Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

Disconnect: My 9/11 Story

The relationship between our perception of the passage of time and our age is something that I’ve never been quite able to grasp. I mean, while I know that one second in 1991 and one second in 2011 are supposed to be the exact same amount of time, my mind somehow convinces me that they’re unequal, and I’m not sure why it does this.

For instance, I’m 32 years old. On Sept. 12, 2001, I was 22. 10 years before that — Sept. 12, 1991 — I was 12. When I was 22, it seemed like there was an eon of distance between my age then and me being 12. It may have only been 10 years, but being 12 or 13 or even 16  seemed so foreign and distant to me that it felt like my teens happened an entire lifetime ago.

Now, though, the distance between 22 and 32 seems much, much, much smaller. I remember everything about being 22. I remember what my apartment smelled like (Guardsman, Curve, bbq sauce, sneakers, and condoms). I remember the color of my roommate’s girlfriend’s hair, and I remember trying to find a subtle way to ask him if that was her natural color. I remember exactly how I felt when first learning I’d been betrayed by two of my closest friends. I remember riding to some party with my boy and seeing the face he made as he listened to Eminem’s verse on “Renegade” for the first time. (Any diehard hip-hop fan knows this face. It’s the exaggerated squint/”I just smelled the worst smell on Earth” combo face you make when first hearing an outstanding verse. It’s almost like you can’t believe what you’re hearing.)

I’m bringing this up because of the psychological disconnect currently going on in my head regarding the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. It doesn’t seem like it’s been 10 years already because I (think I) remember everything about that day.

I remember my roommate waking me up to tell me that a plane flew into the World Trade Center, and I remember my half-lucid response. (“N*gga, stop playin. I’m still not letting you hold my watch.“)

I remember the shared collective consciousness of everyone on campus. (People use always use “surreal” to describe this feeling, but to me the best way to explain it was that it seemed like we were all extras in the same movie.)

I remember not wanting to talk or even think about anything other than what the hell was happening.

I remember not being able to reach my parents until early in the afternoon, and manufacturing anxiety even though I knew they were probably just home, watching the news like I was.

I remember that the two or three people I knew who were actually able to get service on their cell phones became rock stars that day.

I remember wondering exactly how “big” this was going to get. How many planes were hijacked? 4? 10? 24?  How long would this continue to go on?

I remember watching CNN and trying to put myself in the shoes of a person near Ground Zero¹ to try to imagine the fear they must have been feeling. I also remember failing at this, becoming annoyed with myself for not being able to produce that level of empathy, and then wondering whether the people around me who seemed completely distraught were genuine or if they were hysterical because they felt that the moment called for hysterics.

But, despite the fact that 9/11 almost seems like it happened 10 months ago instead of 10 years ago, it doesn’t feel that way. The memories are still vivid, so you’d think that when watching a 9/11 related news story or tribute or memorial with footage from that day interspersed, the same feelings I felt that day would come back. But, although I remember how I felt, I can’t reproduce those feelings. I watch the 9/11 footage now, gripped and transfixed by the imagery and the sounds the fact that I remember seeing much of this before, but surprisingly unmoved.

It’s almost as if my heart is outsmarting my brain, convincing me that it’s useless to actually feel the feelings associated with those memories; emotionally downgrading 9/11 from “an event that left everyone shook in some way” to “an especially intense thing that happened on TV a decade or so ago” — really no different than the first 20 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan.”²

I think I understand why my mind does this. While remembering important events helps us make judgements, decisions, and predictions, continuing to go through the emotional rollercoasters associated with those events would probably make us insane. Still, while watching a few of these tributes last weekend and seeing the tears roll down the eyes of people in attendance, I wonder if I’ve gone too far, if becoming as emotionally detached as I seem to be is dangerous. Hmm. Maybe I’ll figure it out by 2021. Seems like a while to wait for an answer, but if the last ten years are any indication, it should be right around the corner.

