“It’s difficult to imagine the world the same way as it used to be”

This Sunday, as I’m sure has not escaped your notice, is the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington, DC.

By pure coincidence, I spent yesterday going through boxes and boxes of my childhood things as my parents prepare to sell our house here in Sydney, and I came across the diary I kept in 2001. I was 13, and in ninth grade. On the morning of September 12, 2001, we woke up to the news about the attacks, which happened shortly after we had gone to bed the night before.

Here is the entry dated September 12, 2001:

Today is a dark day in US and world history. The World Trade Centre and the Pentagon have been attacked by terroists. Four American Airlines planes were hijacked, two were crashed into the WTC, one into the Pentagon, and one crashed in a field near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Thousands of people in New York are presumed dead, and many more injured or traumatised. Not only did the two towers collapse, but the supporting buildings lie as rubble. Nearly 24 hours after the first attack, the Pentagon remains alight.
Today was a truly awful day to get through; no one talked of anything else, nor thought of anything but the pain and suffering going on so far away, yet so close to home. All my concerns and worries, my occupations of 24 hours ago seem vapid, shallow, superficial and insignificant. I feel ashamed for worrying about my hair when I think of what others are going through.
The miraculous news is that all our friends are family in New York are fine. Here at home we are severely shaken but perfectly healthy.
The constant media coverage and discussion is almost unbearable, but if it wasn’t there, we’d go crazy without it.
It’s difficult to imagine the world the same way as it used to be when so much has changed. Suspects have been named but no one has been caught yet. It has been reported that 3 Australians are dead and more unaccounted for. America has declared war on the terroists but with no suspects, how can they begin to seek retribution?
It’s late, and Mom has ordered me to go to bed.
All my love, hope and prayer,
Chloe.

All spelling mistakes above are as they are in the original diary entry, but I’m guessing this was the last time I would misspell “terrorist” – it was a word I would read so many times in the following months and years that there’s no way I couldn’t have learned how to spell it right.

It seems that I disobeyed Mom’s orders, because the next entry is also dated 12/9/01:

I know this isn’t a dream, but it certainly feels like one. I wish I could wake up and find the world just as it was, before “the second Pearl Harbour” happened.
The constant news reports are discussions go on and on into the night and will continue as more and more information and intelligence is uncovered…
… It seems surreal that we should go to school, eat our lunches, do our homework, have showers, brush our teeth and go to sleep when so many people are suffering, dying and weeping on the other side of the world.
It’s all people are talking about or watching on TV. The usual raucous and distasteful radio programmes are somber and are interrupted by half-hourly news reports. A giant screen has been erected in Martin Place and constant news reports are being watched by quiet crowds. Another has been put up at Circular Quay so people can’t miss a second, even if they want to.
Our group had a moment of silence at lunch, as did the group next to us. So many girls were crying or on the verge of tears at school today…
… It makes me insecure, frightened to lie in bed at night, even though I know I’m in no true danger.

In the intervening years, I had forgotten about the giant TV screens that were put up in Martin Place and Circular Quay, two giant hubs for foot traffic in the center of Sydney. They were probably the same screens that had been up during the Olympics barely a year earlier, but this time around, the atmosphere could not have been more different.

I am the daughter of a New Yorker. I grew up in Sydney, Australia, but we visited New York at least once a year, and I always felt a strong connection to New York City, and to the US more generally. When the attacks happened, the world suddenly felt a lot smaller, and New York City suddenly felt a lot closer. In the years that followed, Australians would sometimes comment that Americans thought they were the center of the universe. But in the days following 9/11, New York really was the center of the universe. Did New Yorkers know that, thousands of miles away, on their lunch hours in Sydney, people were watching them, praying for them, crying for them? Or did they feel instead that the world had grown bigger, and more dangerous, with more dark corners than ever?

Now, I live in New York. I’ve been there for the last two years, and in the US for the last six. Again, it’s sheer coincidence that I should be in Sydney on the tenth anniversary of the attacks, in the same house in which I woke up on the morning of September 12th, 2001. But it seems sort of fitting. This September 11, as on September 11 a decade ago, I’ll be in Sydney, but I’ll be sending all my love to New York.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/samll/ Sam Lindsay-Levine

    Before deciding how much the world has changed, it’s probably worth considering the average number of deaths per year in the United States, from various causes, from 2001-2011: (some figures approximated or taken from yearly statistics)

    Heart disease: 600,000
    Cancer: 570,000
    Suicide: 36,000
    Accidental poisoning: 30,000
    Accidental falls: 20,000
    Tuberculosis: 650
    Accidental discharge of firearms: 600
    Terrorism: 300
    Lightning strikes: 62

    • http://feministing.com/members/fltc/ F.Toth

      I think that Sam LL is saying we need some perspective, and I agree.

