September 11, 2011
“What the bloody hell is going on?” Those were the first words my British boyfriend at the time said to me as he called me from 6,000 miles away at 9am on September 11, 2001. Not “hi” or “hello” just “What the bloody hell is going on?” I had no answer for him. I had just spent the past hour glued to the TV, jaw gaping, in complete silence as I watched the towers fall. It was like something out of a movie, not real life. My entire view of the world had been altered in one single morning. Even though, I didn’t personally know anyone in the twin towers at the time, and even though I lived on the other side of the country, September 11, 2001 had a huge impact on my life.
Over the summer in 2001, my sister had the opportunity to play in her marching band in the 4th of July parade in Washington, DC. We made a family trip of it, going to DC and then taking the train up to New York City. It was only my second time in New York, and I loved it. We had a blast! We went to several Broadway shows, and did all the tourist attractions, including visiting the World Trade Center. I have a picture of the twin towers 2 months before they fell. I remember looking up at them, reaching high into the sky, and thinking “What would they do if there was a fire in one of these buildings?” Little did I know that, in less than two months, the entire world would soon get the answer to that question.
I was 23 and fresh out of college. I wanted to be an actress; so obviously, my choices were to move to either New York or LA. Even though I had a great time on our family trip, I didn’t really know anyone in New York at the time, and my parents grew up in LA, so I had plenty of resources there. Some family friends offered me a job at their law firm in LA and were letting me stay with them until I decided whether it would a permanent move. I figured I would probably give LA a try for a year or two and then move to New York and try for Broadway. September 11 changed all that.
Growing up as a teenager in the 90’s, we didn’t have a “cause” to get behind. Our parents had the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, our grandparents had World War II. What did we have? Nirvana and the grunge movement; a bunch of pretentious kids who don’t feel like showering and imagining that they are miserable without necessarily having a real reason to be miserable. Rebelling against the bubble gum pop and neon colors of the 80’s – (insert sarcastic tone here) because that’s something “real” to rebel against. I think it lead to a certain amount of apathy and selfishness on our part. And then our world was shaken apart in a very real way. But unlike the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and World War II, we were now engaging in a “War on Terror” not a war against a specific country or government. It is very difficult to wage a war on an idea. This is probably one of the many reasons the focus of the war eventually shifted to Iraq; because it is much easier to go up against a country than an idea, but that’s an entry for another day . . .
Obviously, the idea of me moving to New York any time soon was completely out of the picture. I had been offered a job as a cocktail waitress at the Century Club the week before September 11. My first shift was September 13 – after my first night, they told me they no longer needed me because no one felt like going out and partying. I had a cousin who got married in Vegas less than a week after September 11. I can remember sitting in the airport with my grandmother. We were hungry, so stopped at a restaurant to get some food, and there were real forks and spoons, but all the knives were plastic. My sister and I each took home a centerpiece from the wedding, a potted rose plant, and were nervous that security would take them away because of the thorns on the roses – and the potential for burying something in the dirt in the pot.
One upside was that my British boyfriend came out to visit that October and we went to most of the theme parks in Southern California. Everyone warned us not to go because “a terrorist might attack Disneyland.” I refused to be terrorized. My theory was: if I get killed at a bombing at Disneyland, at least I died having fun at the happiest place on Earth. There was definitely extra security at the theme parks. However, as a result of everyone else giving into the terror and staying home, there were hardly any lines and we had a great time. I don’t blame September 11 for the break down of that relationship, but it definitely was a factor. September 11 made everyone skittish. It was hard to commit to anything long term in the immediate aftermath. No one knew where the world would be or what the economy would do in the days/months/years to follow. The dot com bubble had already burst, and this was yet another setback in the world economy. It was very hard to keep up a 6,000 mile long distance relationship with that much world wide uncertainty.
In some ways, it’s hard to believe that it’s already been 10 years. The feelings are still fresh in my mind. I haven’t been able to watch the news this week without breaking down in tears. But at the same time, so much has happened in the years since. Not just worldwide, but in my own personal life. I am now happily married, I own a house, I have a cat, who is currently meowing at me because she wants attention. I didn’t become an actress (at least not full time). 9/11 caused all the production in both New York and LA to come to a screeching halt – which seriously derailed a lot of plans. It definitely broke my momentum for pursuing that career path. But at least I ended up in the industry I have always wanted to work in. I went to law school and now work in entertainment as a music licensing attorney. I am in the industry I always wanted to work in, and yet I have a steady paycheck, which I definitely would not have had I remained on the actor career path.
The oddest thing to me in all this is knowing that, someday, I will have to explain what the world was like before September 11 to my kids. I remember, when I was looking at law schools in New York City, I came across the globe-like statue that had been saved from the rubble of the World Trade Center. I was standing there in front of it reminiscing when a family came up and I overheard the mom explaining to her 2 year old what it was and why it was important. I have so many friends with kids now and they were telling me that it was difficult explaining to their children who Osama Bin Laden was and why Americans were happy that he is dead. I guess someday I will have to face explanations like that myself. In the mean time, I think I will take today and just remember what it was like before the world changed.