It started like any other day. I woke up, showered and sat down to read and prepare for the day. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I was 20 and living in my first apartment with my buddy. Since I rarely watch TV in the morning, I had no idea 1,200 miles away, the world was about to change.
The phone rang. My girlfriend at the time just yelled “America is being bombed!” Honestly, it was too early for me to deal with this sort of thing, so my brain didn’t register that. It sounded like crazy talk. Like maybe I was still dreaming. It did not compute.
“Turn on the TV! It is on TV!” She said. So I clicked on the TV and saw a plane jutting out of the side of the World Trade Center. My first thought: Some asshole flew a plane right into a building. In New York. What a dumbass.
Then the second plane hit. A jolt of adrenaline hit my body. My brain began to spin, trying to make sense of what I was seeing. It dawned on me that we were under attack.
I woke my roommate up, yelling about how planes were flying into buildings in New York. It was too early for him, as well, for this sort of thing. He probably thought I finally lost my mind.
“Shut up,” he said. “That makes no sense.” Then he turned on his TV and saw the shit show going on.
After that, the day was kind of a giant, gray blur to me. We watched TV in numb silence, saw repeated footage of that second plane hitting the towers, again repeated footage when they fell, people in agony, everyone scared shitless, every channel was filled with horror. I recall seeing names like Saddam Hussein and some weirdo named bin Laden as suspects in all of this by talking heads filling airtime. It was insane.
Then everything started closing down. Stores, the mall, public places all seemed to just close because nobody knew where the next attack could happen. Hell, the Pentagon was hit and a plane crashed in Pennsylvania.
People remember a lot of unity that day. True, but it wasn’t all rosy and united we stand. I remember students from the Middle East going to St. Cloud State University had to hide because the rhetoric on campus turned ugly, and people were looking for someone to blame and hurt in retaliation. I remember gas stations having mile-long lines because everyone decided to buy gas. Panic shopping, everyone apparently thought this was when life became a “Mad Max” movie. The next time I would see anything like this was when everyone bought all the toilet paper in the early days of the pandemic in 2020.
And now it is 20 years later. Four presidents in that time. Two wars. A great recession. A global pandemic. A lot has happened. We vowed to never forget. Which is the easiest thing to do, so we got that part down no problem. What we should have vowed to do was learn.