It was fall, and school was just getting into full swing. My senior year of college, full of 400-level classes and theatre and a girl who I loved dearly.
We, she and I, were getting lunch. Walking from the ARA food lines to the beverage island in the cafeteria. Two small cups of Dr. Pepper, one of chocolate milk. Trying not to spill.
We were talking about the death of Aaliyah, the R&B star, who died in a plane crash just a few days before. We commented on the tributes and the memorial services on the music networks.
She mentioned that she heard one announcer say that Aaliyah's death would be our generation's "where were you when" moment. How our parents would have the Kennedy assasination, and our grandparents would have Pearl Harbor. I mentioned that, no offense to the dead, I thought that was a bit of an overstatement, and that it would be pretty pathetic if the death of a mildly popular vocalist would be the landmark moment of our lives.
She agreed. "I was more impacted when Kurt Cobain died. There were girls at school who cried all day, when they found out."
I didn't share that memory; my upbringing was devoid of pop music. But I understood and agreed, "Yeah, clearly Cobain had more of an impact."
We sat at the table, watching the large-screen TV in the caff, and the topic shifted to homework and other things.
That was Monday.
The next morning, my roommate Josh and I were getting ready for the 9:30 class we both had in the Theatre Building. I was sitting in my desk chair, getting ready to put my socks and shoes on, when Josh uncharacteristically turned on the TV (something we never did in the morning). And I saw it. I saw the world change in an instant.
I saw a mighty city in flames. I saw the great towers shudder. I saw the smoke and debris.
Then the image of the second plane vanishing into the side of the second tower. I sat, jaw open, one sock in my hand and the other on my foot. My roommate sat on the bed, stunned. I heard him gasp. We sat silent, in our dorm room, in a small private college in Oklahoma, and we watched in horror.
After about ten minutes, I awoke from my shocked state. "I...guess...we need to get to class." Josh nodded. I finished getting dressed, and we walked together from the dorm to Sarkey's. On our way, we met Dr. A coming toward us, walking past. She said only, "Meeting in the black box."
We walked into the small theater, and saw the other students huddled in the seats, in twos and threes, some crying, some consoling, all speaking in hushed tones. We sat. I could think of nothing to say. I was numb. Hollow. As if my spirit had been pulled from me. Mrs. B, the other theatre prof, stood and said a few words. She said that now was a time to pray for our country, and for the families of the victims. We didn't know how many, but we knew that countless were affected. We didn't know what would happen next. We were afraid. Dr. A said that class was cancelled, and that we should spend the day praying. We prayed together as a group, and then dispersed. Some were wondering aloud if this was the beginning of a war. How many more cities would be attacked? Would there be a retaliation? Would there be a draft?
Most of us ended up in the G.C., the "student union"-type building. There were a few hundred, all huddled around a large-screen TV, watching in silence. Many faces were tear-stained and puffy, drawn with horror.
I stayed there for most of the day, watching the same images over and over. Then the first tower fell. Later, its sister followed.
We could forget about Aaliyah and Kurt Cobain. We have our "moment." Every one of us has our story.
So many things we felt. So many things we wanted to say.
Now, three years after, we're still trying to find the words.
I was in a small town in Oklahoma when the planes crashed and the towers fell. But the attack wasn't just on New York or D.C. or Pennsylvania. It was on Shawnee. It was on Houston. It was on Jackson. It was on Phoenix, and Atlanta, and San Diego, and Chicago, and Nashville.
It was on you. It was on me. The American family was attacked.
And I will never forget.