Yeah, I remember September 11. I remember where I was when it happened.
I was getting ready for work. At the time, I was a high-school dropout who worked construction. I was watching “Good Morning America” on television, eating breakfast.
Charlie Gibson was on TV talking about something nobody cared about. Morning-show ridiculousness. Something like stir fry cooking. Or feng shui. Or El Niño. Or whatever America was talking about back then.
And the TV cut to an image of the burning skyscraper.
“One of the World Trade Center towers appears to be on fire,” the newscaster said.
I was about to leave the house and turn off the TV. But then I saw something. From the corner of the screen, hurtling through the sky, came a commercial aircraft. The plane hit the building. A gaping hole was torn into the South Tower.
The newscasters went silent.
Live television. I watched the passengers die on live television.
Finally someone broke the television broadcast silence. I don’t even remember what they said, but I remember what I felt. I felt scared. I felt as though our whole way of life had been threatened.
Later, I went to work on the construction job site. But nobody was working. Everyone was watching a portable television set. Black and white screen. With an antenna. We were sitting on the porch of an unfinished house. Wearing unsoiled jeans and boots.
And we were listening in rapt silence to interviews from firemen, policemen, and anyone who had watched the towers crumble.
One of my coworkers was an older man named Robert. Robert was tough. He had navy tattoos, and cropped silver hair. His hands were the size of supermarket chickens.
And he was crying.
I remember showing up to the job site the following morning and being surprised at what I saw. Draped over the banister of an unfinished home was an American flag.
The banner was about the size of a subtropical continent. Robert hung the flag.
And when I went to pick up lunch for the fellas at McDonald’s, there were even more flags in the fast-food windows. There was a huge American flag raised outside the local bank. There was a new flag outside the supermarket. The KFC. The used car dealership.
There were flags on the backs of semi trucks, a flag dangling over every neighbor’s front porch.
By the end of the week there wasn’t a person in town who wasn’t bearing our colors.
People changed that week. You’d go to the bank, and the teller spoke to you as though you were family. You’d stand in line at K-Mart, and you’d talk to people like you were all on the same team.
You went to church, and the preacher prayed for mercy, unification, and love to conquer hatred. There were few divisions. There were lots of people with bumper stickers that said “Let’s Roll.” And “I ‘Heart’ the USA.”
I remember the World Series, between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees. I remember the packed Yankee Stadium. I remember a decimated New York City. I remember how important this Series felt.
I remember going to a bar down the street to watch the game. I remember how full the place was. I remember seeing the TV.
Yankees’ manager Joe Torre was in the dugout, pep-talking the Bronx Bombers. I remember the American-flag patches the fans and players were wearing. I remember the posters in the stadium reading, “God Bless America.”
I remember America’s president taking the mound to throw the opening pitch across the plate. He actually threw a strike.
And 52,325 fans cheered until they lost their voices. Not for America. Not for a president. But for each other. For their own families. For loved ones. For their children. For life itself.
I remember when the singer on the television sang the national anthem before the game. I remember when the whole barroom fell silent. And I remember when the guy next to me started singing “O say can you see…”
I followed his lead. So did a few hundred other people inside a no-name beer joint. We all sang.
Yeah, I remember September 11. And I guess I always will.