People are posting what they remember of the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001. Here is what I can remember at this point. (Note that research shows that we only think our memories of days like that one are better than our memories for other days, so I may get some of this wrong.)
I had watched “Wag the Dog” the night before, and flipped out at the forced drugging scene in a really nasty way for the person sitting next to me. My cat had spilled water on my only communication device at the time, which was now refusing to operate. I was going to do the unthinkable and go all the way from Watsonville to Cupertino California on a bus alone.
Bus trips are a big deal for me. I can almost never do them without them ending in one kind of disaster or another: Either I end up riding the bus to the station, or not getting off the bus when I should and being unable to get home, or freezing or melting down and getting the cops called, or getting confused, or any number of other things. There’s a reason I have a paratransit pass. But this day I was going to take the bus.
We wrote out a long list of detailed, step by step instructions on how to do all this, including showing things to the bus drivers in case I got confused or lost. I followed the instructions to the letter and hoped that my body would not blow everything by overloading: I had no English-using communication system at the time and very little way of showing I needed one.
We were going over the small mountain range that people in the area call “the hill,” on Highway 17, when a woman stood up and started shouting. I caught a few words. Something about planes. And a “second plane” at the “towers”. And something about targeting the Pentagon. I did not know what to think, and had no way of asking anyone anything.
On the next bus, I heard a large number of Muslims talking about what “this” would mean for the Muslim community as a whole, and what would be done to them, what scapegoating would happen, and so forth. I was not sure whether they were talking about the same thing as the first bus or not.
I was distracted on that bus by a driver who barely let me get onto the bus, and then kept trying to talk to me even though I couldn’t talk back. He did not secure my wheelchair properly, and I had to use every bit of muscle I had to keep from being flung violently forward whenever the bus jiggled. I was glad to finally get off that bus.
I found the building that sold Alphasmart keyboards. Someone commented something about the day, but I could not remember what.
I decided I had to figure out what was going on. I went by De Anza College, which was next door and had newspaper stands. I saw a disabled woman I remembered from the computer lab there. She looked at me but didn’t say anything. I went to get the newspaper, and there was nothing in it. I was now very confused.
I saw FBI agents everywhere, clearly marked as FBI agents. One of them talked about “closing down San Jose” and something about airports. They said San Jose might be a target and they needed to be prepared for this.
With my new communication device, I asked a man about what was going on but he wouldn’t tell me. He did help me get on a bus headed home.
I argued with the driver about whether I really needed my wheelchair secured or not. He told me he would not fling me forward, and I said that conflicted with my earlier problems on that bus. He agreed to tie my chair down.
As we were pulling out, I saw a man standing on a street corner selling newspapers saying “AMERICA UNDER ATTACK” in large, bold letters. I wished I had bought one.
I decided that the biggest possibility with all these clues was nuclear war. I panicked briefly, then reasoned that there was nothing I could do, panicking wouldn’t solve anything, and that if I was at ground zero in downtown San Jose I probably wouldn’t feel anything if we did get attacked. I quit panicking and decided to just do whatever.
I stopped downtown and had a lot of time to kill before I could get the next bus. The Tech Museum was closed for renovations, but there was a free art museum and I went in there. A woman at the door told me that she was amazed I showed the initiative to push my wheelchair with my legs, and that most people who came in there in wheelchairs didn’t use their legs. I tried to explain to her that many people who use wheelchairs are paralyzed, and I’m not, and I don’t have good upper body strength, so using my legs is not amazing. She continued to reiterate how much initiative I’d shown and how amazing I was. I quit bothering to try.
I walked around the museum, looking at various paintings. There was a guy in a wheelchair there who was definitely paralyzed and had gotten there before me. Every time I went into a room he got out of it as fast as he could. I wondered what that woman had said to him.
I got on a new bus. I asked the man seated next to me what had happened today. I should have known that to be useless by then.
He spent a long time trying to explain to me what words like “plane” and “twin towers” meant, and trying to explain in monosyllabic, short sentences what had happened. He didn’t make any sense at all so I figured I’d turn on the television when I got home.
When I got home, I smiled widely and uncontrollably and ran to the television. My friend tried to stop me and said, “You know what’s on that, right?”
I don’t remember the rest of the day.
I do remember noticing that everyone was talking about this as if it was a major revelation that someone was going to attack America. People told me they had lost their sense of safety. I ended up alienated from pretty much everyone in the aftermath of all this, because I had never felt that America was safe, from within or from without.
I viewed the world as a violent, dangerous, unpredictable place that could attack or kill you at any time, whereas other people seemed to have an illusion of total safety. I could function (in the ways that I can normally function) knowing about the real danger everywhere — even, for me, the danger of walking outside alone — but other people seemed to be breaking down over losing a luxury I hadn’t had for a long time. I knew that this was a horrible thing that had been done, but while I felt awful about that part, I totally lacked the element of surprise that so many other people were talking about.
Having not had any illusions shattered, not even emotionally, I was at a loss as to how to deal with the way people were talking about it in the aftermath. Still, at times, am. Nothing major in my view of the world changed that day, and that shocking change seems to be how most people think of the day. It disgusted and horrified and angered me, as it always does when people kill each other, but it did not shock me, because I knew this was a world in which people killed each other for all kinds of bad reasons. My memory of 9/11 is more a memory of encountering so many access barriers that I could not find out what was happening, than a memory of my worldview being drastically altered.