Kat and I don’t really drink alcohol, so when we check into a hotel, we typically refuse the minibar key. That way, we know that anything missing from the minibar has nothing to do with us. Early on our morning of 11 September 2001, Kat was doing her best to break into the minibar in our hotel room in Sunnyvale, California.
“Kat”, I said hollowly, standing behind her, “I’m not sure this is really a valid coping mechanism.”
“What are you talking about?” she snapped. “This is a perfectly valid coping mechanism!”
Not too much later, feeling the desperate need to be around other people, we went down to the hotel lobby, where several had clustered around the lounge television in silent horror. There we discovered that the hotel management agreed with Kat: they were serving free drinks from the bar. I was struck that day by how few drinks people actually consumed. It was as if we were all so numbed that alcohol offered little further benefit.
What I remember most about that day is the confusion. When we first turned on the TV, having been woken by a phone call from a friend, the crawl on CNN claimed a bomb had gone off outside the State Department. There was a blurred image above it that I had trouble resolving for several seconds, before I finally realized it was the plume of smoke coming off of the Pentagon. And when we saw the footage of the towers on fire, the South Tower being hit by a plane, and then both collapses, the images came one right after another in rapid sequence. There was no extended period of horror for us, no building from one stage to the next. We were literally jolted awake and passed in a very few minutes from Before to After. It was difficult to grasp. Almost impossible.
That afternoon, we drove almost aimlessly around Silicon Valley, listening to NPR even though they were covering the same few known facts in an endless loop, just like every other media outlet. The difference was that with NPR, we did not have to watch the same few known videos in an endless loop.
We stopped for lunch, tried to talk about other things, and found we could not. We kept going over what had happened, what we thought, what we feared. Trying to clear up some of the confusion, trying to sift a little order out of the chaos, trying to steel ourselves for the possibility of worse to come.
We were a long way from home and family, but we were incredibly fortunate in that we were together. It was an indescribable blessing in a day that seemed almost incapable of admitting them. We clung together under an open blue California sky, so very much like the one over New York City, and each helped the other keep moving onward, one tentative step at a time.