Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Six years ago today

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 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?


Crissy Bear said...

I have very similar memories only instead of being in the "nerdy" (your word darling not mine) house I was in the cheap monticello apartment. A kid came over from next door to tell us to turn on our TV and we had to because we really didn't believe what he was saying. I went into work early and also have this odd memory of watching the towers fall and getting this just sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I know we all audibly growned. It actually was sort of Challenger esq for me. We watched the lift off in school. I remember our teacher running over to shut the TV off when the explosion happened. Who wants to explain explosions 6 year olds.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

First thing after waking up on 9/11 I made sure Teresa was up for school, & she asked if I knew what had happened. Turned on the TV, then ran upstairs to tell Craig that something very terrible had happened. When the towers fell it seemed as if it could not be. Our family had been to the top of Tower 1 in 1990. The rest of the day it seemed that wherever I was, nobody smiled and people talked in hushed tones using few words.

On Nov. 22, 1963 I was in the 4th grade, and after recess Mrs. Hammill informed us that Pres. Kennedy had been shot. Later after returning from lunch she told us he had died, and she was weeping right there in class. Never had seen a teacher cry before. At home the TV stayed on and we skipped celebrating my sister's third birthday that day. A few days later my Dad had the TV on watching reports about Oswald when he started yelling for my Mom in frantic tones. We all went running--Mom thought he was having a heart attack. He had just seen Oswald shot on live TV. This all plays out in my mind like it happened yesterday.

sarah said...

I like the explanation of your nerdy apartment building. :) I vaguely remember the Oklahoma City Bombing happening when i was little, only because we planned on and eventually did plant a tree in front of our school in remembrance of it. On 9/11 I was in 10th grade and on my way to school that morning, late as usual, and I couldn't find any music on the radio which i thought sucked and then i heard the radio say that all airports were closed. I thought that was strange but headed off to class. I walked into my debate class which already had the tv on and everyone started telling me what happened. I didn't even know what the WTC was till that day actually. So my teacher was telling everyone about it and while he was talking we saw the plane hit the 2nd tower and we all yelled at him to look at the tv and he couldn't believe it. We kept talking and watching it for a while but I think he eventually turned it off. That and Seminary were the only classes that had the tv on I think...the rest of my teachers didnt say much and continued with class as usual.

Nattie said...

I was walking to campus and passed my roommate who told me something that didn't quite make sense about us being attacked. I walked through the bookstore to my class and paused at the television screen. I went to my classes as usual. In my Spanish class my teacher suddenly switched to English and asked us if we were all in shock. Then we just talked about it for the rest of the day. I also remember walking past my friend's apartment where her roommate skipped a few days of classes to watch the news, since she was from NYC.

momj said...

November 22, 1963 , I was in the 3rd grade and it was MY BIRTHDAY. I was 8, and I was having friends ride the bus home with me for one of the only party with friends I remember. We had come in from recess to hear the news on the tv. I don't think we quite knew how we should behave, but we did know it was VERY SERIOUS. I wasn't sure it was ok, to have fun at my party either. I was a little disappointed I didn't get a Shirley Temple doll.
Sept 11...we were in Utah, staying with my husbands cousin, and she came down to our room and woke us up...she said she hated to wake us up but that a plane had hit the WTC. It seemed like an impossibility. We were in Utah for my Mother-in-Law's funeral that day. We had to carry on. My husband was to speak so he could not focus on current events. He was working on his talk while I was glued to the tv and saw the 2nd airplane hit. I was glad that we were there with our BYU daughter. I think us being there was important to her. ( was SHE in the Spanish Language house at the time?? hmm) The funeral was really warm and wonderful and sweet and gave us a respite really...a way to focus on death and family in the way it should be, if that makes any sense.
One other thing about Princess Diana...she was engaged on my daughters first birthday Feb. 24, 1981, she married the day after my son was born July 29, 1981, and I watched the wedding in my hospital room that night , then on the night of Aug. 31, 1997, we were at the emergency room with another son and that is when we saw the news she was killed. Because of these things, I truly understand the concept of flashbulb memories.

SharTrevHarp said...

ok bridget--i have secretly been checking out your blog for months--your blog link is on my sis-in-law's blog (the fabulous jennifer rose)...i have enjoyed reading about your experiences both in & outside of the U.S., and i've thought "how cool to actually know this girl, she's just had so many unique adventures and a fun way of telling her story"--and today reading your blog entry I realized that we could have known each other--
On Sept. 11th I woke up and heard the TV. It was kind of weird to hear the TV on in the morning but the most odd part of it was hearing the TV on in ENGLISH. I also was living in the FLSR (spanish house) and we never had the TV on in English so that was what prompted me to get out of bed & see what was up--and there it was. There we were, all glossy-eyed staring at the screen. I couldn't believe it. My roommates were in shock and so many crazy questions and thoughts were flooding our minds. It was also the day of my grandmother's funeral so that was a big deal (my mother posted above & she is right it was a huge comfort for me for them to be there in Provo at that time). Everything about that day was somber. Definitely flashbulb.

Bridget said...

Crystal, you must be a tiny bit older than me because your memory of the Challenger is clearer than mine.

Momj, the coincidence of major events in your life with major events in the world is mildly freaky! Everyone had better watch out for the next marriage, birth, or death in your family!!

Shartrevharp, how funny that you, too, broke the "no English TV" rule at the FLSR. It's funny that we even had to think of it at the time, but that's how big of a deal it was.

Nancy said...

The war of 1812 comes to mind, but even that has "the war of" before the date (no, I don't have a flash bulb memory of that).

But on Sept. 11, I was up early getting ready for an early morning ballroom practice. My friend came to pick me up and instead of waiting for me in the car ran up to the door to tell me the news. I thought it was a joke so was like, "That's nice, Sicko."

She insisted she was serious and so I told my family to turn on the radio or something. Then we headed off to school.

So, we went to school and started dancing before our coach showed up, like good little students do (I was dancing with Andrew, go figure).

When the coach showed up though, she switched on the TV and we watched that instead of practicing.

I believe that's pretty much how we spent the rest of the day at school--wandering from classroom to classroom, watching the news and talking about it.

David said...

I remember I was (unsurprisingly for that time in my life) in bed that morning when Jeremy called and told me to turn on the TV. I don't recall whether we were watching when the second tower fell, but I do remember Jeremy saying something about how much this event would change the world in the upcoming years.

I agreed that it would affect a lot of things in this country. Appropriately, next month I start working for the Department of Homeland Security doing counter-terrorism work in its Nation Security Law Division.


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