It is a morning not unlike many others.
Ashley, whom I have been living with now for eight months in Bloomington, has already gone to work when I rise. Shower, get dressed, have some breakfast, the usual. I go to the job, which is to be a sales associate at Circuit City. I've been with the company for four years, and the transfer from Champaign to Bloomington hasn't been as smooth as I'd hoped for. Not really connecting with the other employees. Getting tired of the grind.
These are the mundane thoughts of the morning. Tuesday morning. Another Tuesday morning like any other.
Arriving at work shortly before 8:00AM, nothing seems out of the ordinary. It's an electronics store, so sometimes the TVs are on before the store opens, quietly humming in the background as we get things ready for the day. Not this morning. They are, for the moment, turned off. Instead, there's the usual drudgery of setting-up displays, cleaning, perhaps one of the morning training sessions on product and, well, it's Tuesday, so that means it's new music and movies day. Lots of CDs and DVDs for me to un-box and arrange.
There are cell phones in this day and age, but they're still nowhere near as commonplace as they would later become. There is no Twitter, no Facebook. Not much social media to speak of, really, which is to say that there isn't nearly as much immediacy as we would come to know in the intervening fourteen years. In other words, we are going about our day obliviously.
Someone mentions that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in NYC. Most of us shrugged it off. I remembered that a plane had once hit the Empire State Building. When was it? Years ago. 1945. An accident. The plane had gone off-course in dense fog. Not a huge deal, in the grand scheme of things. This was probably the same type of situation. Some poor sod who was flying the plan is probably dead. Maybe (though hopefully) not) an office worker or two who were at the point of impact. That's it though, right? Likely a single-engine plane gone off-course.
A few TVs inside the store are finally turned-on. They're turned to CNN, and we see smoke billowing from one of the twin towers. I think, 'That's an awful lot of smoke for a small plane accident.' Not very long after the thought went through my head, we witness the second plane crash into the other tower. The angle of the live feed doesn't lend itself well to clearly denote what has just occurred, so it's not obvious yet what we'd witnessed. 'Did something else just happen?' a few of us ask, bewildered. There is no answer. If another plane did hit the second tower, well, that kind of blows away my accident theory.
We're all just a little stunned at this point. We continue to do our work, albeit slowly, in a bit of a daze. I lose focus, and wander to the break room in the back of the building. The manager-on-duty is back there, his brow furrowed. Ex-military, he doesn't display much emotion. A TV is on in the break room and, in my daze, I see that the Pentagon is on fire. Our manager gets on the intercom and says, calmly but firmly, "The Pentagon has been hit. Our country is under attack." He puts the phone down and walks past me. "Come on, Matt," he says, "We have to do training up front."
Morning training was something that had become fairly routine of late. Before the store opens, management would have us role-play with a particular product. One of us would be the customer, the other would play their normal role as the salesperson. Gathering around the digital cameras, one of us (heck, it may have been me) asks, "We're doing this today?" The manager seemed unfazed. Business had to go on. So, we train, distractedly. Thankfully, we're finished in short time.
We're not getting much work done. I still have new music and movies to un-box and put on display, but am transfixed by what is unfolding on the television. The south tower of the World Trade Center collapses. Again, the viewing angle is bad, so we're not clear as to what just occurred. "The tower just went down," says one of my co-workers. "No it didn't," I reply, incredulously. I am not able to take-in what is happening. Slowly, I accept it. A little while later, the other tower falls. We are all stunned.
Not much later, we open the doors for the day. Circuit City is in business, for anyone who cares to shop on such a day. We have a few stragglers, but mostly the store is as quiet as a library. Another plane goes down in Pennsylvania. All air traffic in the United States is grounded. As the solemnity of the day settles-in, I withdraw from co-workers and go about my work silently.
As day turns into night, I am home at the apartment that Ashley & I share and, for the first time in my adult life, am well and truly scared. We are still processing the day. What happened? Why? Will it happen again? Is this the beginning of the end? President Bush addresses the nation. He seems nervous and unsure which, while it provides no comfort, does serve to humanize him, and that is maybe all we can sincerely ask for at this time.
We finally go to bed, though the long day isn't quite over. I am not mourning the dead.... yet. Instead, my thoughts are on the future. Will we have one? What does it hold? What's next and what will it mean? Finally, fitfully, sleep comes for the night.