Today everyone is posting about where they were and how they found out. I’m not sure why, like one person’s story is more important than another person’s story, but whatever. I’ll bite.
I was in London, sitting in one of the Queen’s many parks. Class was out for the day and I had the whole afternoon free. The school pub was planning on having a “Latin Fever” party in the school pub that night and we were all psyched for cheap tequila.
In hindsight, I saw the signs before I knew. A crying girl ran by me in the hallway, which I attributed to homesickness. I saw a group of rich EBS (European Business School) kids crowded around a TV in the library, and I shook my head in disgust because EBS kids were always talking on their cell phones and yelling and acting like assholes in the library.
While the rest of the world was watching everything unfold on live TV, I was–I shit you not–sitting under a willow tree, writing in my journal and feeding ducks. To my left? A Japanese garden. To my right? A waterfall. I swear to God, every 10 minutes a swan would glide by as I wrote about how much I was loving my new life in London.
This is why I won’t be posting where I was on Facebook.
When I got back, Yolanda frantically ran up to me, asking if I knew how to find the American Cafe where they play CNN. “Why? What’s wrong?” I asked. She waved her hand in front of my face. “Where have you been?” She asked, before adding, “We got bombed.”
The two TVs I had access to were on the other side of the campus, and I was standing next to a very remote payphone in the stairwell to my dorm room. From the look on Yolanda’s face, I knew every phone would be tied up soon. Jen ran by me in tears, which told me it was worse than I thought. So I called my dad.
My dad had a very unique way of sharing news. Small things were urgent, upsetting. “We’re out of Diet Coke! Oh no! What do we do?” Big things were delivered matter-of-factly, with a shrug. “Well, Grandpa died.”
My dad stayed at home all day listening to TV and the radio, so he was command central. “Well, there was this plane … and then this other plane … and they don’t know where this other plane is … could you hold on? My bacon is done.”
I called my boyfriend Tim, who had a stutter, and he was so upset that he couldn’t get any words out and had to hand the phone to his roommate.
I called my mom, and to this day I tear up when I remember the tearful, tired way she said, “Stephie?”
And I called my Grandma, who is from the Greatest Generation and said nothing would stop her from getting on a plane to Florida later that month.
THEN I went to the TV room, which was completely packed. We had one 15 minute BBC news reel that played over and over. Jen and I huddled together on the couch and we must have looked terrified, because the Dean of the school sat between us, put his arms around us, and told us it would be okay.
2-week-old friendships that were just starting to form immediately leapt into lifelong bonds. Darren, Steve, Frank, Ray, Kevin and of course Jen became some of my best friends that day.
I went outside to chain smoke with Ian and Gina, and we watched the planes circle overhead on their way back to Heathrow, because no one was allowed to be in the air anymore. Douchebag Max walked by with a half-finished bottle of tequila, muttering, “Let’s get drunk,” something my friends and I still quote til this day.
And of course, the roof, something that both I appreciate and makes me roll my eyes 10 years later.
There are like 10,000 other little images and moments, and a million observations about being in Europe at the time that I could make, but I didn’t have access to television the first time around. I’m soaking in all this archived footage and released tapes and memorial coverage and finally starting to understand what all of you went through the first time around. Clearly, your story is more important than mine.
I read this one every year on 9/11, and I suggest you do the same.