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September 11, 2009 / Maleesha Kovnesky

The Summer of 2001

Originally posted on Sep 11, 2008 @ 11:11

The summer of 2001 will always live in my memory like a perfect movie.

I shared an apartment on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. with a good friend I had known from the military.  We had good jobs with weekends off.  We spent evenings riding bikes on the W&OD trail system.  We hiked in Shenandoah National Park, and explored the cemetaries around Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.  We rented horses and took long rides through the Virginia countryside.  Occasionally one of us would get a scary horse and almost die, but all’s well that ends well.  We rode the Metro and went to clubs and visited restaurants and met lots of strange men.  We laughed for hours talking about the strange men…it was like a slumber party that lasted all summer long.  We lived for late night Friday breakfasts at Bob and Edith’s Diner, and for early morning Sunday breakfasts at the Leesburg Cafe.  Every day was a new adventure.  She had a Jeep, the top was down, the weather was balmy and the sunsets were pink-purple.

A major key to the magic summer was MP’s “Magic Phone.”  Her phone at work had an automatic redialer…and with it, she had a knack for being caller number nine into DC101’s morning radio show, Elliot in the Morning.  She won us tickets to practically every major DC entertainment event that summer.  If I recall correctly, there was supposed to be a policy that if you won tickets once, you were no longer eligible for a while.  Somehow, we circumvented that rule and kept winning free tickets to concerts and events.  We saw Jane’s Addiction, Live, Nickelback, and plenty of others I can’t find the ticket stubs for.  We got to go to a private concert (at a bowling alley) with Weezer.  We went to every music festival in the city that summer.  We saw U2 twice, once in Washington and once in New York City.  We spent a lot of time in New York City that summer.

Here’s us with Elliot of DC101 getting ready to “bowl with Weezer.”  Caveat: The band members were all really high. I don’t recall that Weezer actually bowled. We did get an awesome private concert, but if memory serves me right the bowling was done sans Weez.

This is also before I had a digital camera, hence the crummy quality of the photos.

<photo missing>

Here’s the private concert:

<photo missing>

In July we went to New York for a long weekend to see U2 and enjoy the city.  We tried real sidewalk New York hot dogs, tried on clothes on fifth avenue, visited Little Italy, went to a market in Chinatown…we hit everything in New York.  I don’t remember sleeping.  Here’s us taking the ferry from NJ to NYC in July 2001.

Here we are in early September, hiking Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park.  We were having so much fun.  We’d set up the camera on a rock, press the timer, and run like hell to a region in front of the lens and try to look casual.  I’m pretty sure in this photo, my ankle got twisted when I plopped down on that rock to smile for the camera:

<photo missing>

My God, it was a fun summer.  I remember the constant feeling of bliss and happiness.  Life was perfect.  Thank goodness for memories to cloud over things like bills, and work-spats, and car maintenance.  I’m sure those things where there in the periphery…but they were in the far corner of my mind, as the Summer of 2001 was all about being young and having fun.

When you have good friends, a good job, total freedom and it’s summer, it’s like a rockin’ soundtrack is following you and your every move.  You’re young.  Free.  You can do anything.  Every day is a good day.  There is no obstacle that you can’t overcome.  There is nothing you cannot do.

Nothing.

One morning I walked into my office and sat down to check the news online before starting the day’s real work.  I sipped my coffee as I had done for so many mornings before.  The internet seemed to be down.  I reloaded the page several times, but nothing would come up.  Finally the page did come up, and CNN.com showed a picture of one of the World Trade Centers with a big black hole in it.  The headline said that a plane had crashed into it.  Immediately I thought of some newbie pilot, and how dumb he must have been to not notice the daggone tower that was in front of him.

I walked into the office next door, where RL sat reading the same headlines I had.  “Did you see this?” she asked.  I nodded.  She was trying to call her boyfriend in New York City who worked in one of the trade center towers.  She couldn’t get through because the phones weren’t working.

As the headlines updated to show that it hadn’t been a little bitty plane, but a huge airliner full of people, a buzz started flowing in the air.  The internet was now completely down.  Rumors took on a life of their own and started circulating as if they were being carried on the wind.  Televisions turned on all over the massive office complex.  We watched as the second airliner slammed into the second tower in a giant fireball, live on national television.  And that’s when everyone knew we were under attack.

