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The Where Were You Day

I had been in mid-spoonful of chewing my Cheerios, sitting on the carpet in front of the TV in the living room. My brother and my other roommate were already off on their mornings, at their jobs or sitting in traffic getting there. My wife, who I wouldn’t go on to meet for another two years, she was already at work, and moments later, left reconciling the twists that fate takes, her day was supposed to have been in New York, she had been eyeballing the sales she would have sought at the discount clothier Century Twenty One, the building dust covered from the towers’ collapse, the one in grand view of the pit and wreckage when double skyscrapers came down.

Where were you on September 11? Before having become a cop or a federal agent, I was reporter, and I was when this happened. There generally is a buzz of excitement when something disastrous happens, within journalists, the gearing of mind, the rush for the scoop, the purveying of news, brisk and accurately, as facts develop.

But for this, for moments at a time, I was frozen, just stunned, as one plane crash turned into two, and on next — the Pentagon, and then one grounding down into a field in Pennsylvania. I want to say finally — finally the plane that went down into the field — but then at the time and for days, there was no end and few answers. Even in the newsroom, with editors seated, braced like on a rollercoaster, and the reporters trickling in, standing in a ring around the one tiny TV, glued, as our world was unhinging, there on CNN.

It seemed almost immediately, pictures of a man in a strange headscarf started circulating on TV, his with a name I found hard to pronounce and with too many syllables. Somehow the government already knew who he was, someone whose name — Osama Bin Ladin — I never had heard, or maybe it was I just never paid him much or any attention.

After standing slack jawed, the reporters and editors re-tooled. We weren’t in New York, but we would “localize” and bring context home in Connecticut to the disaster and uncertainty and hope amid terror — on large scale — brought to our nation and played out on cable TV.

The unlikelys came forward. One was a reviled and soon-to-be-departing mayor, who channeled a fatherly stature for a vigil in an old church across from City Hall. On most any other day, he would be crass, maybe an asshole, but there, in this moment, when hope fleeted, he conjured it back with backbone and calm.

Next were the first-responders, and thinking now, how the phrase was named. There were no special ops blacked-out-stealth helicopters or zip-lines with armored super agents, no sonic space planes or Avengers superheroes to assemble. Just street cops and firefighters. Streaming in, seemingly from everywhere, just scrumming and going, into Manhattan, into the panic and fray, in buildings, through crashed traffic and mountains of rubble, from outer boroughs and New Jersey and the cities all over, like the one in Connecticut I covered.

Is it taboo to bring it up in school? Why and how should that notion even be crossing my mind? I’m not even sure how it’s broached, the unfathomable attacks, but it needs to be. It’s been 20 years, predating my daughters existence and even before meeting my wife. My girls, they have only the slightest idea, with them in middle school and elementary school now, they have only the vaguest idea what September 11th was and what it means now.

How — and when — do you say the world can behold horror? That people we don’t know will have hate — from complex geopolitics or differing ideologies or simply just because? Never forget? Alway remember. I do. How long is too long without thinking about it, even just in sharing where you were, 22 years ago on that one day? Where were you on September 11?

Jason James Barry is an award-winning essayist and journalist. Follow his work in Great Pacific Review, and on


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