Lifestyle

September 11th, 2011 - A Decade of Remembrance

Chad W. Lutz
I remember getting off the bus that morning and the bus driver saying something that struck me as pretty odd.

“The radio said something hit the pentagon.”

In my head I was thinking, “ya right.” But that was my September 10th mentality getting in the way.

I exited the bus that morning with thoughts of kissing my girlfriend, the biology test I hadn’t studied for, and System of a Down’s “Chop Suey” playing over and over and over again in my head.

The mood that day was electric. Fresh off a calamity day, all the students were well-rested, energized, and back to their usual high school shenanigans. Hell, I spent the day before hanging out with my then girlfriend Celeste and my best friend David throwing burritos into the street for no better reason than to do it. As ridiculous as they were, my adolescent hijinks almost seem like a picture perfect snapshot of the September 10th innocence I almost fail to find anywhere in this post-9/11 world.

The morning went about as usual. I went to my first period yearbook class and then went on to English before study hall and then Biology. I talked to friends, took notes, participated in discussion, and looked at the clock every ten minutes to make sure it was still working. By the time I got to Biology I was in my typical routine. That’s when I heard the news.
It was 10 minutes to ten. I was 15 years old. 15. What felt so old then now feels even more innocent in retrospect. The girl I sat next to in Mrs. Schoonover’s class, Diane, a fellow classmate and member of the volleyball team, suddenly asked me a question out of nowhere.
“Have you heard about the plane crashes?”

“No,” I said, instantly intrigued now that two people had mentioned crashes.

“A plane flew into one of the World Trade Center buildings.”

Uhhhhhhhhh…

I assume that most people had this reaction at first. Numb tongue, weak will to speak. It was as if I wanted to believe but couldn’t given the “fact” that this is America and things like that don’t just happen over here.

Our teacher came into the room a few seconds later and rushed over to the TV. Everyone grew quiet as the ancient Magnavox flickered on. We were only 15.

“We repeat: a second plane has been piloted into the World Trade Center.”

You could almost physically feel the oxygen pulled from the room; a collective unconscious gasp. Just as quickly as everyone had gone quiet, 36 different conversations began almost instantly as to who, what, where, when, why, how.

Two of America’s most cherished landmarks and the world financial hub of the United States had been blown up and was now crumbling to the ground before my very eyes.

“And just yesterday I was chucking burrito parts as high into the air as I could just to watch them splat against the ground,” I thought to myself. I felt sick and twisted by my own naiveté.
The rest of the day was chaotic. All after school activities were cancelled. Kids were being pulled out of class left and right. Lunch looked like a scene from CNN or Fox. Some speculated. Some flung hate speech around like monkey dung. Some sat quietly too moved to speak. People argued over whether we should just start shooting nuclear weapons at anyone and everyone who gave us an evil eye. People made tasteless jokes and antiquated all our troubles down to improbable generalizations. I remember arguing with my friends about the fate of America that lunch period, something that seems so trivial and petty in the aftermath of everything that went on.

The last two periods of the day all I wanted to do was watch the TV. Everyone was glued to some station or another. I remember my 7th period Spanish teacher wouldn’t let us watch it. Back then I really didn’t realize what it meant to her, but now I understand.

The bus ride home was quiet. I gave my bus driver a loaded nod as I hiked up the step and down the aisle towards my seat. One girl was sobbing. I couldn’t take my eyes off the sky. I kept thinking that at any moment some deranged asshole would tank a plane into the high school or city hall or my house. But the skies were eerily barren. There were no planes that day. No chem trails zigzagging in random patterns. Only clear blue sky. If it wasn’t for the terrorist attacks, September 11, 2001 might have been a beautiful day, memorable even.

Dinner that night was another CNN roundtable of wild speculation. My older brother, Jason, who was off at school, joined us that night via speakerphone. It was the first time we had eaten dinner together as a family in almost three weeks. It may not sound like much, but when you eat dinner together every single night for 17 years even three weeks can feel like a lifetime. He told us most of his professors had either cancelled classes or allowed the students to watch the live news broadcast. It was shortly after dinner that the final building collapsed.

My little brother and I were smitten with basketball at that point in our loves. I had always loved baseball, and even aspired to be a professional baseball player at one point. I used to spend hours in the front yard throwing a tennis ball and letting it bounce off the top of the house to then sprint as fast as I could and catch it before it hit the ground. My little brother and I even had our own imaginary league. My team was called the Lutz Homers. However, even with all that love for baseball, basketball was then our cup of tea and we used to spend the final hours before bed after dinner playing basketball in the driveway. However, basketball just didn’t seem appealing that night and we instead sat at the end of our driveway and flashed peace signs to cars as they drove by.

Thinking back still pulls at something I haven’t yet made sense of. There’s almost an involuntary blockage concerning those memories, as if my mind doesn’t want me to fully feel the effects of that tragic day. Every year the same sensation, whether it’s silent reproach or some sort of inner agony, rears its ugly head. Each year it gets better, but I can still feel the twinge and spasm, like I think so many Americans probably still feel, of the emotions that roped me into a peaceful submission. We were no more America: the proud bald eagle. The only thing bald was our sense of security. We were more like the wounded deer or the shivering fawn just before dawn, a vulnerable flock of lamb in a field of lions.

In the years that have transpired since September 11, 2001, Americans have seen some of the most drastic changes and hardest times dating back to the 1960’s. An economy in shambles, or integrity in rubble, and our diplomacy laid to waste one can only wonder how we’ve even made it this far. I used to think that September 11 was the end. That after 20 terrorists hijacked 4 planes and slammed two into our nation’s financial headquarters and another into our defense department we’d seen it all. (Pack it up, the show’s over. It was a good run while it lasted). But the same spirit I saw in all those who drove past my house after dinner that night and honked their horns in approval of the gesture of peace displayed before them proved to me then what I believe is still very true now. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness will always remain something worth dying for. Americans: unalienable until the end.
Photo by Robin Wheeler