You know how this story ends.

I cannot imagine what it must have been like in New York City, because in DC it was complete chaos.  Suddenly the news announced that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon.  All communications were overloaded and went down.  The internet was hosed.  We stood around radios and listened to the news.  They announced that the Capitol building was hit.  They announced that the State Department was blown up with a truck bomb.  They announced that unknown airliners were circling the DC area.  Panic.  Fear.

Three people from our company had been killed in the Pentagon.  They had been meeting with the Army that morning.  Everyone knew of someone who could be in trouble and no one could get a hold of anyone.  The wind had been knocked out of us.  There was nothing to do but go home.  On the drive back to the apartment, I stared in wonder at the caravan of fifty plus ambulances and fire trucks that sped by in the opposite direction, into the city.

I called MP, who was also on her way home.  Then I called the Red Cross.  I had been volunteering at the National Chapter there on K street and I wanted to know if they needed anything.  “Come on down here,” the receptionist on duty said.  “We need everyone we can get.”  I went home to change out of my office clothes into something more…more what? Utility?  I put on jeans.  MP got to the apartment and she decided to come with me to the Red Cross.  It was better than sitting around watching the news.  We jumped into her Jeep and headed for I-66 into the city.  The highways were empty.  I’ll never forget the surreal feeling of crossing the bridge into the empty city, looking south and seeing the black plume that was rising from the Pentagon.

We were then sent to the Arlington National Chapter to volunteer, as the Pentagon actually lies in Arlington country and not DC.  Soon we were in a van heading to the disaster site.

And disaster it was.  Huge, green-yellow lights shone down from cranes onto the destroyed side of the Pentagon.  The color of the light reminded me of Mountain Dew.  The brick sides on either end of the building were a deep, charred black.  Men walked around with guns and hammers and bags of unknown contents.  Hard hats and camouflage.  Work boots and hand radios.  The sound of construction crews.  Dust rising up against that eerie yellow light against a starless night sky.  A volunteer who had been there all day told us that the plane had hit so hard that they found the tail where the nose should have been–that it turned itself inside out on impact.

I was assigned the job of picking up donated food from all over the city and bringing it back for the rescue teams and firefighters.  I remember going to Denny’s in Arlington to pick up donated breakfasts.  I remember driving all over Alexandria looking for an obscure pastry shop that was making a generous donation of donuts and coffee.  I remember bits and pieces, but mostly I remember the feeling of running and working for hours and days on adrenaline and PowerBars.

Finally I was tired.  I wanted to go home.  I had to go home and rest.  Mentally I felt better that I was helping, but physically I was out of steam.  MP wanted to stay and keep working, and that is what she did.  She was there to see the giant American Flag get unrolled down the side of the Pentagon.  I was sorry that I missed that, but the emotional and physical toll of the week was wearing on me and I wanted to go crawl into bed, where it was still another time and when New York City was still intact.

The weeks that followed 9/11 felt like a re-education of sorts.  The apartment that MP and I shared was in the flight path of Dulles Airport, and very close to the airport itself.  Many nights we could hear the jet engines cooling down.  On most days, if you sat out by the pool at 3:15, you could read the numbers from the bottom of the Korean Air 747.  Though we had never thought twice about the number of airplanes in the air around DC at any given time, the sound of their absence post 9/11 was deafening.  At night I dreamed of crashing planes–planes crashing into highways, planes crashing into houses, planes crashing into each other.  Weeks later when the planes started flying again, we watched them and held our breath.

The shockwave that went through the nation after 9/11 seemed like an earthquake of epic proportions; the kind that levels villages, the kind that halves mountains.  Now I wonder if it was more like a deep ocean plate slowly but surely slipping under a continent–subtle and unseen, but everchanging and inescapable.  The impact that 9/11 has had on our country since cannot be measured.  A crack in the social pavement has widened into a Grand Canyon.  It seems that no one can agree on anything.  Everyone is wrong.  There is so much to fight about.  The billions of dollars that go to Iraq every month.  The Patriot Act, and innocent people who show up on no-fly lists.  Millions of dollars in grants to small towns to purchase armored vehicles.  The morale of the country is low.  People are broke.  And no matter who wins the election in November, it is clear that about 50% of the country will be very, very angry.  Change.  What is change?

