Remembering 9/11: 20 years later

The Reader editorial staff shares their memories of that fateful day 20 years ago

Apocalyptic literature
By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

My college roommates and I lived together — all 20 or, like me, nearing 21 years old — in a nice house a few blocks from then-Albertson College of Idaho, in Caldwell. It seems strange to think about now, but back in 2001 we had one phone number and four phones. Mine was a heavy black rotary from the ’50s — the kind you could slam on the cradle — and it had a god-awful piercing ring, which woke me up on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

A close relative of one of my roommates was a high-ranking military officer and the phone call was for him. Something about an apparent attack on the East Coast.

By stages we all got out of our beds and started turning on televisions and firing up our desktop computers. This was early in the day — probably around 7 a.m., Mountain Time — and so the first thing I saw were the flames and smoke pouring from a gaping hole in the north tower of the World Trade Center. 

The word “awesome” is overused and thereby its meaning obscured. Awe is not a positive emotion. It is a form of fear — fear so profound that it doubles back on itself and switches into wonder, which is a curious reaction to something inexplicable that I suspect is an evolutionary safeguard against insanity.

Anyway, what I saw that morning inspired one of the only moments in my life that I would consider “awesome” in its true meaning. I do not want to feel that again.

I don’t remember exactly how I got to campus (or why I went there), but my next memory is of standing in the student union building with a few dozen other students and faculty members as we watched CNN coverage from New York on an enormous “big screen” TV.

Together with one of my politics professors, who specialized in Central and East Asia, we were speculating whether this was a terrorist attack, who might be behind it and why. Looking back 20 years later, he was right on every count. 

Mid-conversation — and watching live footage of the burning north tower — a jetliner cruised into the frame and plowed into the south tower. There was a brief silence in the room, followed by gasps and screams. I looked at my professor and he stared back at me, saying something like, “This is it. We’re going to be at war forever.”

My next memory is of standing outside in front of the humanities building in an anxious cluster of fellow politics-economics and history folks, chain smoking for the first time in my life. I don’t remember if we were talking or not, but I do remember glancing across the quad to see one of my friends bopping over the grass with a huge grin on his face. It was a glorious fall day, after all, and he’d apparently slept in.

When he reached our worried knot his smile fell. We told him what had happened and he practically collapsed (and later fully collapsed under the weight of a fifth of MacNaughton whiskey and a phone call with his mother… America writ large).

Things are blurry from there, but sometime in the mid-afternoon I remember sitting in the basement of our house — classes had been canceled — and drinking off the MacNaughtons. A bunch of us were in our bunker-like “rumpus room” watching CNN and, past the initial shock, now making hard-nosed predictions about what it all meant.

Even then it was obvious we were in a forever war with everyone and no one. Mostly, we were going to war with ourselves and, while the disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq are officially “over,” the civil war that started on Sept. 11, 2001 is only intensifying. Hunter S. Thompson called it the “new dumb.” It’s 20 years old now and only getting dumber. Americans’ brains by and large fell out of their heads that day, and precious few have been scraped up and put back in their skulls.

The next day I showed up to my English class, “Apocalyptic Literature,” and the professor told us she was throwing out most of our previously assigned texts and dropped a pile of newspapers on the seminar table. “This is apocalyptic literature,” she said. And so it remains.


Lost in the After
By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

It is a long-standing habit of mine to make the people around me feel old by asking them where they were when a major world event happened, then revealing that I was either too young to remember or simply not yet alive.

This is a frequent occurrence living in Bonner County, where a quick Google search reveals the median age of the population close to 50 years old. 

I, a young millennial, often find myself the youngest person in the room in professional settings, and among the youngest in the grocery checkout line while out on the town. My point? I have not been alive very long and have memories of only a handful of major world events — a fact often lost on the people around me.

I’ll never forget the first time we discussed the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the Reader office. Ben and Zach began discussing where they were, how they found out, etc., while I sat quiet. When their attention turned to me, looking for input, the reality of my short life made an appearance.

