My post about 9/11, since others are blogging about this.


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.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

12 responses »

  1. I won’t be blogging about 9/11, mostly because I don’t remember a lot about it. I was knee-deep in stress-induced depression at the time, having just moved to Vancouver for the doomed music therapy course. I didn’t have anywhere to live (was staying with strangers and all my things were in storage), I didn’t have any friends, and life was just very confusing and overwhelming. I mainly remember being incredibly annoyed that none of my usual TV shows were on for over a week, having been pre-empted by repeated news coverage of the planes hitting the towers and stuff.

    Just before and during WWII, people flocked to the theatres to watch movie musicals (which nearly always have a happy ending). 1939 saw colour injected into the movies. Because people needed something else to think about – something besides the Depression or their loved ones overseas, perhaps dying horrible deaths.

    But in 2001, we had to watch the same tragedy over and over again. Which makes little to no sense to me, as humanity hasn’t exactly changed much in the intervening years.

  2. I agree with you on being bewildered by everyone’s “oh why did they attack us . we are such NICE people”. I tried a few times to explain “well lets see it could have been a dozen and one groups. How many groups have we deprived of life or employment ? How many countries have we invaded (doesnt matter which side you are on if your house has been burned and your daughter raped)? How many times have Americans deliberately insulted anyone who was not white or didn’t speak English or was not of the right economic class? My only element of surprise was that America managed to survive this long without someone saying “now you pay”. Obviously the people who were most shocked were those who never studied history or became friends with someone on the other side. No matter how much you can justify it getting slapped in the face still leaves a sting. And people remember those slaps for a very long time. In no way shape or form am I justifying what happened at the towers. I am just stating that America has a long history of creating enemies by our NICENESS. And most of the time we are so busy being nice that we have no clue just how angry people are at our attitudes and actions.

  3. The most amazing thing about 9/11 to me was the fact that it hadn’t happened sooner. My father was a member of the Intelligence community for many years and had warned many higher-ups of suspicious activities-information that was summarily dismissed. People really ought to be in wonder that we don’t have these kinds of attacks on a daily basis given the lack of coordination between agencies and the pathetic ego stroking that goes on which virtually ensures that info from lower level officers is not given the weight it deserves. Oh yeah, I was also 7 months pregnant with my first child at the time.

  4. I was in a pub in Birmingham, having just started my postgraduate training in applied educational psychology at the time. I heard someone talking about a plane being flown into the Pentagon and I actually thought that the guy talking was clearly joking: how the hell would it happen? Then I got back to the Halls and saw a news report on the telly there – full visual presentation, and I found that the guy was actually not joking after all.

    I stood there, watching the news programme (everything was news that day), and was absolutely horrified at what I saw.

    I was also scared at the time: I was far away from my wife and child (I was married then), and was not entirely certain of being able to get back to them if this incident should start a third world war.

    I’m still trying to process some of the thoughts and feelings I had at that time. Mostly, these days, it manifests as an almost total lack of faith in politicians to do that which is enshrined in the definition of the word ‘politics’. It means ‘the resolution of conflict’.

  5. Never mind what reserchers say My Visual memories are VERY good, and it is the vision on the TV I remember most that gave the strongest impression. You might remember buildings are an “obsession” of mine.

    Anyway my friend stayed on the phone as we watched together, and she shouted at me for caring more about the buildings than the people in them, indeed it was not until I saw people jumping out of the windows that the full horror in human terms struck, then it became apparant I was watching a particularly nasty snuff movie. I still think about those doomed people on the top floors. That is as I say what precipitated my video “Abbadon” which was basically scenes of people in London (where I was shortly after) goingabout there dayly business overlaid with scenes of destruction from art and from 9/11 set to the music of “Riders on the Storm”. The theme being that we all go about our daily business not knowing what may befall that make it our last day. Amongst the things I filmed was a number 30 bus that day.

    What bothered me too, was that I had in the year before 9/11 included in my digital art work and videos scenes of towers in Coventry exploding or collapsing.

    Anyway to watch the towers collapse was bizarre because I said at the time that when the South Tower fell it looked like there was a demolition charge on each floor because it fell with the same certainty that I have seen on demolition jobs. The North Tower collapsed in a slightly different way with the whole top section in tact but inclined., naturally the engineer in me wanted to know whys and wherefores, what angles the planes struck, what structural damage was caused in the first instance, how the structure of the WTC differed from the Sears Tower that sort of stuff.

    Was I scared after that, I went down to London very shortly after and viewed my favourite Euston Tower in a different light.

  6. “The most amazing thing about 9/11 to me was the fact that it hadn’t happened sooner.”
    This is what you can understand, too, if you have friends from regions where terror(ism) is sort of commonplace.
    I blogged about it (see link in name) but I think the poem says more, and I haven’t found my second (english) version of it yet.

  7. I was at work at DICE when the first plane hit, and we watched the news on the Xbox developers’ TV sets. The thing I remember most clearly is people being angry with me for talking about all the innocent people who would die as a consequence of the crimes perpetrated that day, as it was supposedly disrespectful of the innocent people who had just died.

  8. 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.

    Admitting that I’m not /in/ the U.S. (but we get the same talk anyway – as if the IRA/ETA/terrorist group of choice had never been); *exactly*. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s a benefit of ptsd (I want a succinct, non-medical way to allude to that): one doesn’t believe in safety as a fundamental, doesn’t have the illusion horribly shattered just because one gets around to noticing that horrible things do happen, and doesn’t see the point in running around in circles, in an effort to make the illusion ‘real’ again.

    I have other memories of that September 11th, and the days after, but they belong to people who matter to me, not to an Event Unlike Any Other.

  9. Some of the added drama seems to interfere with whatever ability people are expecting of me in terms of sympathy. I do have it though but it’s obscured. The symbols and implications that are thrown out there seem to also distract me and make me focus more on “solution” rather than dwell. Sure, it will be a memorial for many. I don’t really get the comparisons people use with the IRA or Katrina. Each instance is really isolated to me and rather different in terms of context and implication.

  10. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s a benefit of ptsd (I want a succinct, non-medical way to allude to that): one doesn’t believe in safety as a fundamental, doesn’t have the illusion horribly shattered just because one gets around to noticing that horrible things do happen, and doesn’t see the point in running around in circles, in an effort to make the illusion ‘real’ again.

    Yeah… that’s one problem I have with PTSD being a medical/pathological entity like that. If everyone’s running around trying to delude themselves that they’re (physically) safe when they’re not, why is lacking that urge pathological?

    The world is not a particularly (physically) safe place. Panicking over this fact is not all that worthwhile or useful. Neither is all the BS that goes on in the name of trying to get the pretence of safety again.

    One example of that pretence: Someone I’m close to told me that for years he refused to believe what happened to me in institutions, because, basically, it would shatter his view of the world as a fundamentally safe place where “things like that don’t happen”.

    When that pretence happens over thousands or millions of people rather than just individually, it becomes a real problem. It’s the reason that many citizens of given countries rarely believe that their fine upstanding officials and such condone or engage in torture — but everyone else’s country does. It’s always something that happens somewhere else. And all kinds of other little things people do to pretend they’re safe, end up having wide ramifications in just plain ignoring everything that goes wrong. Their pretend safety prevents some kinds of safety.

    It’s odd.

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