<photo missing>

In the months following 9/11, the gap affecting the country seemed to permeate the friendship between MP and me.  There were suddenly many things to fight about, and be angry about, and hold grudges about.  It may have simply been the affliction that hits all roommates after a while…things that don’t bother you at first become grating and unbearable.  And soon there were full out fights.  I am embarrassed to tell you that one week we were fighting so bad that I had the locks changed on her.  She had the police kindly escort her back to the property.  It wasn’t quite Jerry Springer worthy, but it wasn’t far off.  I laugh about it now (and MP I hope you do too) but then I was fired up.  Our friendship fell apart for many reasons.   Eventually she found a new apartment closer to her job, and I bought a house south of DC.

It was months (years?) before we spoke again.  And the tectonic shift of our friendship will remain a little bit off, never again to return to the perfect level of Summer 2001.  Like all fights between people, it was stupid.

It was all stupid.  Whether it’s a disagreement about laundry or dishes between friends, a spat about bills between a couple, or a war about religion and resources between nations, it is all stupid.  One of the many lessons and reminders that came out of 9/11 is that time is short, and this is something I try to remind myself of daily.  Every few tries, I am successful.

The summer of 2001, for me, ended on September 11.

I shouldn’t have been taken by surprise.

It was September, after all.  The leaves yellow and fall.  As much as we want it to, the summer can’t last forever.

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29 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. maleesha / Sep 10 2012 7:46 pm

    Reblogged this on BINARY TRASH and commented:
    Another re-blog…I try to remember to do this once a year. This is the first September 11the I have cried about since the original.

  2. teeni / Oct 9 2009 10:23 am

    It really struck a chord with me when you mentioned how there is nothing anyone can agree on anymore since that fateful event of 9/11. It is so true and you expressed it so well. I know I’ve read this before but with the second read, I got even more out of it. You are very talented. 🙂

  3. DeAnna / Sep 12 2009 7:12 am

    That was AWESOME.

  4. Holly / Sep 12 2009 5:00 am

    very moving, maleesha.

    i still feel overwhelmed when I think about that day and about all the lives that have been affected by it. thanks for reminding me that i’m not alone.

  5. David / Sep 11 2009 7:20 pm

    Thank you maleesha.

  6. matt / Sep 11 2009 8:37 am

    leesh ..this is great…so many of us have forgotten how much we have lost since 01…our freedom will never be truly “free” ever again…our back is against the wall..every nation in the world is covertly being taken over by radical muslim terrorists…our president is clearly a covert muslim…the ultimate sleeper cell..its a disgrace to our nation that he apologizes to these third world backasswards thinking morons…..not all muslims are terrorists…but its a proven fact that 90% of the worlds terrorists are muslim….the religion of peace my ass… you dont convert you die..its that simple…wake up people…they dont give a shit about you..your job…your kids..your god…you dont convert you die….

    it is our age group that is going to be taking over this country soon..and only then will we get to see if we have learned from all the crap that has come about since the 1970s when these jihadi idiots started their uprise….

    Satayana …a philosopher said” if we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat it…

    are you ready to repeat ANY of this???

  7. Shawn / Sep 11 2009 8:28 am

    Great post Meesh, it’s weird how little things stick in your head, I was on terminal leave packing my car that morning to come up and interview in DC. I had no clue anything was going on, Jenn called me because she knew I was getting ready to come up this way and we were talking on the phone watching the news when we saw the second plane hit. I just remember the news reporter going crazy, she kept saying “oh no, one of the news helicopters just crashed into the other tower”. I remember thinking “there is no way that was a little helicopter”. I came up the next day and driving past the pentagon was insane, I think I donated blood three or four times that week…

  8. maleesha / Sep 11 2009 7:57 am

    Yeah, pics will be up later when I get home and fix them. Sorry! I blew my site away a few weeks ago and forgot that I was linking oh, about a MILLION photos

  9. Clayton Cobb / Sep 11 2009 7:54 am

    Just can’t see the pics, Meesh.

