“History, does not exist in itself; it is up to us to find the patterns in the carpet.” -M. Kakutani “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.“ -M. Twain Mom: I remember coming home and you and Trevor were watching the George Clooney movie about army heroes in Iraq. Three Kings or something like that. You thought the movie was cool. You rented it because of the already known association to the Arab world. I was concerned that you thought it was cool. Maybe that was how you voiced your fear, by masking it. We watched news for much of the next 2 ½ days, but it was so repetitive. I remember finally turning it all off. It was the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over…1 the event. We weren’t allowed to think or process, it was just more photos, more commentary, more pictures, repeat pictures, but no moments of silence. It was numbing. Our news services were numbing us more than the event. We weren’t allowed to think or process, it was just more photos, more commentary, more pictures, repeat pictures, but no moments of silence.
After the movie we sat on the porch and drank beer after beer with no threat of drunkenness; an air of sobriety covered America that day, drying out all hope of escape. We only joked but they were poor attempts at humor, thinly veiling the very need for them. Suddenly a dingy Ford Taurus drove by. It slammed on the brakes right in front of the house, jerked to a stop and an acquaintance from church stepped out onto the sidewalk. Shannon was older, in his 30’s and was one of the more fundamentalist and spiritually charismatic members in our circle of friends. Church services that had once been quiet and classy affairs now contained Shannon wildly dancing and shouting, speaking in tongues and prophesying. We never knew what to do around him, at once strangely attracted but also quite freaked out. He walked quickly up the driveway, a well-used Bible open in his hands. Frowning at our beer cans he lifted up The Word of God and read loudly, “I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice…” We looked at each other in confusion, he continued, “as it flew through the air. ‘Terror! Terror! Terror to all who belong to this world because of what will happen when the last three angels blow their trumpets! 2” He stabbed his finger into the pages, “Do you know what that means?” We looked at each other in confusion. “The eagle, man, that’s an airplane,” Shannon was talking wildly with his hands, the Bible flopping about as he moved his arms in larger and larger circles. “The trumpet blasts are coming soon and we got to be ready! Get ready and be not of this world!” He looked down at our beer cans again; Jared took a drag of his cigarette. Shannon asked again, “Do you know what that means?” I squeaked out a feeble “uh, yeah Shannon. Trumpets.” He spun around on his heels and walked quickly back to his car, yelling over his shoulder. “The eagle! Get ready!” He stomped on the gas and honked the horn (I wondered if that counted as one of the trumpet blasts) as he ran the stop sign at the corner. Jared and Jason and Jimmy and myself all sat in silence. Slowly, they left, heading home in the cooling night. I was alone in my new house at the end of the world.
Dad: I went to my job, which was driving the big city buses, until 6 o’clock that night. There was no radio on the bus, so throughout the day, I had to rely on info that came in from the varied clientele that uses public transportation. I guess, because of this, my understanding of the basics of the tragedy as it unfolded was minimal. And so, I don’t recall much ‘first day’ emotional reaction, because I didn’t have any semblance of the whole event. And in general, I remained a bit emotionally ‘insulated’ in the coming days, as I look back, I think largely due to the fact of having no TV. As the details came in over the days, the details were of the mystery Al Qaeda, the numbers of dead, and the still-shot photos on the web. By and large, I read about this tragedy, I didn’t see it. Only after maybe a week or so, did I ‘ feel’ the event, to a greater emotional degree.
I had woke up in the home of my parents but now I sat on the front porch of a strange and temporary house, struggling to figure out what to do next. Red Dawn’s glorious campiness had worn off and I was now left with the quiet of a sky with no planes 3. What was happening? I went inside and closed the door. My roommate, Scott, had called to say he wasn’t coming home. He was going to his parents’ house and would stay with them as they tried to make sense of it. Jimmy and Jason and Jared had all gone home to their parents’ and the safety of everything that provided. I, however, had just left my parents’ house and couldn’t go back. Oh, how I wanted to. Fear and uncertainty washed over me as I lay on the couch trying to find a channel that didn’t have footage of bodies jumping out of windows, settling on the Home Shopping Channel that was pushing some costume jewelry. I lay in the dark, on that old nasty couch. I lay in the quiet, dreading the coming sound of airplanes or trumpets or any other fulfillment of Shannon’s Apocalyptic Prophecy. Growing up Christian, I had been taught to turn to the Bible for peace and assurance but now it provided fear and death and foreboding. Shannon and the terrorists and US foreign policy had shaken me deeply. My parents just on the other side of town had shaken me deeply. I knew they still cared and knew that the move had been motivated out of compassion but I also had lost the dependence. Uncertainty for the future crashed down around me. Around midnight, I grabbed the phone and called home. My mom answered in the groggy voice of sleep. “Mom,” I said, “I’m afraid.” We talked over the phone, me in the new place and she in the old. The world had changed outside of our telephone call and addresses. It was a new place of terrorism, fear and threats. It was a new place of eagles screaming “terror!” and Patrick Swayze’s Red Dawn kill counts. My world had become a place of squatting in empty houses. Somehow, adulthood wasn’t shaping up to what I had thought it would be. My mother talked on the phone. She offered to pray for me and as she began, it didn’t seem to get easier but I thought I just might make it. Now, years later, I find it so funny the things we remember from the past, not to mention that day alone. There seem to be some discrepancies in our family memories. Mom remembers coming home to Trevor and me watching Three Kings and her concern that I thought it was cool. I do not remember that at all. It may have happened, it is possible. Three Kings was, and is, one of my favorite films 4 but I strongly remember being out of the house and watching Red Dawn. That feeling and memory and experience is burnt into my mind. It is so strange how we look back. My dad doesn’t remember me moving out while my mom remembers a moment I do not. She also never mentioned my late night, panicked phone call. That day and those snaps of memory are so real. I cannot put together exact details of the day before but I identify so close to the memories of the day I put away childish things (whether I wanted to or not).
1 …and over and over and over and over…
2 Revelation 8:13
3 For years afterwards, even sometimes today, the sound of a plane overhead caused a quick moment of panic. It is 12 years later and I am 32 years old. Just last week, while in my back yard, I balked at the sound of a jet over head. It seems our house is right under the flight path of the nearby airport and planes circle above our home. That instant response of fear had me looking up, watching for the plane I imagined crashing into the city in another act of terror. It safely landed and none of it’s passengers were aware of my momentary fantasy.
4 Three Kings is not a war mongering film. It presents a human look at what we construct as enemies, breaking down the walls between us. Throughout the brilliant film by David O. Russell, Arabs and Americans discover their commonality. I probably should have watched that rather than Red Dawn and its gruesome violence between opponents.
Part 3 will come soon.
Read Part 1 here.