On 9/11 I woke to NPR on my clock radio. A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
“Here we go,” I said, whipping off the sheet on that warm September morning. I brushed my teeth, and watching on the network morning shows the first tower collapsing, started leaving voice mails to reporters: Get to the airport. Get to the Federal Building in Richland. Drive to the chemical weapons depot in Umatilla.
A block away from the station waiting for the light to change, I spotted a young man in his upper twenties standing on the corner of the intersection, shouting and waving a poster board onto which he had written in black, “This means war.”
This was going to be an emotional day, but not for me.
When something happens of this or similar magnitude, as a journalist I shift into automatic detachment—it’s almost an out-of-body experience. On 9/11 there was no time to think of Travis, who I knew from San Diego who now lived in New Jersey, or Tina, a correspondent for the Associated Press, or Mike, my college roommate, who now flew a lot on business, or other friends and colleagues who, you never know, could have been in the towers or aboard one of the four airliners.
Later, on 9-12, I would check lists of the dead and missing.
I walked into the news room, sat at my desk beneath the bank of TV sets where Rather, Jennings, and Brokaw spoke simultaneously, and for the rest of the day I collected facts, images, and my composure as I anchored local cut-ins.
It wasn’t until that night, around 9:30 p.m. our time, it finally hit me. I finally had time to allow it to hit me. My four dogs sat around me, getting their shares of popcorn from the bowl, I drank a beer, probably two that night, and watched the eerie scene of Ground Zero, the dust, still drifting, passing through beams of spotlights that guided rescue and recovery teams through the rubble. I blew out a breath, possibly a breath I had been holding all day, and gazed into the glow of my TV screen, and remember saying, “Here we go.”
My body shifted into that detached, auto-pilot mode again as President Obama told the American people the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks had been hunted down and killed by US Special Forces.
It would be an emotional day, but not for me.
Not until now, the end of my working day. The dogs doze at my feet. I watch CNN and let it all seep in.
Like 9/11, I’ll remember 5/1.
A postscript: Ten years ago, a clock radio gave me the news of 9-11. I learned about Osama bin Laden’s death from a tweet.