“My 9/11 Story” by Catherine Nicholson, Paris

BLOG,September 11 April 5, 2012 02:41

topic; 9/11 medium: TEXT

as submitted for the “9/11” Open Call

Remembering September 11th 2001 takes me back to my student flat in Germany, my washing-up, my radio, droning in a language I -frustratingly- didn’t properly understand. Occasionally a fighter jet roars overhead. My memories feel like a dislocation from the real world, a cold, scary loneliness, a realisation that nothing would ever be the same again.

I’d just turned 19, and four days earlier, I’d moved to Kaiserslautern for what I’d hoped would be a fun year out, a lesson in independence.
Nearby was a big US airbase – on September 10th, little more than a trivial footnote.

September 11th was the second day of my English teaching job. I came home, had some lunch, and wondered sleepily if my building’s handyman would be over to fix my radiator.

I didn’t have a TV, but I’d tuned my radio to a music station while I washed my dishes. At some point though, programming turned to speech, and I assumed it was the news bulletin. I was wrong –it was 2.46pm. I know now that means it was 8.46am in New York. I also know now that radio, in a language you don’t really get, is a terrible way to hear about September 11th.

Back then my German was too awful to follow the presenters, and I got frustrated with what I perceived as boring chat. Setting down my tea towel, I concentrated – and gradually something scary started to emerge through the mist.

– “New York”

– “Flugzeugabsturz”

– “das World Trade Center”

The presenters sounded alarmed and urgent. It was confusing, and unsettling, but I couldn’t understand why.

I even remember not believing my brain, and mentally kicking myself for being so dreadful at German that I’d mangled out some story about a plane crash in New York. That couldn’t be right!

I re-tuned, and found the American Forces Network, which, in panic-stricken English, relieved my mental fog somewhat – and filled me with fear.

They said the twin towers had been struck – the rest I followed in real time:

The Pentagon attack.
The fourth plane going off-radar.
The presenters’ hopeless hope that it was an equipment mistake.
The crash in a field that confirmed it wasn’t.
Something to do with Afghanistan.
Where the hell was Afghanistan?!

I know now that it was all too terrible, I still didn’t get it.

It was only later, maybe 6pm, when the handyman finally arrived, that I got the details.
Peter recounted it all, in slow and simple German. I admitted to not knowing what the World Trade Center was, he explained, and expressed shock at my being so behind the times. He brought me a tiny old spare TV, and I finally understood.

Together we watched the by now non-stop coverage. He said it was “unglaublich” that I was only now discovering what everyone else had been gripped by for hours. It explained the American fighter jets taking off all afternoon. I hadn’t known that wasn’t normal. I felt dizzy.

I went into town and rang home from a phone box. My invincible mum sounded small, scared. She told me to stay away from “that American air base”. I asked her if it was the end of the world, and when she replied that she didn’t know, I remember thinking maybe it was.

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