I was studying abroad in Utrecht, Netherlands on September 11, 2001. My friend, Elinore, who is from New York City, and I went to the computer labs after classes had finished. We were in a laughing mood. The computer lab was in a group of older buildings that had been converted. The stations were set up in a number of different rooms, some the size of a class room, others a conference room. There weren’t two computers available next to each other so Elinore and I split up and went into different rooms.
The first thing I did was check my email. There was one from my dad. I opened it and it said that the Towers had been hit. What Towers? The image he attached loaded and I saw. But I still didn’t understand. I thought he was playing a joke. How was it possible that two planes hit a Tower each? That seemed like an odd, horrific accident.
Still confused I went to find Elinore to see if she knew anything. I was nervously laughing when I told her that my father said the Twin Towers were hit. She looked up at me and laughed, “What?” I recited the email to her. She was as incredulous as I was. Everything at that moment seemed like a typical day. Nothing seemed odd except the words coming out of my mouth. If something like this had happened why was the busy computer lab so quiet? Why weren’t they talking about it?
To follow was the day after day after day 24-hour news coverage. My parents had concerns about whether or not the program would be canceled, which it wasn’t. Most people seemed to be in a state of shock. I, already dealing with culture shock issues, didn’t want, and, more specifically, didn’t know how to process something like this. It was easy not to try being in a foreign country. Therefore I didn’t. And, honestly, eleven years later I still haven’t.
The Friday after the 11th, I was out shopping for shoes. I loved the fun colors sneakers came in that I couldn’t seem to find back home. At noon the bells in the Domtoren rang. When I finally realized they were playing The Star-Spangled Banner, I stepped outside the store. I noticed that no one in the street was moving. People had left the shops to enter the street to observe the moment. Everyone was standing still facing the Domtoren in silence. I had no idea that this event was planned. Apparently, it had been on the news, but I couldn’t take watching anymore.
Weeks passed and despite my avoidance I felt I should commemorate or have some memento of the WTC. At least that’s what everyone around me seemed to be doing. I knew I’d probably regret it later even if I didn’t really feel up to it at the time. People were buying posters left and right of the New York City skyline or of the Towers. That didn’t seem right for me. Why would I get something so big to commemorate and remember a day I fought so hard to not think too deeply about because I didn’t know what would happen if I did?
I did keep my eyes open for just the right item. Nothing I came across felt right. If I was going to do as others were doing I was going to try and make it personal in some way. That was as deep (or shallow) as I was going to go. I was in an art museum gift shop selecting postcards for my collection when I found it. I instantly knew that this postcard was my personal memorial to 9/11. I added the card to the group and made my purchase. Of course, fitting my modus operandi of avoidance, I rarely look at the card.
To this day I refuse to read any book about 9/11, fiction or non-fiction. I’ve only seen one film where that day plays a part in the story and I hadn’t known this beforehand. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have watched it. The release of tears and emotions I had after watching the movie, however, has probably been the only time I’ve approached a deeper contemplation and mourning. And to my surprise it felt good to have that release.
My train of thought has been that if I try and process that day, then I might comprehend what happened. If I comprehend it, then I might understand how and why people would take such an action. If I understand the how and the why, then I might condone a similar action. If I condone a similar action, then I’ve let my mind cross over to someplace truly dark. And if my mind crosses over, then it might never cross back.
Being in another country when such a tragedy took place in my homeland made it a lot easier to escape and hide. I now have a bit of safety in distance of time and of self. In writing this I can see the cracks in my old logic. Perhaps it is time I purged my mind of what it has kept locked in the closet and swept under the rug for the last eleven years.