That’s enough from me today. People of VSB.com, what are your 9/11 stories? How did it make you feel, and how much of a disconnect is there between how it made you feel then and how it makes you feel today?

¹It’s also interesting how my mind continues to think of 9/11 as just a NYC event, even though I’m very aware of what happened at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, PA — a city maybe 60 minutes away from where I’m sitting right now.
²I didn’t say this in the entry, but I do also realize that if I personally lost a loved one that day  (or even was in NYC or the Pentagon or Somerset County) my feelings about this would probably be much, much different. And, for those who did actually lose someone, I don’t mean to be flippant or minimize any pain you might be feeling.

—The Champ

Filed Under: , ,
Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a contributing editor for EBONY.com. He resides in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes.

  • http://TalentedGeneration.blogspot.com LegallySouthern1

    THANK YOU for confirming the fact that I have not lost my mind!! I feel terrible for struggling to feel empathy because I feel like its something I SHOULD feel. Its been 10 years but it doesn’t feel like it. I still remember where I was and how I called my sister a liar after she told me a plane hit the 1st WTC tower. I remember being afraid & feeling like America’s cloak of invincibility was no more. In spite of this (don’t tase me bro), I struggle to convince my brain that it is a necessity to stop every year on 9/11 and remember. I don’t think I will ever forget, but I wonder if I can ever truly reproduce the feeling.

    • Andi

      “I remember being afraid & feeling like America’s cloak of invincibility was no more. ”


      • nillalatte

        “I remember being afraid & feeling like America’s cloak of invincibility was no more.”

        I agree, but that was stripped in 1993 with the first bombing.

        I worked for a company headquartered in NYC blocks away from WTC at the time. My colleague told me if the building had fallen that day they would have been killed. I left that company in 1994 so I don’t know if anyone I know was a victim in 2001.

        • http://iamyourpeople.com I Am Your People

          “I remember being afraid & feeling like America’s cloak of invincibility was no more.”

          I remember every year in school that we were taught America was immune to attacks since we were surrounded by 2 oceans, Mexico and Canada. We would see anyone coming over the ocean and Canada and Mexico weren’t going to invade us.

          • nillalatte

            Unfortunately, some suspected terrorist cells were plotting to come to the US through Mexico because of lax border controls. There are paths from Canada to the US where there are no border guards. How do you think they smuggle in drugs? If drugs can get in, stop and think about what terrorists can get in. :| Or not.

            BTW, we’re only 50 miles (Alaska) from Russia, and they have moments where they are not really American friendly. There are a lot of long range missiles that can reach America and submarines always in international waters just 14 miles off shore. Nuff said.

            We’re not safe, but we keep on living. :)

        • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

          “I agree, but that was stripped in 1993 with the first bombing.

          it’s almost like this bombing didn’t even happen. for whatever reason, it just doesn’t seem to register with our consciousness.

          • nillalatte

            Perhaps most of you were too young to understand the implications of this act. The 1996 TWA 800 down was another that has never really had an explanation that I am aware. Only to say that there was probable malfunction of some sort. Yet, you have eye witnesses from all over Manhattan reporting a missile before the plane exploded mid-air.

            It’s funny, but before I married a Muslim Arab, I didn’t know what I know now about the extremists that live among us. My world was pretty well… well Southern. I stayed the fck out of politics. Now I know what I know and it’s hard to have these conversations with folks that don’t follow these developments over the years, and you do have to study these issues for years to understand the multitude of conflict. Sometimes I wish I still lived in that state of ignorance.

        • http://www.ifiruled2011.wordpress.com Mahogany Princess

          “I agree, but that was stripped in 1993 with the first bombing.”

          I don’t think the 1993 had the same effect. I know it stunned and shocked just the same but there was a completely different vibe from what I can remember. I was only 13 then. The veil dropped for me w the WTC attack because I was an adult and could actually process what happened as opposed to just watching and not really understanding the severity of what happened in 93. I guess it was more of an age thing but 93 was isolated while the WTC was an attempt on multiple targets.

