I've always been intrigued by flashbulb memories. When I was learning about them in high school psychology class (in 1998), the example that was always given was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Obviously, none of us in that classroom, except maybe (maybe) the teacher had been alive at the time. So we understood the concept, but I don't think we really had much to compare it to. There was the Challenger disaster, of course, which I actually do remember. There was also the fall of the Berlin Wall and the death of Princess Diana (the latter having happened so recently, however, that it hadn't really evolved into a flashbulb memory yet).
But from now on, I think the classic, textbook example of a flashbulb memory will be September 11th. I know a common response to these kinds of tales is often, "I don't care where you or anyone else was when you found out about what had happened." So if you don't care, don't read on. If you do care, please know that I care, too, and I'd like to hear your story.
I was living in that most awesome of places, the BYU FLSR (Foreign Language Student Residence - basically a nerdy place full of nerds who live with other nerds and nerdily speak foreign languages to each other all day) Japanese House. I woke up early on that Tuesday morning, got a bowl of cereal, and sat down to check my email while I ate. The yahoo.com page (which I have unsuccessfully searched for on internet archives) that came up had only one sentence of news, something cryptic like, "World Trade Center incident kills 9." I thought it must be a mistaken reprint of a headline from when the WTC was bombed in 1993 and went on eating and checking email.
Around that time Jeremy, who lived a few doors down in the Arabic house, called me. He had just talked with a Palestinian friend on the phone, who had told him the news (but with slightly more detail than Yahoo! had at the moment). I then broke a major rule in the FLSR and turned on an English-language news channel. At almost that exact moment, the first tower collapsed. I watched it happen live on TV.
The rest of that day still feels hurried and stressed, even in memory. I went to class as usual and remember seeing hordes of BYU students gathered around the few television monitors in the bookstore, watching the events unfold. There was the Devotional, which was changed to a prayer meeting of sorts. But most of all, on that day and even more in the days to come, there was a sudden sense of importance attached to the fact that for two years now, Jeremy had been studying this obscure, strange language called Arabic. It seemed as though the pieces for his - soon to be our - future were falling into place.
In many ways, I think September 11th acted as a catalyst in our relationship. In the week before the attack, we were at that awkward "so, are we getting married or what?" phase of a long-term dating relationship. I'm not saying we wouldn't have gotten married had the attacks not happened - just that those events seemed to allow us to see our plans more clearly. We got engaged in October, had to deal with sending out wedding invitations during the anthrax-in-the-mail scare soon afterwards, and were married in November after having our flight to Portland annoyingly delayed by that idiot who ran back through the security screening area so he wouldn't miss a football game.
Other random things I remember about that day: hearing that Julie Stoffer (of recent 'The Real World' fame) was supposed to be on one of the doomed flights - this turned out to be true; hearing that a Mormon missionary conference was supposed to be held at the WTC that morning, but everyone through individual miraculous events managed to be absent - this, of course, was false. I also remember everything being called "the NYC and DC attacks," which at some point - I don't know exactly when - changed to simply "September 11th." Off the top of my head, I can't think of another world event that is known simply by its date.
What does your flashbulb memory illuminate?