  10. Stephanie / Oct 2 2008 4:13 pm

    This is an amazing blog. It’s very touching. Thanks for sharing your story.

    thank you.

  11. steppingoverthejunk / Sep 14 2008 3:36 pm

    I just read this twice and remember that everyone has such vivid memories of that year and everyone was affected. I cant believe how many times, even now, I am talking to someone and we end up on “where were you when…” for 9/11. Beautiful post.

  12. Maria / Sep 13 2008 3:57 pm

    Came from Five Star Friday. Thanks for the great post!

  13. Allison / Sep 13 2008 9:54 am

    Thanks for giving us a glimmer of what was going on in your life when 9/11 happened, and how it affected your life.

    I can still remember like it was yesterday where I was and what was going on in my life when 9/11 happened. It still feels surreal to me.

    BTW, I think it’s cute that you’re carrying 2 umbrellas…one conveniently small, and the other effectively large.

  14. kaylee2 / Sep 12 2008 6:34 pm

    Awww great post

  15. margotmarrakesh / Sep 12 2008 1:25 pm

    Wow, I think this is the best blog post I’ve ever read anywhere!

    I enjoyed reading all about your summer, and felt your shock as the attacks started, and even how you felt all the way to the end of your post, including how you felt about your friend.

    I feel like I’ve just watched a whole movie!

    Margot, the Marrakesh Mystic
    margotmystic.wordpress.com

  16. faemom / Sep 12 2008 1:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing. It really puts things in perspective.

  17. schmutzie / Sep 12 2008 12:27 pm
  18. octavpelin / Sep 12 2008 2:57 am

    Try to remember…the dark september 11.God bless America! Nice site,thanks!

  19. Emily / Sep 11 2008 5:35 pm

    September 11 changed so many people’s lives in large and small ways. It was a moment we all had to grow up. Your post highlights that so well.

  20. smalltownsmalltimes / Sep 11 2008 1:42 pm

    This was beautiful.

  21. Laurie Kendrick / Sep 11 2008 12:40 pm

    Moving.

    Thanks for this.

    LK

  22. teeni / Sep 11 2008 8:58 am

    Great story. I’m going to Stumble it so that rather than dwelling on the negative connotations of September 11, more of us will take it as a reminder that we sometimes need to shift our priorities.

  23. glassowater / Sep 11 2008 8:57 am

    Wow…
    every year, this day just feels like wound that won’t heal, infected and inflamed and bothersome. No matter how much I try to bandage or treat it, it reopens every year at around 9am. I lost a few friends and aquaintences to this day and really does bring things into perspective. Grudges and arguments pale in comparison to the absence of the person from your life. There are far more important things to fight about and for. Great post

  24. bluesuit12 / Sep 11 2008 7:04 am

    Oh wow. This is such a great and moving post. It makes re-evaluate things going on with me at the moment and focus on what’s really important. Thank you.

  25. crisitunity / Sep 11 2008 5:54 am

    This is a beautifully and brilliantly written post, Maleesha. You’ve outdone yourself.

    I have my own memories of that summer, and that Tuesday, but this is not the place to share them. I feel almost lucky to have been old enough in 2001 to see and understand this event – it will be something to tell my grand-nieces and -nephews about – but I feel sad that I’ve had to watch the bickering and chaos that has resulted, which you’ve described so well.

    Idiotically, the only thing I really feel the need to report on this post is that I HATE Elliott in the Morning. I find him totally obnoxious. But the traffic reports on that show are the best in DC, so I was forced to listen to him for the year I commuted to Falls Church.

    You know after I left DC I had to return for a work trip years later. I put DC101 on and it just wasn’t the same. I too found it to be grating and obnoxious and I ended up finding NPR. But I loved that show when I lived there. It may indeed have had something to do with the traffic reports…since I was in a car at least four hours a day.

Trackbacks

  1. dance and transformation « mars is heaven
  2. 2000-2009: Highlights of my decade « BINARY TRASH
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