    • http://yourchildsmother.blogspot.com/ KMN

      “I remember being afraid & feeling like America’s cloak of invincibility was no more. ”

      I was just thinking about that on the way to work today…it’s like we ARE touchable…and we need to start remembering that next time we go invading countries that we have nothing to do with…


    • http://www.ifiruled2011.wordpress.com Mahogany Princess

      ” I remember being afraid & feeling like America’s cloak of invincibility was no more.”
      I think alot of people ended up feeling that exact same way. I know I did.

  • http://fatgrlatheart.com fatgrlatheart

    was a senior in high school … we didnt have cell phones. we just walked to the nearest friend’s house and stared at the tv for hours. now i work in a federal building walking distance from WTC and every time they have “alerts” and stuff a small part of me wonders … when the earthquake happened my entire building of federal employees panicked and ran outside.

    i live my life just as before … but im not one of those people thats always like “oh the news is so stupid, theres no terror threat, bla bla”… we aint think it could happen then … like seriously … with box cutters, but it did. so i dont live in fear … but i always have flats at work.

    • http://fatgrlatheart.com fatgrlatheart

      and i dont feel “sad” because i didnt lose a personal friend or family member that day. its a general respect but not the type of sadness that could bring me to tears.

      death of a close relative / friend can bring me to tears on a random day when reminiscing, but everyone i know was safe on 9/11 luckily so its not the same for me as for those that lost someone

      • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

        “death of a close relative / friend can bring me to tears on a random day when reminiscing, but everyone i know was safe on 9/11 luckily so its not the same for me as for those that lost someone”

        yeah, same here. i think the lack of a real personal connection enables you to “get over” something like this much quicker

  • http://theothersideofphlyy.blogspot.com PhlyyGirl

    My biggest issue with 9/11 right now is not that I cant believe it happened 10 years ago, but that I just don’t feel the same….sorrow/empathy for the victims. Maybe it’s because I was so young when it happened (15). Maybe it’s because I was so removed from the actual tragedy (I was in high school in Ohio and all my friends/fam were in Harlem, not Manhattan).
    I know that I cared deeply for the first few months after the tragedy. And I know that I still get slightly misty at things like the state farm commercial that aired today, but I just can’t really make myself care as much as I think I should.

    • Kidsister

      I can totally understand where you’re coming from. When the planes hit TWTC, I saw it on the news but paid it no mind because it was in NYC. I just went on about my daily routine, I too was 15. HOWEVER! When that plane hit the Pentagon, it hit home, and SH!T GOT REAL. My whole fam works in and around the DC area.

    • Asiyah

      “all my friends/fam were in Harlem, not Manhattan”

      Harlem is in Manhattan.

  • http://iamyourpeople.com I Am Your People

    10 years later, hate against Muslims is alive and well, and the haters have unlocked Facebook pages http://youropenbook.org/?q=9%2F11+muslim+obama&gender=any

    • http://brotherjamestastemaker.tumblr.com ChaoticDiva

      I f*cking hate people. I wish Obama would exercise his right to enforce the law and prosecute all idiots speaking out against him for both Slander and Treason, two really big felonies.

  • http://twitter.com/frawgystyle Cheryl

    It was the first time in my life I felt helpless. The first time I realized the amount of control I have over my life was not as much as I thought.

    My dad was at the Pentagon that day. I didn’t learn he was ok until 12 hours later.

    I never want to feel the way I felt that day again.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

      i have a question for you: does it upset you at all that 9/11 is basically thought of as an NYC event?

      • m.e.m.p.h.i.s.

        It may be thought of like that elsewhere, but here in D.C. it is well recognized that it affected people here, NYC and Pennsylvania and even further. A member of my church died at the Pentagon and the service yesterday was dedicated to her; there were memorials all over; although the national news focused on the ground zero memorials, local news focused on the pentagon. All that to say, it doesn’t make me fell any kind of way that others may think of it as a NYC tragedy…..we here in DMV know that it affected everyone.

