One day in September

Well, a few days late, but still somewhat topical; and this is a tale of lateness anyway.

It was the September of 2001; I was a first-year university student a bare week or two into living alone and avoiding scurvy all by myself in this Finnish university of mine. One Wednesday morning I woke up, dressed, looked in a mirror, said “Gruumsh” and bicycled to the university. The day’s first lecture was Mechanics for my Physics minor. I took a seat, yawned, waited for the lecture to start.

An acquaintance-friend slinked in (hey, second week, a bit too early for firm bonds, huh?), sat next to me, fidgeted, and then said, apparently forming some sly-cool awful joke-greeting whose meaning I couldn’t grasp, “So, was it you?”

I expressed I had no idea what he was talking about. Was I what? Had something extraordinary and anonymous happened? Had someone done something unusual at the university? Was there any reason to think I had done it, or was this his idea of a joke?

The day was September 12th, 2001; and I was shortly to learn that living alone, with no TV or (at the time) internet and not remembering even to turn on your radio (or hit a morning newspaper) can leave you a bit ignorant of the big things that happen.

After I convinced the friend that I really wasn’t kidding, I had no idea of what had happened or that anything of note had happened, he took a pencil and a piece of paper and sketched: Around 15:46 Finnish time the previous day, a plane rams into one of a twin New York skyscraper. Kaboom! A few minutes later, another into the other tower! Both collapse. Then a third plane plows into Pentagon. Deeds perpetrated by persons unknown. I scratched my head, asked if he was pulling my leg; he said he wasn’t, and I couldn’t doubt that.

I have no memory of the lecture that followed; I wish I could remember if the lecturer mentioned current events before starting; but I can’t recall. Mechanics was exposited and discussed; and two hours later I made a beeline for the university library and its newspaper reading room, and spent an hour or two gaping at pages and pages of text, pictures, schematics, timelines, questions without answers, thinking to myself, “Holy shit” and “Oh dear God”. (Also thinking in a half-wistful and half horrified-I’m-thinking-this way, “Figures; one day I don’t turn on the radio and something like this happens. And I don’t even have a TV to see video of this all. And I’m such a brute for thinking like this.”)

I’ve no memory of 9/11, but that’s my memory of 9/12. My most striking memory of the most striking event of our time is, almost a day after it, gaping and asking “What do you mean ‘was it me’? Has something happened?”

(And, er, it wasn’t me.)

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