My 9/11

September 11, 2008


People of my generation - I was born in 1982 - didn't really have one major historic date in their lives. That is, until September 11th 2001. I assume everyone of us remembers exactly what they were doing that day, how they discovered the news, and their reaction to it.

On the 11th of September 2001, I was about to begin university. I was enjoying several months of holidays, which I spent reading Dostoyevsky, playing Megaman Legends 2 on the old Playstation, and discovering Sigur R˛s as well. I probably played some Driver too.


That day, in the afternoon, around 2 p.m. local time, I turned on the TV to see the weirdest sight: one of the World Trade Center towers was smoking with a seemingly huge hole in its bosom. Commentators were not totally sure what happened, but they said a plane crashed in it. I thought that was rather strange, but what a breaking news! Keep in mind that at this moment, nobody thought of a terrorist attack. I thought it was the queerest accident ever, but I certainly didn't think it was an attack.


From that point on, I remained glued to the TV screen. I sent a few phone texts to friends: "Watch CNN! Some plane crashed in the WTC!" And as I watched this surreal image of the tower smoking, another explosion occurred. Even weirder, I actually saw the second plane live, crash into the other tower. Of course, at first I thought I had hallucinated, there could not possibly be a second plane crashing by accident in those towers.

The commentators said the explosion heard and felt was probably from the engine of the (first) plane, which would have exploded after the initial crash. I wondered about the plane I had seen myself. Then CNN found out that the engine exploding after the crash was not a very good explanation for the new explosion because it was located on the other tower. At this point it became really crazy. Nobody mentioned an attack, I still thought it was an accident. But now, with two planes crashing in two towers, that was unreal. My first thought was that some diabolical automatic piloting was the culprit, and that for some reason, planes were now forced to take this deadly course and crash into New York's highest skyscrapers.

I thought, with disbelief, that maybe a third plane would come, that they would keep on coming. Then news of the Pentagon being attacked came on, and at that point, I don't remember how I felt and what I thought. Except this: "Well, maybe this day will be referred to as a historical day, and I was there." Not an especially noble thought, but for once in my life, I felt the entire world was together in this, and this was true.

The towers hadn't collapsed yet, I think, and so I wasn't aware of what was really going on. I thought the planes had crashed, there was smoke, but everything was so calm yet (from my far away point of view, no CNN journalist that I could see was on the ground per se). And then as this commentator from several miles away, atop another building, was commentating on the situation, one tower collapsed. As with the second plane, this made the whole thing take another dimension. I didn't expect the tower to collapse. I couldn't believe it when it happened.


Later on, the second tower collapsed, and I couldn't believe it either.

That day I watched TV from 2 p.m. to around 3 a.m. in the night, maybe more. The following two weeks, every TV channel I received showed the towers collapsing repeatedly, over and over, again and again. I saw the planes crash over 200 times, and the same amount of times did I see the towers collapse.

The horror of it wasn't made clear to me until afterwards, when we started seeing what people on the ground had filmed themselves. People jumping off the towers, plummeting downwards to certain death. People so small, and so hopeless that they chose to jump rather than to stay inside, in a hell I cannot imagine. To this day I get goose-bump thinking about that situation: between fire and a terrible fall. And to this day, this event - 9/11 - remains the most surrealist thing I have witnessed.


Doing some research on it recently, I saw footage of falling people. Footage of that woman waving from a smoky hole in the fašade of the building. Footage of those two persons who jumped hand in hand, and fell together, still hand in hand, until the fatal crash ensued. That too gives me goose-bump as I write those very words.


9/11 marked the beginning of a new era, and the end of another. In my life, it ended my teenage years, and marked the beginning of my adult life. I was 19 when this happened, I am 26 now.

7 years later, I am about to terminate my studies, as I was about to begin them when 9/11 happened. What happened in between? Lots. I have been more hurt in that period than ever before in my life, and I'm not out of it. And yes, you are right, I could have been in those towers too.

Given that this chapter is public, I would like to address my most sincere condolences to anyone directly affected by this tragedy. I know what it's like to lose someone you love, and I have suffered tremendously because of it, and I would like to tell you that you are not alone, that you have my sympathy, and that I love you. I don't know you, but you are a human, and I believe all humans have this something in common which makes us able to love each other, and to know each other. We have more in common than it sometimes feels like, and I rely on this to offer you my sympathy, my faith, my trust, and my love.

Nicolas