      • Shauna

        I don’t think it is an NYC event, but maybe an east coast event. The two planes that flew into the WTC took off from Boston so Massachusetts was heavily affected as well. A man from my hometown was on one of those planes and I was part of a choir at the time that sang at his funeral. I’ve often wondered though if people on the west coast were as affected as we were…

  • http://panamaenrique.wordpress.com Malik

    All I remember I was supposed to go to school, but the bus never came so I tried to break into my friend’s house and everyone in my neighborhood was huddled around the TV. I watched for like 15 minutes and then went back home to my mom who was calling various members of our family because they lived in NYC. Everyone was safe. That’s all I remember.

  • http://www.testorshia.blogspot.com Tes

    Ten years ago on September 11, I turned 11 years old. It was either before or after I’d had back surgery. I didn’t learn of the events fully until weeks later and I felt oddly guilty.

    I felt as though I was wrong for celebrating my own life on a day when so many people lost theirs. It’s bad enough whenever I say my birthday to people they wince or gasp or do something else usually reserved for disgust and sympathy, but for so long I felt that it was wrong of me to be happy for my own life.

    Now I rather have the mindset of reclaiming the day as mine. I don’t turn on the tv (as the news now-a-days is essentially disaster pron so any given day instead of good news all you get is death and despair but no other day is it so universal), I don’t read news stories, and I don’t write. I do what makes me feel good, I spend time with people I love, and I realize that guilt for something that I did not cause nor had anything to do with is a crappy reason not to enjoy the day of my birth.

    • Andi

      Happy Belated Birthday Sweetie :)

    • Kidsister

      Happy Birthday!!

    • Hawaii

      A belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY, to you, Tes!

      I’m so glad you own your day. I’ve always wondered what ppl born on 9/11 think/thought, do/did. Good for you, girl!

    • naturalista88

      Happy birthday fellow VSYoungin’.

    • Leila

      “I felt as though I was wrong for celebrating my own life on a day when so many people lost theirs.”

      Happy Birthday!!! I can kinda relate to the feeling. It’s not my birthday, but it’s Ethiopian New Year and have felt guilty for celebrating or even saying anything.

    • nillalatte

      Happy Birthday Tes! I hope your day was awesome! :)

    • xLadyTx

      Happy birthday, girlie! :)

      • http://iamyourpeople.com I Am Your People

        Happy 21st! *passes Tes her “first” drink*

    • http://www.comeupchicago.com Shogun

      We have the same B-day Tes….I remember coming back from an early morning chemistry class my freshman year and getting mentally ready to party that night. As I walked through my dorm I noticed everyone was watching the same news story (everyone kept their doors open so you could see what they were watching) but not really paying attention until I got to my room and turned on the TV and was stunned by what I was seeing. Needless to say there was no partying that night.

      I have however tried to turn it to a positive by having the annual anti-terrorism birthday bash with the tag-line “This beer is for freedom”. It also makes for a great trivia question which usually goes something like this
      Me:”Guess when my birthday is.”
      Her: “I dunno, give me a hint.”
      Me: “It was a bad day.”
      Her:”I dunno…umm 9/11?”
      Me: “Yep” ”
      Her: “OMG, i’m so sorry about that”

      • Kidsister

        Happy Birthday :)

    • Todd

      I understand the feeling. My daughter’s birthday is 9/11/2009. Being that I live in NYC, that birthday elicits a gasp from people.

    • Caballeroso

      Happy Birthday Tes!

      • A Woman’s Eyes

        ~*~Happy Birthday Tess!~*~

        That’s right–celebrate your life!

    • Kema

      Happy Birthday!!!

    • Ms. My2Cents

      Happy belated Birthday!