      That morning I was amazed that people were shocked, SHOCKED to see that people hated Americans and that some who hate Americans were organized enough to do something about it. Anyone who travels should know that. It’s just luck that something like this didn’t happen long ago.

      Three thousand people died, and we are still reeling from that, unaware or not caring that 45,000 Americans die each year in car accidents–are we campaigning for safer cars or more seat belt use?

      What it means in my life is that when people romantize the event beyond belief, I have to play along. “Oh those HEROS!” when many of those who died, albeit tragically, were not heros but passively just DYING.

      What it means in my life is that since now people are afraid of everything, in a bad economy my tax dollars are going to pay for an untrained woman to sit at the front of the school and not check IDs as people come in. It’s ridiculous and pointless and a result of ten years ago.

      What it means is that if I want to take my young daughter on an international trip, I can’t pack her a lunch and have to eat the expensive and ill-prepared airport food. It means I have to worry about my pre-school daughter being frisked.

      How the world has changed is to be afraid and angry all out of proportion to the rest of what is happening in the world.

  • http://feministing.com/members/rachelsholiday/ Rachel

    Thank you for writing about this. I was the same age on September 11th and I remember thinking a lot of the same things. I feel like this has really validated me.

    Also, I’m glad that I wasn’t the only one who wrote in my journal that way, haha.

  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    I was in college at the time, that fateful morning, but happened to be at work. I was working the morning shift. Customers who entered the store told us about the details as they became known. On my break, I called my father. Conversations between the two of us usually do not last more than two or three minutes. I knew this was a big deal when he kept me on the line about twenty minutes, relaying information as it was being reported on network television.

    At school, a television had been brought into the center of the hallway of the Humanities Building, so that all could observe what was happening. I arrived to find my afternoon class had been canceled, as well as the evening one that followed. Having nothing else to do, I decided to return home and spent most of the rest of the day glued to the television as we all were.

  • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    Did New Yorkers know that, thousands of miles away, on their lunch hours in Sydney, people were watching them, praying for them, crying for them?

    Well, at the time, a lot of television broadcast was spotty (apparently the Towers were also a hub of signal transmission) as was cell reception, and land lines were often down so all of us might not have, but we certainly became aware of the well wishes and aid of the world in the following days.

    This is a great post, because it’s sincere. I feel like what you wrote in your diary is more sincere than a lot of the memorabilia and such. In the past few days, surrounded by 9/11 hype from everyone ranging from the flag-wavers to the conspiracy theorists, I’ve just sort of felt sick and disgusted how many people, many of whom weren’t even here at the time, have just used this to push their own agendas, and how many more lives have been cost since. I remember it in a more visceral way, something for months that smelled like chemicals and burning hair and skin, hearing that the body of someone I knew (a firefighter) had been recovered, but finding out later from someone else that it was actually an arm that had been ID’d. Another friend who took an office temp job who was missing for three days, but turned up in a makeshift rescue shelter after escaping from the building. I remember stickers and graffiti everywhere that read “Our grief is not a cry for war”, and then hearing that the US had attacked Afghanistan anyway, and flyers up with photos of people who I don’t know what became of, former President Clinton walking the streets and a woman asking him to hold a photo of her missing husband up to the news camera, in hopes that somebody might know where he was. Bringing baskets of socks, work gloves, bottled water, chocolate and the like for the workers when I could afford it. All these fleeting impressions.

  • http://feministing.com/members/toongrrl/ toongrrl

    I was 11 and at the bus stop for my middle school. I heard the 8th graders talking about it, it was confusing sounded like we were invaded by aliens or something over there. I found out what happened and about that night we put a candle out in the front yard as everyone else had. I still feel sort of shaken, looking back it’s like my childhood has ended.

  • http://feministing.com/members/clix/ Clickety Keys

    Don’t be too down on yourself for misspelling a word or two in your private journal at age thirteen. Goodness knows I’ve seen more egregious errors from my sophomores – sometimes after multiple drafts!

    I love how this is both forthright and contemplative. It strikes me as a very compelling piece from a talented young writer :)