“I was in Kindergarten,” I said. “I remember the TV being on, and I remember people being sad.”

A memorial made of steel recovered from Ground Zero in New York City. Courtesy photo.

My memories of 9/11 are more feelings than concrete remembrances. I can picture the news playing on the TV in my family’s living room, and the frantic effort to tear ourselves away and get to the school bus stop on time. 

I vaguely remember arriving at my classroom; the demeanor of the adults that day being sad and bewildered. 

The dichotomy of the school day seems poignant to me now: While I learned the very basics of letter sounds and counting past 10, the adults around me grappled with paralyzing shock and fear on a worldwide scale.

All of this is to say that while I sit here, writing for this newspaper and taking on a role in society that is, by all accounts, very adult, I lack something that almost every other adult around me has: memories of the before.

Before 9/11. Before the war. Before terrorism. Before life and politics and travel and diplomatic policy as it operates today.

I have always lived in the after. This is my normal. How that might inform my worldview and understanding of international events — I’m not sure, but it feels worth reminding those of you who can firmly remember life before and after the attacks.


The day Everything Stopped
By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

I dropped out of college in 2001 to pursue a career in the film industry in Los Angeles, but was working at Hidden Lakes Golf Resort as a golf pro for a final summer before making the big move to California. I loved my job at the golf course. Starting as a cart boy when I was 15, I had slowly moved into the pro shop and started giving golf lessons under the tutelage of pros Ken Parker, Mike Deprez and Jamie Packer — all of them teaching me valuable lessons about life, as well as golf.

On the morning of Sept. 11, I was in bed with my then-girlfriend. We had tied one on the night before and both had brutal hangovers. A phone call woke us up at some ungodly hour, but she didn’t answer the first volley of rings. When the ringing started again, we finally dragged ourselves out of bed and answered the phone. It was her dad, telling her to turn on the television, there was something happening in New York City.

I found the remote and turned on the TV. The first image I saw was an aerial shot from a helicopter looking at a plume of smoke coming from one of the World Trade Center towers. Within seconds of turning on the set, we watched in horror as a jetliner came flying in at speed and smashed into the other tower, erupting in a huge fireball. I was 20 years old at the time, filled with my own self-importance, but I immediately understood that something was happening that would change our world forever. “We’re going to be at war for the rest of our lives,” I told her.

Soon I was getting calls from friends and family members as they each found out what was happening. Some were crying, others were angry. I remember my emotions being a mix between confusion, anger and despair. It dawned on me that there were probably thousands of people in those buildings. I’ve never been a religious man, but then and there I prayed that all of them made it out safely. As it turned out, that was nowhere near the case.

I was scheduled to work the pro shop that morning, so I tore myself away from the TV, showered and put on my uniform, only to arrive at the golf course to find everything was shut down for the day. It was a beautiful September day, crisp but warm, yet there wasn’t a soul on the golf course. 

I was told to hang out as long as I could, in case golfers showed up, but not to worry about normal operations. Instead of manning the pro shop desk checking in foursomes like usual, I gathered in the bar with a handful of other employees and we watched the news with grim faces. Everyone was in tears. 

About noon, someone suggested we start drinking and we didn’t stop until nightfall. We drank to numb the reality of what was happening before our eyes. We drank because we weren’t strong enough to fathom what this actually meant for our country, our world. We drank because it was the only thing to counter the immediate shock of watching the world we knew transform instantly into the world we know now.

Somewhere around early evening, too drunk to drive home, I called my girlfriend and she came out to pick me up. Her eyes were bloodshot from crying all day. We drove in silence, all words meaningless at that point. After she dropped me off at my place, I went inside, collapsed on the couch and tried to sleep, but sleep never came. The image of that second plane hitting the tower played over and over in my mind in a constant loop. I rummaged through the pantry and found a half-empty bottle of whiskey, wrapped myself in a blanket and watched the sunrise from the back porch just to see something beautiful amid all the ugliness. It was the first sunrise in a new world I wasn’t sure I understood anymore.

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.