Tuesday, September 13, 2005

My Non-Memory of 9-11

A couple of days ago, every blogger and his brother posted his 9-11 memories. I considered linking here to some of the various posts I had read, but they are so many that it is impractical. I have never written about my memories of 9-11, because I don't have any.

This isn't a story about post-traumatic stess disorder induced amnesia. This is a story about what happened to me on September 13, 2001.

On September 11th, I was on the boundary waters in northern Minnesota (near Ely) with three other men from my church. I remember very little about that day. We were cut off from all forms of electronic communication, being too far out for cell phones or radios. Ely was two days canoing back across the lakes. It was late enough in the season and far enough out that there were no other people around. I imagine we spent the day fishing.

On September 12th, we looked up in the night sky and saw a military jet streaking across it. I remember us laughing and joking about him being "lost," since it looked absurdly like he was patrolling the border with Canada.

Late afternoon on September 13th (which is why this post is going up today), we ran into some people at a portage. They were an older woman and two boys. One of the teens told us this wild story. He claimed that two days earlier, just as they had been setting out, the television news was reporting that the towers of the World Trade Center had been destroyed by airplanes, and that thousands were dead (he claimed 50,000). One of the other men asked if he was serious, and he replied, "Serious as a heart attack."

We spent that evening discussing the boy's story, and were split on whether to believe it or not. I was inclined to believe it because his mother (grandmother?) heard him telling the tall tale and did not contradict him. On the other hand, the absurdity of the story made it difficult to believe for some of the other men.

One of the men (Jim) had a son in the military, and we thought that maybe if the story were true, the country might be at war. We decided to head in a day early, in the hopes of catching people at the portages closer to civilization. If they confirmed the story, we would return to civilization early so he could see his son before he was mobilized. If the story turned out to be hokum, we would simply set up camp at a closer location and fish out the rest of the time.

As we headed out, we started to run into others fishing. Many had been out longer than us, and told us not to believe every tall tale campers told. Eventually, though, we ran into others that had news from the outside. Though the various accounts conflicted, it was clear that something bad had happened, and that the country was gearing up for war with someone. We decided to leave.

On 9-15-01, we arrived at the outfitter. We returned our gear, and I rode back to Indiana with Jim. When we started the car, the very first thing we heard was Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" on the radio. We looked at each other, and that was the moment that I realized we had returned to a different world than we left. We stopped and bought several papers, and I read them aloud to Jim as we drove.

By the time we arrived home, no one was airing footage of the attacks. Many people have told me that they remember the footage running over and over for weeks, but this is a false memory. Everyone was so traumatized that the television was only running footage of rescue/recovery operations. I was not able to see actual video of the attacks for a week, when someone finally gave me a videotape. I didn't see an actual broadcast on the television until August of 2002, when all the 9-11 retrospectives began.

The upshot is that I never experienced 9-11. About a year later, I had a conversation with two of the other men, and we discussed how alienating it is for us. When I read the polemics by bloggers writing about 9-11, I am unable to participate. When I read something absurd, all I can think is, This is madness, isn't it? That one fool could exist who believes this is unsurprising, but a blogosphere full of readers who agree? At times I think I am one of a handful of people who can speak with authority about 9-11, because I did not experience the trauma. On the other hand, I'm sure some people would immediately discount anything I had to say because I lack that very experience.

I remember nothing; therefore, my thoughts are both validated and invalidated.


  1. wow, and I thought I was behind because I didn't find out about the attacks 'til almost noon.

    Very interesting story.

  2. Anonymous5:19 PM

    Remember, you are now banned from any trips which render you incommunicado lest civilation disintegrate. Think of the children!

  3. Anonymous2:02 PM

    Great story. (I've always wanted to go to the Boundary Waters.)

    And I almost did not post any 9/11 remembrance of my own, other than the one remembering 9/11/73.

  4. What was your reaction to the anthrax through the mail, DC sniper episodes?