Today is one of those days–will forever be one of those days–when you remember where you were when…*

And I have been feeling nostalgic lately–as I tend to do when I am less than happy with my current situation–but it’s generally been for Santa Barbara, where I had more friends, was happier, liked my life best.

But today. Today, I was standing under the live oaks behind the Texas Union. I was staring down Whitis Avenue, toward Dean Keeton, and a hot dry wind was swirling around my ankles, kicking up the gritty red dirt. I was there, even though my eyes were open and I was awake and I was staring at my computer screen, sitting in my office here in Durham, North Carolina. I was right there.

On September 11, 2001, I lived in Austin, Texas. I was a brand new graduate student and a brand new res life person. I lived in a building with 150 brand new college students, women who had been in college for just over a week. And here’s what I remember:

I remember that I didn’t cry. Not for days or for weeks. Maybe not even for months. I’m the girl who really does cry at long-distance telephone commercials. I cry at the end of nearly every movie or book. I get teary-eyed whenever I see video of Christian Laettner’s shot. But I didn’t cry on 9/11. I don’t think I ever cried out of terror or empathy. Now, I cry nearly every time I see pictures, or film, or anything that has to do with 9/11. But those tears are of anger and frustration at the way this tragedy has been used to strike fear into us and to manipulate the American people–not by Al Qaeda, but by our own government.

I remember that I didn’t have any inkling that this would become such a defining moment. I walked out of my apartment around 9:50 AM Central Time, and heard noise from the lobby TV. I was annoyed because that TV was supposed to stay on the university info channel during the day, but RAs and other night staff could watch movies if they wanted to. I figured that the night staffer had left it on the wrong channel. I walked over to remedy the situation–I was in charge there–and I saw that it was on the news, and there seemed to be smoke coming from the World Trade Center. I walked downstairs, to my office, and everyone acted like it was a normal day. I logged on to CNN.com, but I didn’t see anything important. I went to work.

I remember that one of my co-workers, who at the time was my closest friend on staff, locked herself in her apartment and cried. She was so hysterical that her boss called me and asked me to go in and talk to her. I was the only one she’d let in. I remember that I hated her for that. I thought she was selfish. She’d spoken to all of her family members (who were in DC), and they were safe–what was the big deal? I thought she was incredibly selfish. I was 23, she was 30, and it was our job to be out there, comforting the 18 year olds. Instead, she was not only abandoning her post, but making me do it to. I could not forgive her for that, and though I have forgiven her for many things, I still cannot give that up.

I remember that class wasn’t cancelled. Students did not have to go, but faculty had to report. In an university community of 52,000 students, there were bound to be people who had nowhere else to go. It was a good decision.

I remember that I had my Sports Law class from 4-7 that night. We toured the UT Law Library so that we’d be able to use its resources for the class. Our professor had it shortened so that we could attend the candlelight vigil at 6pm at the UT Tower, which was pretty ironic, I thought.**

I remember that, as my classmates and I gathered on the couches in the Law School lobby, we talked about the thing that still gives me goose bumps. Our professor for our Monday night class, which was basically an introduction to our program, was also the Dean of Students. She talked about how other administrators always pressed her to make declarations about the freshman class after observing them for a few days–what were the trends, how would the year go? She told us that she always refused because the last time she’d tried, well, then there’d been Kent State, and that had changed everything. You just never know, she said. That was shortly before 7pm, a little more than 12 hours before the first plane struck the towers.***

I remember that the University closed early on Friday, at 2pm, for a University-wide memorial service. It was to take place 100 yards from my office and apartment. But I didn’t go. A handful of coworkers and I took that free time and went to see a movie–Two Can Play That Game. It was a terrible movie, but it was just what we needed. Then we went to the Hula Hut and got drunk, staring out over Lake Travis, trying to pretend that nothing had changed.

It’s weird the things you remember, and how vividly, in times like that. Things that seem unrelated, that make no sense, that don’t even begin to convey the magnitude of an event that changed a nation. But it’s all true. I remember.

*******************

*And who could forget? Especially after Alan Jackson wrote that song that demands you freeze such a moment in time.

**Incidentally (or coincidentally?), my first day at the University of Texas was also the 30th anniversary of the UT Tower shooting.

***And it did change those freshman, and will change generations of freshman; I have seen the difference and I know that they are irreparably damaged, even if they do not.

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