It was a crystal clear morning in the Rocky Mountains. The air was still warm enough, but had that crisp feel that foretells coming snow storms. I was thirty seven years old. The boys were ten and six. I walked them to school through the bright, cool morning. Dan had left for the week the day before (he had a traveling job. I called them the Marines of Programming. When someone had an insoluble problem, they were called in to solve it. That week he was in DC.) I was late according to my own schedule (not the publisher’s) on Any Man So Daring. I walked the kids to school, waited till the little one went in. I was re-reading Pol Anderson’s Operation Chaos in a beat up paperback I carried in the pocket of my jeans. So I waited till the younger one went in, reading my book. Then I walked back home enjoying the morning — that beautiful September morning, with only a touch of future frost.
I’d got on the net — our TV reception was awful — and read yahoo news (I think. I hadn’t found instapundit, yet) and read that a plane had struck the tower. I thought it was a small plane and a stupid accident. I felt vaguely sorry, but…
I stopped in the kitchen to make coffee. And the phone rang. This wasn’t alarming. My friend Rebecca Lickiss was also a stay at home mom/writer, and in those days when the internet was still dial up, we often called each other in the morning to discuss a plot point, or tell the other about this cool idea we’d had.
But when I answered the phone, Becky was crying. She said “Turn on the TV!” I said “I can’t get anything on the TV. What is it?” And she said “A plane has struck the towers.” I said “Oh, that?” She said “TURN ON THE TV.”
So I did and watched through the fuzzy reception.
And we entered the wrong leg of the trousers of time.
First let me say, it could have been worse. How? Oh, it could have been worse in many ways, but the most notably worse for the country would have been if this had been domestic terrorism. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you don’t remember those days. In the aftermath of the 2000 election, the “progressives” who had been counting on Gore as a sure thing were so… unhinged (I thought) that I thought at first it had been a left-plot, some sort of attack. I was almost relieved when I heard it was an Arab hit.
I’ve told the story before. I didn’t know if Dan was dead or alive for hours, because this was a new job and I didn’t know where he was (nowhere near the pentagon, but in DC, it turned out.) My friend Charles came over because he worked in what passes for a tall building around here, and they sent him home.
Was I scared? I was scared. Not of the terrorists, though. This week’s trifecta discusses that. My reaction to the terrorists was defiance. I tried to paint a banner. It didn’t work. It was supposed to say:
No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.
But I had to paint it on plastic (it was all I had on hand) and it wasn’t really legible. I got my twin towers t-shirt acquired in our second honeymoon the year before, and wore it.
But I was scared. Not of the terrorists.
Listening to Osama talk about how we were filled with fear just made me want to punch him in his dumb face.
But those among us who were scared and would rather do anything rather than admit they were scared. Those, always too inclined to hate their own countrymen and to think themselves superior to all of humanity by the force of their disdain — them I was afraid of.
And I was right. Just like when they were afraid of communism and therefore would justify anything communists did to the point of acting as a fifth column in our midst, they became apologists for the enemy, blamers of their brethren. They’ve spent the last thirteen years bleating that it’s all our fault, because that’s an easier pill to swallow than the idea they were wrong.
I was wrong back then too, btw. On that beautiful September day, I was an internationalist Libertarian, well-nigh an anarchist. When the towers fell my wishful thinking fell with them, my blind certainty that other people were just as much in love with peace as we were, and that they wouldn’t attack us for no reason (or simply because our very existence puts the lie to their cherished beliefs.)
Am I better for it? Ah!
I’m more grown up for it. I think my understanding of the world is better. It’s also darker.
My youth fell to the ground on that September day. My utopian folly jumped with those poor people with no other way out of the towers. My ridiculous — but pleasant — assurance that I knew what was best for everyone else is gone.
And I’ve watched my country turn on itself. I watched the dreadful fruit of the Soviet union propaganda and of the counterculture of the sixties blossom into where we are now: our allies betrayed, the blood of our compatriots wasted, threatened on all sides.
I’ve watched 9/11/12 be swept under the rug like someone who is slapped while he’s tied down and can’t respond.
Am I afraid?
No, I am not afraid. I am sad.
I feel like we fell down the wrong leg of the pants of time and I’d give everything I have and something besides to go back to that crisp September morning, to come home, to make coffee, go up to my office and pound out five thousand words on Any Man So Daring, to wait for Dan’s call that night, and talk about the cats and the kids’ homework. To never get that phone call that says “turn on the TV” because there would have been nothing special happening. I’d give everything I have to unring that bell.
In that other world — in the other leg of the pants of time — none of those people died. The towers stand as they did when I first flew into New York as a newly arrived immigrant. And I’m probably still a political idiot, but a political idiot who laughs more often and who has some really delightful illusions.
We can’t get there. Even if parallel worlds exist, that is not our world. Here in the present, I’m older and sadder and I feel betrayed by the administration and those who enable it.
Here in the real world there’s a lot of work to do. Those of our own who turned on us after 9/11 might or might not wake up. And those who took the opportunity of the crisis to plunge a dagger in our back in the name of their own utopian dreams won’t stop.
The best we can do is work against the forces of destruction. Build up. Build around. Build through. Be ready when they collapse.
Here, in this pantleg of time, we have a heck of a job ahead of us.
But not tonight. Tonight I say a prayer for all those Americans who are gone — in the towers and in the battlefields.
On the twelfth we resume the fight. On the day after tomorrow we resume working, with clear eyes towards the best world that can be obtained from where we are. Not the shiny world of my fantasies, but perhaps a better one that works for real humans.
But tonight? Tonight and tomorrow I cry for the lost.
And for just a moment — the briefest of moments — I imagine I can reach back and be in that world, in that unclouded September morning, with the towers gleaming bright in the sunlight and all our troubles so far away and yet with the frost already in the air.
On 9/12 I will resume work towards the world I want to leave my children.
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!