The Day Before

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There are remembrances springing up all over online and print media. People are recalling in vivid detail where they were nine years ago today.

But how many can remember the 10th of September 2001? Do you remember where you were or what you were doing on THAT day?

Being an elephant (in built, sadly, not necessarily in memory), I do.

It's not too much of a stretch though, because back then my days were quite monotonous with very little variation in my routine. Depression had already shrunk my world and confined me to the tiny Baltimore row-house I was living in at the time. But my mental state wasn't too awful just then. I had emerged from a horrible few years and was actually on a bit of an upswing.

My mom was still living nearby in suburban D.C., so I saw her every Sunday because it was her only day off. Spent most Saturdays with her as well. But since I was working from home, my weekdays were mostly spent indoors - no matter what the season. But I was working from home, and I was doing a job that I loved. I was starting to get extremely anxious though, because after about three years in the States, my mom was due to return to South Africa for good in less than a month's time (on October 1), and I was absolutely dreading that goodbye.

Despite my mom's pending departure and the separation anxiety, I was still doing okay. I had finally filed for the LIFE Act (a sort of amnesty act Clinton had passed right before he left office, so his idiotic xenophobic cowboy of a successor couldn't actually do anything about it) a few months before, so for the first time since arriving in the States I had genuine hope of at last becoming legal. I was writing a weekly column for a South African website... my first foray into online media. (My blog was not even glimmering on the horizon yet.) And I had an unusual job videotaping and transcribing several local television news broadcasts for a major 'electronic clipping service' in D.C. and then e-mailing them the transcripts. Isn't that great? Only in America will they actually pay you to stay at home and watch TV! 

I'll never forget that last Sunday before 9/11 either. My birthday had been less than two weeks before, and an ex boyfriend had phoned me from abroad to say happy birthday. (Don't be too impressed by that. He didn't remember because he was still pining for me. His is on the same day, so until the day he forgets his own, he isn't very likely to forget mine.) My mom and my former sweetheart, the American boy, were at this cosy French café for Sunday brunch. We were sitting inside and I told them what Birthday Buddy had said to me during the birthday phone call. He had asked me if I was sure about following through with my Green Card quest. Then he said that he'd had this horrible and - we didn't yet know, but eerily prophetic - dream. In it, he was on an international flight. Suddenly hijackers got up and asked every passenger with an American passport to stand up. When they did, the hijackers proceeded to execute them.

How strange and chilling is that?

So on that Sunday, I was telling my mom and the Yankee boy about Birthday Buddy's awful dream and how he thought it was indicative of the world's surging hatred for the US and especially the Bush Administration. For a while that day, our conversation was mostly about the odd dream and global politics.

On Monday, the 10th, I slept until about noon, as usual. I only started taping and working on the news at 5pm (sometimes I took on one or two of the noon broadcasts for extra money when they needed someone, but on that day I didn't) and since my editor at the SA website had gotten married that weekend and was off to the Caribbean on honeymoon, I had no column due. The Yank's birthday was going to be the next day (yes, his birthday is on the 11th), so for a while I fantasised about perhaps baking him a cake, but promptly dropped the idea, since the risk was simply too big that such a gesture from me would have caused him to die of utter shock - if not food poisoning.

That Monday was just as comfortably mundane as all my other Mondays; my time measured by whatever was on television. After a summer of reruns, a new season of Oprah had premiered just the week before, so I was watching the new show that day until 5pm, when I started taping my first news broadcast of the day. I always did the back-to-back news from 5 - 6pm and 6 - 7pm. I had a 10pm deadline to have the transcripts in by, so I usually started working on the 5pm show at 6pm, while taping the other show on the other television set.

Yank usually came home from the office at around 6 or 6:30pm. That evening was no different. He took care of dinner while I worked and then we ate together at around 8 while watching television. It was a lovely, normal night.  We discussed going out for his birthday. He didn't know if I'd manage to be able to go out what with work, but I assured him that I would simply set the tapes for 11pm. (I had already cancelled my 5pm - 7pm shows as a surprise to him, to be able to go out to dinner.) Summer was still lingering in mild nights and gorgeously warm, dry days, and on television, the weatherman had promised that Tuesday would be an equally spectacular day - perfect for a birthday celebration out. 

