I was asleep when the Twin Towers fell, when the Pentagon was smashed, and when the last plane crashed in Pennsylvania. My great grandparents were blasting the TV in the downstairs living room for their elderly ears, which was giving my mother intense anxiety over whether or not I would wake up or stay asleep (napping was never my strong suit), so in this moment I imagine her pacing around the kitchen in attempt to distract herself from the blaring of the television, and then I picture her coming to an abrupt stop when the Today Show cut, suddenly, to a burning Twin Tower. I know her first thought was my dad. He had been flying to DC regularly and was safe in his local office that day. He was set to board the first flight out of Charlotte, North Carolina post 9/11. He told me the flight was silent and that no one was allowed to leave their seat. He knew flying would never be the same again. The passengers clapped when the plane reached the ground.
Growing up along the East Coast, I’ve come to know lots of kids that were napping while airports morphed into places of fear on September 11th. We went to sleep in an impenetrable country and woke up to the aftermath of the world’s greatest Trojan horse. Our infant brains were unable to comprehend the events that occurred during our naps. I don’t think I truly understood 9/11 until I was in 7th grade. I was sitting in the back left-hand section of the history classroom when the true horror of the day struck me. The video played a recording of a daughter’s final call to her mother from a phone on the plane. It ended with a final, frantic, “I love you.”
It makes me think about the nappers who have parents they do not remember, whose cars sat in the in the train parking lot for weeks untouched. The nappers and I grew up around people like my dad’s best friend who lost enough that day to never mention it. People like him take an uncharacteristic sick day once a year on the 11th of September to find silence. We watch old movies like Home Alone 2, and our parents point to the New York skyline and say, “Those are the Twin Towers,” and we nod solemnly trying to empathize. We run the day over and over in our heads in attempt to map out what we would have done if we had been in our parents’ shoes.
My mother’s later thoughts involved my uncle, her brother who was stationed by the Navy in Guam. He watched a submarine of Navy Seals leave early that morning and fell asleep on the beach later that day. He, too, is a napper. He woke up hours later to a hangover and breaking news from New York City. To sooth himself, he went to see American Pie 2 with a Gatorade and Advil. In retrospect, he thinks it’s comical and almost regrets the fact that most assume since he was in the Navy he was preparing himself for what seemed like an impending war, while in truth he was hungover in a small movie theater in Guam. Five days later, the submarine carrying the Navy Seals returned. My uncle met them with a VHS tape of the footage, and they watched 9/11 unfold for the first time—on the ship they only had access to written accounts. He said the hardest part wasn’t watching the planes hit the towers; it was watching a room full of Navy Seals cry.
In New York City, there was a man, a coworker of my dad’s that was working on the 72nd floor. He went outside to smoke a cigarette before his meeting. He left right before the first plane hit. He is the only man to have his life saved by smoking. My generation happened to be napping, my uncle happened to be hungover, and my dad’s coworker happened to be a smoker when the country changed forever. The day of September 11th was full of what my dad would call odd coincidences: chance things that happened to happen at the right time.