Like all Americans, I have vivid memories of September 11, 2001. I was at work that morning when a co-worker asked if I had heard that a plane flew into the World Trade Center. This particular employee, whom I will not name, was quite the jokester, and his jokes were typically off-color, which is a polite way of saying racially charged. His “Did you hear…” set up sounded to me like a joke was coming my way, and one that I did not want to hear. I was prepared for Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Jesse Jackson and Al Gore to be on this imaginary plane. He convinced me that he was serious, and I shrugged it off. Accidents will happen, I thought.
Within 30 minutes of that news, however, everything had changed and it became clear that the United States was under attack. The Pentagon was burning, and rumors abounded about hijacked planes headed towards Dulles Airport. As the HR Director at my place of business, I called a minister to come and be on site for the day with us. People were scared. One of the office workers had a sister who worked on the 53rd floor of one of the Towers, and her fear and anxiety over the whereabouts of her sister spread to the rest of the office staff.
I called my family. I reminded them that Manassas, VA, where I worked, had not been attacked since the 1860s, and that I felt safe. Feeling “safe”, however, has become a relative term since that day. There is no absolute safe anymore.
I remember when Robert Kennedy was shot. I remember when my roommate in college told me about the death of John Lennon. I remember watching the Challenger disaster on TV. This was different and hit much closer to home. It wasn’t happening around me. It was happening to me.
Since that day 10 years ago, simple things remain changed in my life. Like many others, I have a heightened sensitivity to sudden loud noises. I notice the deafening silence when no planes are in the air. America the Beautiful and God Bless America hit me emotionally in ways that they did not before the songs became forever linked to 9-11. I check the news site on the Internet about 10 times every day, just to make sure nothing cataclysmic has happened in the world that I should know about. The habit started on that day, and it has survived ever since.
Like many others, I have had a morbid fascination with the news coverage of 9-11. During that first week after the attacks, I watched the Towers falls hundreds of times on TV. This week, I probably watched the same Towers fall dozens of times. I watched over and over as the dust cloud overtook Lower Manhattan. The naiveté of the newscasters who could not comprehend what was happening makes for great television. I am fortunate that I lost no one close to me on September 11th. Perhaps that is why I am still drawn to the events of that day. It is uncomfortable, but not painful.
Today, September 11, 2011, I went to the Party Factory Store with my daughter so she could buy birthday balloons for a friend. She shopped for the perfect balloons while I wandered the aisles. With only 7 weeks to go, the Halloween stuff was out in full force, and the Party Factory Store was at peak inventory levels. On this day, on this 10th anniversary day, I noticed something, and it changed me.
Beyond the obligatory Justin Bieber masks, it was all gore. There was a display for a Serial Killer costume. The masks were primarily designed with missing eyeballs, spikes through the head, or chunks of brain tissue hemorrhaging down the side of the skull. The heroes of Halloween are Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees, and the soulless undead. The checkout counter was prepared for any last minute impulse shopping by offering blood, real authentic fake blood, by the vial, quart, or gallon. Yes, gallon jugs of blood were available for sale, right between the Snickers bars and the jack-o-lantern flashlights. Happy Halloween.
I understand that a good fright gets the adrenaline going on Halloween. I understand that Halloween is all about the candy and the fun (the tricks and the treats). I understand that on some level all this embrace of skeletons and death might help us face and laugh at our fears, at least for a day every October. On this day, I didn’t laugh and I didn’t want to face death and dying. It was September 11th, and I did not want to spend the afternoon in a store that celebrated killing.
On 9-11-11, the whole industry of blood, death, dismemberment, and murder was too much for me. I will be haunted for the rest of the week by my memory of 9-11-11.
This year, if I get my way, it’s Justin Bieber on October 31st for my kids. That is scary enough.
God Bless the heroes of 9-11. This from my friend, Billy, a first responder: