Boston on 9/11 — The Memories I Don’t Want
After that day, everything was different. I just didn’t know how much
On September 11, 2001, I woke early because I had to make the long commute from my home in Petersham to the new office just outside of Boston. Depending on the traffic and weather, it could take three hours to travel the 70+ miles one-way.
I always made sure I left early.
I knew if I arrived at the office quickly, I could always get coffee, sit at my desk, and read the email from my endless inbox. They had one of those cool new Keurig coffee makers with the little pods, and I could drink as many different flavors as I wanted, or at least until I got the shakes from too much caffeine.
Sometimes, there were bagels too.
Now, if the traffic was terrible, there would be no bagels left, so I was hoping the roads would treat me fairly.
I was halfway through my CD playlist when I thought I should switch on the radio for the news.
I’d bought this little 1991 Geo Metro for the commute. It was great on gas and fit in tiny places. I could zoom in and out of traffic at will and sometimes get a few car-lengths ahead at times.
When I bought the car, I also bought a decent sound system, because I liked to listen to loud music to keep myself awake. That morning, I had been through the first few selections on the list — Type O Negative, Static X, and Staind — before something told me to listen to the news.
When I pulled the CD out to put back in the case, Howard Stern was on, and while I rarely listened to him anymore, I lingered for a few minutes.
Something strange was going on in New York. Howard and Robin were talking about smoke coming from one of the Twin Towers. People called in about a plane crashing into the building, and I listened, trying to figure out what was going on while Howard made jokes.
I hit the scan button on my radio to look for some news about what was going on, worrying that people may have lost their lives that morning.
When I did find the news, I almost wished I hadn’t.
They reported live that a second plane had hit the other tower, and they were tracking other aircraft on the East Coast. Worse yet, they were saying that the airplanes may have been commuter jets, having just taken off from Boston-Logan a short time ago.
The news started coming quickly — Flight 11 and Flight 175 from Logan Airport had just struck the towers, and they were tracking other planes in the air that may be heading for other cities — most likely Washington, DC.
It felt like ice had frozen my heart solid. At that moment, stopped in traffic, I stretched to look at the sky outside. I didn’t know if I thought I would see another airplane, bearing down on the highway where I stopped, but the possibility occurred to me.
I looked around at the other commuters, stuck in their cars and waiting for news like me. Everyone looked pale and drawn. A guy in a black BMW had his windows rolled down, and he looked over at me and shook his head, our eyes meeting in a gesture of mutual understanding.
As the traffic moved along and I got closer to the office, the news becomes grimmer and grimmer. The President was in the air, on his way to a safe location. Another plane crashes into the Pentagon, and they worry another is on its way to the White House. The Towers are on fire, and people are jumping from the upper floors to their deaths.
I had a cellphone, but it hadn’t become a part of me like it is now, and I didn’t even think to call home or to the office to get more news. My only thought was getting to the office so I could watch what was happening on TV.
I screeched into a spot in front of the building, and ran inside, leaving my laptop and phone in the car. I noticed a group of people gathered around a TV in one of the conference rooms and headed that way. No one acknowledged my approach; everyone was riveted by what was happening on the screen.
Just as my mind registered what was going on and realized they were showing live video of the towers, the South Tower collapsed.
My mind went blank, and for a moment, I didn’t know whether I would pass out or throw up. A few people were sobbing, and everyone’s mouth had frozen into the same word, which they were saying over and over.
no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
I don’t remember a lot of what happened in the next few hours. I called home to make sure my family was okay. The North Tower collapsed. Another plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. U.S. airspace shut down.
Terrorists. They are calling it terrorism as if most of us hadn’t figured that out.
We were at WAR.
For many of us, fear and shock turned to anger as we watched the news and our Keurig coffees went cold. Not many of us were drinking from our mugs anymore because, for some reason, the coffee tasted like ashes.
Our world was coming down, much like the towers.
I spent a little while talking to my workmates, but I was just killing time. Frankly, I was afraid to go outside and see another plane falling from the sky. But, nothing was in the sky except for the occasional fighter jet. it was eerie and quiet, and for the first time, I didn’t like the sound of silence.
For those of us who have a mental illness, 9/11 was horrifying. My anxiety was making me sweat, my stomach hurt, and my breath was coming in gasps. I couldn’t control the possibilities that were swirling around in my head, and at one point, I excused myself to go to the bathroom to regain my composure.
I cried in the stall for 5 minutes before I was able to calm down. I took a few of my Clonazepam to ease the anxiety on my way past the drinking fountain and went to my desk to gather my stuff for the drive home.
The boss had called off work under the circumstances, and I was anxious to get home to comfort my wife and kids. If I was upset, I could just imagine what the kids felt like. My wife told me they had watched the whole thing unfold because she didn’t feel like she should keep this from them.
On the way home, I listened to the facts, theories, and news on low volume while my mind was over-thinking everything.
Nothing would ever be the same again. The world as I knew it had changed, and as I left Boston and sped home to Petersham, I knew I had too.
I just didn’t know how much.