Later, after taping my 11pm shows, I remember watching Leno's Tonight Show monologue with the Yank. We both knew that I wouldn't be up in the morning to wish him happy birthday before he left for work at 7:30am, so like a good sport, he stayed up until just after midnight and went to sleep shortly after, while I started working my graveyard shift to get my transcripts in by my 2am deadline. After that, I was up 'til about 5, reading.

Later that morning, I was sleeping when the mayhem ensued in New York City and in D.C.. I remained in that blissfully unaware state until my mom somehow managed to get through the already-jammed mid-Atlantic networks to phone me awake at about 10am with the words: "Turn on the TV. The world has gone mad."

In a fog of sleepiness, confusion and shock, I did, just in time to see the South Tower of the World Trade Centre collapsing on live television in a plume of smoke, debris and fluttering bits of paper... It was 10:05am EDT on September 11, 2001.

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6 Comments

IITQ said:

I remember those days so clearly.

I was in the World Trade Centre and on Wall Street on the 10th. I flew out of New York to London at 02h00 in the morning and arrived to frantic phone messages from all over the world.

When I walked into our London office, people were standing in front of TVs with tears running down their faces.

Crazy days.

Redsaid Author Profile Page said:

IITQ: I cannot BELIEVE that you were THERE, just the day before... Wow. Timing really is everything, isn't it? I can't imagine how you must have felt when you heard and saw what you had escaped by mere hours. I'm so so so glad that you weren't there anymore.

I'm still unable to wrap my mind around what happened, even all these years later. I was lucky enough to visit the Towers with my mom. We had gone to Windows of the World. The last time I saw the Manhattan skyline in tact was from a Cessna, when an aerial view photographer friend of mine took me up with him. (Was such a treat!) Even visiting the site again in 2005 and seeing it all just... GONE didn't make it any easier to believe.


kyknoord said:

I remember thinking that the Powers That Be would be giving the engineers a hard time for not designing the structures to be aeroplane-proof.

Redsaid Author Profile Page said:

Kyk: No, I don't think anyone gave them a hard time. After everyone got over the initial shock, they started raving on US television about what an engineering feat it was that the buildings essentially collapsed in their footprints and didn't topple over, wiping out entire city blocks - as the hijackers probably had hoped it would.

disabilitysolutions@gmail.com Author Profile Page said:

Bizarrely, my brother happened to be in the Pentagon, on 10 September. More bizarrely he was talking to them about potential terrorist threats. Even more bizarrely he had just set up a consultancy to give people advice on terrorist threats (after coming out of the UK Army). Even more crazy, he made a huge amount of money since then, and then sold the business for a massive profit. Bizarrely he became my favourite sibling. Bizarrely, he does not answer my phone calls...

Jazzie said:

Well, that's awesome that you remember the things that happened a day prior to the September 11 incident. Although I cannot recall on my part what I did then. I was probably locked up in my room oggling my eyes on books and studying.

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is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
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comments
  • Jazzie : Well, that's awesome that you remember the things that happened a day prior to the September 11 inci... [go]
  • disabilitysolutions@gmail.com Author Profile Page: Bizarrely, my brother happened to be in the Pentagon, on 10 September. More bizarrely he was talkin... [go]
  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Kyk: No, I don't think anyone gave them a hard time. After everyone got over the initial shock, they... [go]
  • kyknoord : I remember thinking that the Powers That Be would be giving the engineers a hard time for not design... [go]
  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: IITQ: I cannot BELIEVE that you were THERE, just the day before... Wow. Timing really is everything,... [go]
  • IITQ : I remember those days so clearly. I was in the World Trade Centre and on Wall Street on the 10th. I... [go]
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