The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, my wife, Beth, was getting a root canal at the dentist office in Asheboro. I was sitting in the waiting room reading a magazine — there were no smartphones back then — when someone came in and said the World Trade Center had been bombed.
The dentist had a VCR/mini-TV combo for kids to watch movies. Those televisions still had tuners in them to pick up broadcast TV. I procured a paper clip from the receptionist to use as an antenna and was able to tune into the live broadcast.
On that morning, before I knew about the other planes or the magnitude of the injuries, my first impression was that the event would define the presidency of George W. Bush.
I was 14 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. I’m firmly in a generation of kids who learned a lot more about the world on that warm late-summer day. World War II and the Cold War were things we read about in social studies and listened to stories about from grandparents.
The world felt much different after those attacks.
Barely a year earlier, the 2000 election played out across six weeks, and, at that time, nothing felt more important than questions like: Who is going to be the next president? What’s a chad?
George W. Bush won the 2000 election, of course, and was tested in a way that few other presidents have been.
I don’t know that I grew up more as a result of Sept. 11, but I became more aware. There are people in this world who want to do Americans harm, and we shouldn’t ever forget that.
Coming up on 20 years, I’m at times dismayed at the lack of importance that day holds for some. It is hard to swallow that there’s a generation who don’t remember a pre-9/11 world.
As I’ve graduated college, entered the workforce and started a family, I sometimes imagine what the people would have been thinking in that moment. Would I have the courage of the United 93 passengers, who fought to save their fellow citizens on a highjacked plane? Would I have had the bravery to help others in the burning World Trade Center towers?
20 years later, I still ask myself these questions and pray I’ll never find out.
That morning, I had stopped by to pick up bagels and coffee for my bosses. As a result, I was late getting into the office — late enough that I was unaware a plane had already hit one of the towers. Our receptionist mobbed me at the entrance and rushed me to the conference room where there was a television.
Except for a news-outlet broadcaster speaking, it was silent in that room. It was standing room only with all eyes transfixed on the image of a smoking North WTC tower. I had not even had time to process what was happening and had only been in the room for a few minutes when the second plane impacted the south tower. I remember hearing cries, gasps and yelling all around me. Even today, 20 years later, I can’t be sure I wasn’t one of the ones yelling. I do know I was one of the ones hyperventilating and that a colleague had pulled me from the room and walked me to the ladies’ bathroom to get a little air and compose myself.
Of all the horrific images that cascade through my memories of that day, what still rises up inside me is the anger — actually, it’s beyond anger; it’s raw outrage, the kind of outrage that chokes you into silence, makes your eyes and throat sting, and your adrenaline pump like a locomotive with a head of steam. That outrage juxtaposed with what I had just been doing that day, normal things like getting coffee and being late — again — for work. It makes the outrage thicker and somehow, sadder, even 20 years later. The 9/11 moniker is “Never Forget.” As if anyone could.
My most enduring memory following the Sept. 11 attacks was a feeling — numbness. It was an almost out-of-body dullness that lasted weeks and left me paralyzed wondering how something so horrifying could happen.
My wife and I were 24 and seven months away from marrying, and we have since raised two children in a post-9/11 world. Until last month, they lived their entire life in a nation that was at war because of the events of that day. It’s surreal to think they’ve never known the simple joy of seeing a family member emerge from the jet bridge to meet them at an airport gate because of it.
I think everyone went through similar emotions following Sept. 11: disbelief, anger, sorrow and, for me the most profound, numbness. Twenty years later, it’s impossible to erase that feeling. And we never should.
I’d already taken my kids to school, and my wife was out on the road at an appointment, so I decided to head back to bed and catch up on some sleep on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
I barely nodded off when my wife called to tell me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. That, however, isn’t my most vivid memory of that tragic event. Rather, it happened three nights later at a high school football stadium in Whiteville.
I was working for the Fayetteville Observer at the time and the game between Whiteville and East Bladen was one of the few that was still being played that Friday night, so they sent me there to cover it.
I don’t recall much about the game, but I do remember fondly that they handed out small American flags to everyone as they entered the gates and that during the national anthem, everyone in attendance — including the players — stood and waved the flags. It was a stirring sight and an emotional tribute that brought tears to a lot of eyes. Mine, too.