Unlike most of my friends and family and many of the other people who have stories to tell, the tragedy took an entirely different perspective for me because of where I was.
I was attending college in Switzerland the fall semester of 2001, so because of the time difference it didn’t happen until 3:00 our time. My day didn’t start out in panic, but the day my fellow students and I had experienced was just as unfathomable as any of my friends here Stateside…
Tuesday’s I only had one class, at 8:30 in the morning, so bright and early on this beautiful crisp day, I woke up and attended English as usual. The class discussion…I can still recall my mindset that morning, one that to this day I’ve never had again. And little did I know that the entire world was going to change for me and my friends, that our mundane preoccupation with insignificant happenings was to end before we would go to sleep that evening.
And it seems to me to have happened sooner than I remember even. My class over at 9:30, I went home to make a sandwich for lunch (no restaurants by the college which sits about a mile up the side of a mountain above Lugano if anyone is familier with southern Switzerland), and returned to the campus to check my email and clock in some hours at my on campus job working for the IT department.
It was just a regular day for us, my classes were over, my roomate downtown getting groceries, many students were taking afternoon naps or chatting with friends in the states who were getting ready for school or work since everyone we knew had just woke up. Probably about 2:45, I checked my email, nothing as usual. Then, in a routine that I took for granted, I tried to go to CNN.com to see the morning news over there, but the site wouldn’t load. It just cycled and cycled, and I made the assumption that the website must have been down, server troubles or something of the sort.
My supervisor, or friend rather, asked me to check out a computer problem in the library, just down the hall. I couldn’t fix it, grabbed him, and while both of us tried to get it working, another classmate came into the library and informed us that “two planes just hit the World Trade Center, they’re both on fire!”
It should be noted that there are no TV’s on campus, none of the students own them. Satellite is expensive, so the only TV viewing we did was in the campus Grotto’s Den where there was a TV that, most of the time, stayed on CNN. Thank goodness for that, otherwise no one would have been the wiser until much later.
Of course, at the time, I passed it off as if maybe some small fires on the upper floors, small planes, but even then, my imagination couldn’t come up with ANYTHING that would justify what had happened (or what I at this time imagined had happened).
Even so, after I saw the images of the burning towers and knew this was a terrorist attack, I solemnly walked back to my apartment to get some study materials while I sat in the Grotto, thinking to myself “man, they’ll probably have to tear the buildings down now.” I, like most of the world, never imagined they would collapse.
Of course, upon my return to the Grotto, the Pentagon had now been hit, everyone now panicked that the United States was under attack, and shortly after the first tower fell. By then it was probably 4:30 or 5, and what had seemed, for the better half at least, like a normal day, had turned into a nightmare for everyone (many students had immediate family in the New York area).
I by a fluke had visited the World Trade Center two weeks before that, on my first visit to New York ever, the city I admired and idolized as a child growing up in small town Missouri. My friend who was from Jersey insisted we go up to the top since she had never been there, and having worked on the 71st floor of the Westin hotel in Atlanta, I wasn’t that excited. But what greeted me was one of the most amazing sights man had ever created. If we could never learn to fly individually, this was as close as we could come to it.
As well, I was fortunate enough to have purchased the picture they force you to take in front of the poster, and kept all my receipts, including from the Sbarro’s pizza we ate at on the 110th floor.
Although I cannot imagine the horror of having been in the States, there was a certain deal of anxiety that was hung over our heads on campus. While the rest of the world had a day to let it sink in, in five hours after the tragedy we had to go to bed. The school closes its building at 11, so after that none of us could get on the internet or watch TV, and given our inability to sleep, we crowded into the bar to drink and talk about our concerns for the future. The last thing I remember doing that day was walking back from the bar with my roomate, trying to imagine what had just happened in a world that seemed entirely unchanged.