This week my wife and I watched a documentary about the Oklahoma City bombing and Tim McVeigh, and I had a … moment.
As you probably know, I was ridiculously close to the World Trade Center on that sunny, beautiful morning in 2001 when everything changed. Eight and a half years later, I’ve nearly forgotten how it felt. Maybe it’s because a lot of time has passed. Maybe it’s because the imagery—whether it be from “Never Forget” bumper stickers, news stories featuring video of the second plane smashing into the tower, or movies like War of the Worlds and Cloverfield—has become so ubiquitous. Maybe because it’s been used as a tool to justify things that are morally and politically questionable, or things not even remotely related (see Glen Beck’s “9/12” anti-tax rallies). Everything I saw that day has been so mixed in with everything that came afterward that I’ve become numb to it.
But then this documentary reminded me of something the news and the movies and the chest-beating had all but forgotten: that sound.
My most vivid memory of the day is not the ashes or the falling office supplies or those boring buildings that housed so memories on fire. It’s sitting in a mostly empty room with no computer, earning twelve bucks an hour for stuffing envelopes, and hearing a loud, deep boom that rumbled through my cheap aluminum desk. It’s going to the window to see what could have caused it. It’s thinking that it couldn’t be that big a deal, and five minutes later believing that everything I knew had come to an end.
I suppose I could be forgiven for forgetting that. It’s been a long time.
But then I heard survivors talk about how they thought it was construction or something, or just how flat-out confusing they were for that one moment between the time they heard that sound and the time they realized their lives had been forever destroyed. It reminds me why I flinch whenever I hear any sudden, low-pitched, loud noise.