I let the phone to go voice mail five times before picking up. It was Jennifer, but it was also 5:50 a.m. I may have thought it was her after the second call, but it was early and I was sleeping and everything about the phone and the ringing was rude. I stared at the ceiling one last time before answering.
Before Guen was Guen, before she changed her name, she was Jennifer, and so on this morning, Jennifer said, “The World Trade Center is burning. It’s on the news.” I didn’t understand at the time why this was worthy of multiple phone calls, but there was a loving pitch in her tone, and so it spurred me to get my ass out of bed.
I waded into the living room and grabbed the remote control. I was in my underwear. It was cold. I turned on the T.V. and took a seat at the edge of the couch, one foot pointed in the direction of the bathroom and the other at the T.V. I wasn’t yet convinced that this was worth holding my piss. I crossed my arms to keep warm, but the tiled floor was relentless.
As Jennifer had said, one of the Towers was indeed burning. I was distantly interested. I had been in Battery Park just a few months earlier. The Twin Towers are a presence, for sure, and it would seem unreasonable to believe they could be harmed. But now there was smoke and fire and a newswoman’s chatter. Her squawk was incessant, crackling with opinion and speculation. She was talking over the images, and as I sat and listened and watched, I noticed, from the live footage, a plane flying behind the buildings. The footage was live! I thought to myself, “Wait a minute. I just saw a plane fly by behind that building, and I didn’t see it fly out. What’s up with that?” And as my brain organized these thoughts, the newswoman said in a hurried voice, “Can we rewind the footage or can we get a different angle? I thought I saw plane fly behind the building and didn’t see it come out on the other side.” The camera’s angle changed. “Oh. My. God!” she said. Her male counterpart said the same. I said, “Oh, fuck!”
My reaction to the whole thing was altered. There was now an emotional change. There was confusion, too. I don’t remember showering or dressing or getting in my car. However, I do remember stopping at the corner of Garo and Stimson, and Howard Stern saying, “Oh my God! The whole World Trade Center just imploded and went down. It’s gone.”
At Norwalk High School that morning, our principal sent an early morning email to all staff members. “Dear Teachers, please do not turn on your televisions. Please do not play the radio or show the news.” I was already angry, and this email nudged me towards a dangerous emotional line. I had the T.V. turned on when my second period, eleventh grade English class walked in. We perched ourselves on our desks and watched for the full period, in disbelief. We watched all day. Not one of us could have realized, in those moments, the level of change our world was to experience.
And just like that, the Twin Towers were severed from New York’s skyline, an unwanted alteration to an iconically American skyline. What little innocence America had left was also gone. America, as I knew it, had died.
Of course, it turned into a 360 degree issue, with almost every finger pointed in the direction of the Middle East. Others were pointing their fingers at our American government. It was shameful, of course.
Regardless of the controversy surrounding the tragedy, back home, approximately thirty of my ex-students have since deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight the “evil-doers.”
One of my boys, an ex-Alisal Soccer player, told me a story about when his father picked him up from the San Jose Airport. He had arrived home from Afghanistan. Chucho said he was walking through the terminal with his father, his U.S. Marines backpack slung over his shoulders. He heard a familiar sound, a sound soldiers of war know. It was a landing plane, but he heard it as an “incoming.” His dad watched in surprise as his son hit the floor in haste, in the middle of the airport terminal, surrounded by a mass of people, as he yelled “Incoming! Down!”
Chucho’s dad looked down at him and said, “Que estas haciendo?” After an embarrassing pause, Chucho picked himself up, He adjusted his backpack, and walked out of the terminal with his dad.
After serving four-years in the Marines, Chucho enlisted for another four. He will fight this war for the rest of his life. He was ten when the planes hit. I was thirty-one.
Thank you, Chucho.