This time 5 years ago, I was standing in front of the TV feeling sick.
We’d had a party planned at work that day – we were all feeling like we needed something to perk us up after a long winter, so in “any excuse for a party” mode, we decided we’d celebrate St Elvis’ Day (yes, there is such a saint (nothing to do with Graceland – this one was a student of St David, patron saint of Wales), and his Saint’s Day is 12 September) with a lunchtime party in the office. I’d volunteered to make some food, so I’d got up early and was putting the finishing touches on a few dishes and getting ready for work.
MrPloppy got up, and as he always does, turned on the radio. It was just background noise until we heard the announcer say something about “the terrorist attack on America”. We looked at each other in disbelief, both doubting that we’d heard correctly, and ran to turn on the TV. When I saw those images, endlessly repeated, of the second plane hitting, and then of the towers falling, I was frozen where I stood. As so many others have said since that day, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching a movie – I wanted to congratulate them for their special effects – but at the same time I was feeling physically sick at the knowledge that this was real, and it was happening to real people.
I doubt I would have moved from that spot in front of the TV for hours if it wasn’t for the fact that one of my workmates turned up to give me a lift to work. We returned to the TV for a while, drawn by those dreadful images that you just couldn’t turn away from no matter how much you wanted to. Eventually we loaded the party food into her car and set off for work. Half way there we realised there was no way we were having a party today. Even if there hadn’t been a couple of Americans on our staff, nobody was feeling like celebrating. We set the food out anyway for anyone who was hungry, and I brought up the BBC’s news ticker on my computer. My desk became the focal point for the day as everyone gathered to get the latest news and talk about what had happened, more out of the need to be together than out of any thought that any more real news would emerge that day.
Somehow, five years have passed while I wasn’t looking. A lot has happened, a lot has changed, and there are still a lot more questions than there are answers. But even five years on, I still feel sick when I think about that day. And I’m in a country a long way from America. I’ve never been to New York and I don’t know anyone who died in the World Trade Centre or the other two planes. I’m about as far removed from the events as it is possible to be. And yet seeing those images still hits me like a kick to the stomach. I can’t begin to imagine what today must be like for people who were personally affected.
Currently reading: Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead