Monday, September 11, 2006

It Happened to Someone Else...

11 September, 2001: I am sleeping, in that drugged way that one sleeps when deep in the depths of illness. I will not find out that I am in the acute phase of mononucleosis and that my liver enzymes are "off the chart," until the next day. I am temporarily living at home, having run out of employment, money, and health, in that order.

My mother bangs open the door of the room in which I am sleeping, and asks me if I've heard. I say something like "Uh?" and she babbles something incoherent about a terrorist attack. I look at her, blink, and say, "Terrorists. Yeah, right." I try to go back to sleep until my foggy brain informs me that my mother is not the type exactly to babble on about things.

I get up, stumble into the next room where a television is on, tuned to CNN. I watch in silence, feeling bleary and detached, as an airplane crashes into the second tower. I stay in front of the tv for some indeterminate length of time, right up until an interview with Orrin Hatch comes on. Hatch starts blathering on about "an act of war." I'm feeling surly. I growl at the tv, "That wasn't an act of war, you moron, it was an international crime!" Feeling vaguely pissed off, I stumble back into the room in which I am staying, lay back down on the futon (never unfolded into a bed, still in couch form) on which I have been sleeping for the past several weeks, fumble around on the floor until I can locate my stereo and my headphones, tune to CBC Radio, and listen for a while more.

At around 11:30 in the morning or so, the host has a phone interview with the head architect of the firm which built the World Trade Center, and the architect explains exactly how the collapse occurred, talking about modern construction techniques, concrete, and metal. I make a mental note.

Sometime later, exhibiting the cutting sense of irony for which Canadians are justly famous, some wit at the CBC plays Brian Eno's "Music For Airports."

By this time, my father, a commercial pilot, is having some airport trouble of his own. We wouldn't hear anything from him for hours, but my mother reappears and informs me that he is supposed to be done his shift right about then, so I am not to make any unnecessary phone calls or use the internet at all, in order to keep the phone lines clear. At some point, I realise that I am supposed to have been in Toronto interviewing with a temp agency for a job that afternoon; I call the temp agency and tell them that I can't come. The woman on the other end of the phone tells me that the building is being evacuated anyway. I feel relieved.

My mother comes into the room in which I am staying and turns on the computer so she can play what will be the first of probably a hundred games of solitaire she'll play that day. We talk a bit, I try to reassure her that Dad is ok, because surely terrorists have better things to do than hijack small commuter aircraft, and then I doze for a while. I'm having a hard time staying awake even with all this excitement, and I haven't really felt more than a detached sort of curiosity mixed with a vague tinge of sadness all day.

I put my headphones back on to listen to the radio some more. Around ten to four or so, my father calls home and tells my mother that he had gotten delayed and diverted, and wasn't able to get to a phone for hours after he got on the ground, but he was at Pearson Airport in Toronto and the company was sending him and some other pilots home by limo (a chartered car, not a stretch limousine). My mother and I then get in the car and drive into the city, and I go to a doctor's appointment.

My doctor is one of the clinic's residents, a young, brusque Asian man who listens to my complaints about fatigue and stress, gives me a perfunctory examination, then sends me down the hall to the in-clinic lab to have a blood sample taken. He does not tell me why. The laboratory technicians can't find a vein on me. They ask me when I've last drunk or eaten anything. I can't remember for a moment, and then I tell them dinner the night before. By now it's about 4:30 in the afternoon. They criticise me for not eating or drinking, and I say, "I'm sick, the world is blowing up, and my father was missing for four hours. I couldn't eat." They have no idea what I'm talking about. They've all been in the lab since 8:30 that morning and haven't seen or heard the news all day. I try to explain, and they don't believe me. I don't have the energy to protest. They feed me orange juice, water, and dried fruit, and eventually my blood pressure comes up enough that they can get the blood sample. Despite the fact that I hate having blood drawn, I barely notice.

I wait for my mother outside the variety store near the doctor's office. I can't stand and I'm sweating and shaking, so I wipe my face with my black t-shirt and sit on the sidewalk. I notice that I have sweated through the back of my shirt. I also notice that the sky is preternaturally blue, the sun is brighter than I think I've ever seen it, and the air itself is quite hot. There is barely a cloud in the sky.

My mother picks me up, asks me what the doctor said, and I can't tell her because he didn't say much of anything. I tell her that I had to have blood taken, show her the cotton ball taped to my arm, and we go home. I sack back out on the futon-couch, and go to sleep for a while. I hear my father get home. The dog greets him only slightly more enthusiastically than my mother. I don't get up. I hear them doing things in the kitchen, and they call me to have dinner, but I tell them I don't want any. Later, I try eating some soup, but I can't eat more than about six bites at a time without getting tired.

I have barely noticed the news about the other crashes; everything is all very distant, happening hundreds of kilometres away and well outside the insulated bubble of fatigue and illness in which my consciousness finds itself. By the time it all finally "sinks in," about three weeks later when I finally start to recover, it feels like even my strange day happened to someone else...


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