Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where Were You?

Where. were. you?

Three words. A simple question, and yet somehow we all know what it means. We all know it points to something important. Where were you?

My step-mom and aunt recall that their parents forgot to feed them dinner the night Kennedy was assassinated.  My mother recalled to me watching the news of MLK on television.  And I remember sitting on the red-floral couch with my mother at my grandparents house on the Cape, watching Princess Di's funeral on the old grainy tv with my mom.  It was our last trip, the last time we were down Cape before Mom died herself.   Where were you?

It is the question we ask ourselves whenever we refer to something terrible.  As soon as the tales of a terrible incident are begun, so do the memories of where we ourselves were in that moment.  And no other tragedy stands out more for people my age, than 9/11.  Where were you?  Where were you on 9/11?  Where were you when 9/11 happened?  It becomes a moment and not a whole day.  

I was in history class.  My little mini-World History class with a half-dozen people that met in the room right next to the front stairwell.   Mr. Conro came over the intercom.  Announced we had been attacked and that our nation was at war.  He declared war before the President did.   We were told we couldn't watch any news until last period.  Saint Michael the Archangel defend us in battle. Instantly and silently my head filled with petitions to St. Michael.  Just that summer I'd learned that if you're in a bad situation pray the prayer of St. Michael. A really bad situation pray it again.   The situation would get better we were told at camp, he promised us.  It would always get better. I went for the full novena.  The prayer repeated in my head nine times.  Things got worse. 

The school was filled with scared people.  They told us  the attacks had happened but wouldn't let us watch the news.  The told us the attacks were in NY but wouldn't let us use phones to contact loved ones there.  They told us the plane left from Logan but wouldn't let the person whose best friend was scheduled for a flight from Boston to the West Coast check on her friend.  They gave us enough information to scare us, but not the time to find the information that would comfort us.   Where were you?

Walking up toward Circle Drive and the Connolly's house, I still had no real idea exactly what was happening.  And there was Mrs. C, sitting on her bed.  Paralyzed in terror. Drawn to the television set like a magnet.  Repulsed but nonetheless unable to turn away.  It was the first real news.  She didn't leave it on for too long after we got home.  Pretty sure it turned off around the time my sister got there, after all she was only ten.  Ten.  That's a young age to see your world change, and yet it is how old she was when the Towers fell.  And the age I was when my mom died.  At ten you're in a world of half-innocence.  A world where you half understand and are half confused.  A world where details stick to you, as you work hard to comprehend them. 

It was a Tuesday.  An UNlisted day.  And that's where my day ended.  A table of high school students at Republican offices.  Not off in some separate conference room.  We were out in the middle of the offices, and people were around us working on copying machines.  The newspaper was preparing for an evening edition.  It was the first time I'd seen that.  I thought evening editions were something of the past.   They seemed foreign without the words "Evening Post" and a Norman Rockwell painting to grace the cover.  But that's where I was.   Where were you?

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