on the phone but tears flowed down my cheeks. I then called the newspaper. The Advertiser is a newspaper which to everyone’s annoyance I still called The Daily Advertiser when I worked there because when I started reading it the periodical was named that except on Sunday when it was The Sunday Advertiser. The sportswriter who answered was on of the few I knew. I asked him to record my name in a few distinct places and to feel free to call me for emergencies of any kind that might come out of this. He said the paper did not need me just then. I called not all the schools who hired me nor the system but a special number at the one where I might have gotten an afternoon call. They did not need me either. At Gammie’s I watched the crisis unfold.
I read over the papers which had come to my grandmother’s that morning just briefly and the one at which I was hired just before the 9-11 attacks had nothing I saw as anticipating this attack today. I knew it would be the front page for a long time. I got through the day and my brother’s confirmation somehow, and one of my cousins was born that day I don’t remember if I called the family or not. I called one of my ex-wife’s relatives to see if they knew if she was alright they did not but agreed to e-mail me if she was dead or injured. The next day I talked to my parents about their plans to bring home missionaries from a Moslem country and I subbed we all talked about the horrible events while I was at school. The week passed watching, listening and reading horrible events.
Then Friday I went to the game and I knew that there had been people asking to shut down the season. I had planned to work the football season but became a regular sportswriter in the initial contract and now I did not want to lose my job nor did I think it was a good idea. At the game the principal for one of the two high schools was a man who had been a dean of students at a high school where I was a regular teacher a decade earlier. We chatted and I told him I wanted to do a patriotic angle on the game so he got me the names of the Marine Honor Guard and I interviewed the kids who said the prayers and led a patriotic song. My editors approved my unique blend of high school game story and social commentary. I later read one very nice letter to the editor that praised my approach. I also talked to the ones who wanted to cancel the season on our paper we made a kind of peace and so the new guy I was stayed on through football, soccer and basketball season. Days of apprehension dragged on and in the end I lost no very close friends or relatives in all that mess.
My selfish needs and personal duties slowly grew to block out thoughts as well as the feelings of the day of horrors. I felt that life was tough in some ways but really for me there was only borrowed sorrow. In those days I had a farm, a small distribution company and was also working as a substitute teacher. I actually would have defined my life as pretty bad then but it has more or less constantly gotten worse and so now I have many of the same problems to face without the farm, company or two paychecks. In some ways my life is like Dante’s Inferno — just a constant downward spiral with interesting sightseeing and conversation along the way. The struggle of 9-11 has passed for me. But not for those in wars, left without loved ones killed or seeing Ground Zero everyday. I hope that they are really seeing progress on the Freedom Tower. I do not forget any of them nor the world that made that day. However, the life I live today is not that life and my mind does not bend to such things so easily.