Saturday, September 11, 2004

Yet Another Blogger Posts About 9/11

I used to theorize that the defining moment of my generation (those born in the 70's, anyway) was the first time they heard Nirvana. At least five of my friends know exactly where they were the first time they heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit." For the record, I was watching Mtv in my parents' study in Casper, Wyoming.

September 11th, of course, changed that. Anyone born before 1995 can probably tell you where they were that day.

I'd taken a week's vacation from Amazon.com in Lexington and was in Seattle, visiting C and H, who lived in an awesome building at the corner of Broadway and Harrison. If you've never been to Seattle, Broadway is one of its preeminent hangouts. People have sidewalk poetry readings right outside some of the best restaurants in town. Fleece-clad yuppies sip coffee next to gay couples in bondage outfits next to smacked out homeless teenagers who ask for change, politely. Every night on Broadway would pass for Halloween everywhere else.

That morning I was awake early because I was used to getting up at 5am EST. So I was lying there on C and H's futon in their living room, flipping through channels. For some reason CNN was showing two smokestacks, one of which looked broken. It took a minute to register, and then, not 5 minutes after I'd turned on the TV, the second plane flew into the tower.

Each time I see that footage I feel the same thing I did that morning in Seattle. It seems like an incredibly long time between the plane entering the tower and the fireball blowing out the other side. There's a strange pause there, in which the tower seems to have absorbed the plane completely with no terrible consequences. It lasts less than a second.

Of course, it's basic science, a matter of scale. The towers were huge and those milliseconds were filled with the physics of destruction. By the time we saw the fireball, the building was already doomed and the clock was running. C and H and I watched the towers fall, and we watched the news reports about the other flights, and we listened to analysts hypothesize that it was Osama bin Laden. We saw replays of the explosions and implosions from different angles. We watched TV all morning long and into the afternoon. We called our parents. At some point we decided to take a walk.

By that time it was starting to grow dark. Groups of people sat with candles and flags. A teenager decked out in goth caressed a flag next to her cheek, crying. In front of the Broadway Bar and Grill, a filthy guy in his twenties stuck out his hand and said, "Spare some change to help kill the terrorists?"

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I can vaguely imagine what the passengers experienced, the death ride on crazy ships I've only taken in nightmares. In my mind's eye I can imagine rushing down so many stairs, and footage helps with the apocalyptic aftermath of the collapses on the ground.

But I have a hard time with that moment between impact and explosion, between plan and result. My words here have failed it. I think all of them will.

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