Five years ago, I woke up to someone coming into my sleeping space. I peered outside and it was dim, still, the fog clinging to the ground and the roses tighly furled shut against the cold. The cars were silvery with a thick coat of dew, and a single deer grazed cautiously on the lawn. The cats were curled up on the foot of the bed, fast asleep after the exertions of the night.
“Ungh,” I said, through the covers. I was leaving for the East Coast in a few hours, and my friends had organized an impressive send off. “It’s way too early to go the airport, man.”
“America is under attack,” he said.
“Oh, sweet,” I replied, popping my head out from under the covers.
“No, seriously,” he said.
“I’d hope it’s fucking serious, waking me up this early. What do you mean ‘America is under attack?’ Did we get invaded or something?”
“No one really knows,” he said, the sound of NPR filtering in through the back ground. “Someone flew planes into the World Trade Center? The President is about to make an announcement.”
I stumbled out of bed into the living room, grabbing my lap top on the way so that I could pick up more news. NPR was somber, but not actually imparting any news, and the broadcast was interrupted for Mr Bush’s speech while I brought up a video on CNN of an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center, a plume of smoke trailing behind it.
“What the fuck,” I said. “Anarchists must be getting serious these days.”
As we watched, another plane crashed into the Pentagon, tearing a hole into one side of the impressive and memorable building.
“That fucking sucks,” I said. “There are hella civilians there dude.”
In times of stress, the California girl deep within comes into full flower.
He peered over my shoulder at the image, which we played and replayed while NPR listed updates. Minutes later, we watched the collapse of the South Tower live, while NPR told us all domestic flights were grounded.
“Well then,” I remember saying, in a moment that changed the course of my life, “I guess I’m not going out to the East Coast today, eh?”
While I pulled on a pair of pants and found a shirt, I tried to call a friend in New York.
“All circuits are busy now,” the phone said. “Please try again later.”
Suddenly, California seemed very small, remote, and far away.
I don’t remember much more of that day, only those early morning moments, that cusp of change, like I remember where I was when I heard that the Berlin Wall had fallen (the toll plaza of the Golden Gate Bridge) and like my father remembers his wherabouts during the Kennedy assassination. (Don’t worry, he was far from the grassy knoll.) What I remembered was a sudden strange sense of desolation, and I recalled my first glimpse of the Trade Center, tall and assertive in the New York skyline. I had a fondness for the towers, I really did. Seeing them when I was in New York was like glimpsing a familiar friend.
We cruised into town, seeking out other people, and it was apparent that others had done the same, and we clustered around in front of the Headlands exchanging limited information. I had a burrito at Los Gallitos for lunch. Los Gallitos has the best chips. I remember talking about anarchist theory with a friend in hushed tones, and I remember when it got cold and dark out we all came back to the house and ate pie. We understood then that something had irreparably changed, but we didn’t know what.
“I’m afraid of being deported,” my friend from Iran said. “Do you think they’ll deport me?”
“Oh, no,” we said. “Why would they deport you?”
A lot of things changed for us that day, as a nation and as individuals. But what I remember is wondering if enough had changed, if any lessons had been learned, and how long it would take us to forget. I regret the lives lost, not least because of the holes that they left behind. But I also regret the sense that those people died for nothing, that no knowledge was taken from the experience, and that we continue to make catastrophic foreign policy decisions which can only lead to inevitable results. I remember being filled with such hope for change, and seeing that hope quickly dashed.
What will come in the following years is something only time will reveal, but I can’t help feeling a sense of pointlessness sometimes. Why do they hate America? Why do we hate ourselves?
Never forget, indeed.