    • http://www.pinchmycheekie.wordpress.com Cheekie

      Happy Belated Birfday, Tes! *flings confetti* I can’t even imagine the feeling of your birthday being a national day of sorrow. But, don’t feel bad about celebrating your life because there are still a lot of families who chose to celebrate the lives of their LOST loved ones. If anything, this is a day to value and appreciate life even more so…

    • Sandpaper

      Happy Birthday!

    • http://www.testorshia.blogspot.com Tes

      Thanks for all the love and support you guys! ^_^ It rocks my socks

  • Andi

    I was a freshman in high school and they made the announcement over the PA system in geometry. The rest of the day is kind of fuzzy. All the classes were really somber. Some teachers tried to push us through class to keep us distracted and some just let us go early. My aunt and uncle came and got my siblings and me. My mom was traveling that day so we were trying to find her.

    Her plane had an emergency landing. When she got on the ground my Dad called and told her to get to the nearest car rental, don’t stop, don’t look at the tv. She was able to get one of the last cars and drove home.

    I feel the same way Champ. I’m very glad we are remembering but I just don’t feel the same way I felt 10 yrs ago. I didn’t really participate any of today’s events (unless watching football counts). The only thought I could muster was, “It happened.”

    • simplysope

      “I was a freshman in high school and they made the announcement over the PA system in geometry.”

      I was sitting in my freshman geometry class when my friend rushed in saying, ‘A plane hit the World Trade Center Tower in NYC” of course I’m like, “Shut up Darryl, lies won’t prevent this quiz we’re about to have”..

      We watched the news coverage all day. Parents took their kids out of school, and it was just sad. I didn’t really feel anything then, but now that I’m older, I don’t/cannot watch the footage. All i think about are the people who were sitting in their offices, working and a freaking plane flies in. Or the families who lost people they love. It weighs really heavy on my heart, and it really makes it hard to deal. I don’t get hysterical or cry or anything, just super depressed.

      I’m with Andi & The Champ, I can remember the day, but I can’t spend time revisiting death. I would rather celebrate life, and pray for those who are currently because of the event.

  • http://iamyourpeople.com I Am Your People

    A friend of mine was in NYC looking for gigs (as a jazz musician) when he meant to take the bus into Manhattan. He took the correct route AWAY from Manhattan and missed the attacks. Crazier still – as a gigging musician, he accidentally took the ‘away’ subway in Madrid when their subway was bombed

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

      sounds like he’s a character from final destination or something

    • whyaskquestions

      ive heard a few stories like that. by some twist of fate people weren’t where they were supposed to be and it saved their lives. i heard one about someone missing that plane and another one about a woman who worked at WTC and never stayed home but was really sick and didnt go. im sure there are a hundred stories like that but its just creepy to think about how our lives work and how one little change in plans, one little mistake, one misstep or miscalculation can be the deciding factor of your entire future. i know im getting wild here but i think of that often and it gives me the heebie jeebies.

  • http://www.twitter.com/damesmith Dame

    I watched MSNBC’s replay of NBC’s 9/11 morning coverage on an HD screen with the actual footage coming from a standard definition tape. For me, it distinguished just how far removed from that day we are and aren’t at the same time. It was like watching a black-and-white film, but one you knew every word to because you’d seen it 100 times over and replayed it in your head as many times.

    Personally, I can still see planes flying around Dallas as I drove to work from Fort Woth to Dallas that morning. After the plane hit the The Pentagon, I wasn’t sure it was going to stop. And to see planes flying near downtown Dallas trying to get to Love Field scared me to no end. I was ducking in my car while driving. That feeling never leaves. It’s too vivid, even moreso than HD.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

      “I watched MSNBC’s replay of NBC’s 9/11 morning coverage on an HD screen with the actual footage coming from a standard definition tape.”

      a friend of mine is actually writing something for a magazine about how the media has changed since then. like, although 9/11 happened ten years ago, it might as well been 100 years in terms of technology.