Nine One One Oh One

Nine One One Oh One

by Michael Channing

Day started out like all the others. I was on a late schedule at work so I had time to fiddle about. Don’t remember all I did, but maybe I tooled around with my bass guitar, probably played a little Baldur’s Gate, maybe I read. I did strike up a chat online with Bob. Asked how he was doing. He said the bastards knew they were going to pay, and then my dialup connection fizzled out. I figured Bob was having a particularly bad day at work. I hoped it would get better for him. Then I sat down to Cartoon Network with a bowl of Fruity Pebbles. Pleasant way to pass the time before heading out to the cubicle farm.

Mom called. “Are you watching TV?” she said.

Suddenly I felt a little bit ashamed, like when she would catch me watching Ren and Stimpy on Sunday mornings instead of getting ready for church. So I cautiously said, “Yeah.” I should not have been afraid to make this confession, nor should I have been thinking of it as a confession. It was my house. I was an adult.

“Then you know.’ she said, and something in her tone told me that I should, in fact, be very ashamed if I didn’t know.

I arrowed up to a non-children’s channel, and that’s how I found out about the attacks on the World Trade Center.

I drove to work in a daze, listening to a looping reel of panic on the radio. My job was to take calls from Con Edison customers on the other side of the country, listen to them complain about their bills, their shutoffs. They asked if we were still demanding payments. According to my bosses, all business would continue as normal.

In the breakroom, all tvs were tuned to the non-stop news channels. They speculated on who was to blame, where the enemy was, how fast they would pay. They displayed schematics of secret hideouts for congress and the president. There were stores of food and water, enough to last until every airplane in existence rained down from the sky, as would surely happen. I saw gas mask demonstrations, fallout calculators, crosshairs on every possible target of retribution.

Comics went up at once on cubicle walls depicting an American eagle shedding a tear, pressing its wings together in prayer, sharpening its claws. Never forget was the immediate catchphrase of the moment, followed soon by Let’s roll.

I wanted to go back to watching cartoons. Everyone else wanted to grab a shotgun and go hunting. Terrorist season was open, and there were signs everywhere.

How many times did we watch that second explosion? The plane slamming into the skyscraper as the first spewed black smoke into a blue sky? Explosion, rewind, rewatch. Again and again. A thousand people dying at once over and over in front of our eyes. Then we watched survivors commit suicide, tumbling from windows above the rip in the building, tumbling like clothespins.

Go get ‘em. The bastards, the devils. There’s one. There’s another, right down the street. You could tell the bad guys by their weird clothes, their strange language. They kept apart from us, the good guys, but we knew how to smoke and burn ‘em out. The rage that grew hotter with each rewatch of that death loop could melt steel.

I remember the fear. I sat with a friend and waited for word of her sister who was in New York. Waited unbreathing with thousands of others as the instant news and knowledge we’d come to rely on failed. The fear was real. But there was more of it than necessary. Children thought the bad guys were coming for them, to crash planes into their schools, their houses. They believed what the frothing adults told them. Everything you hold dear is on the brink of being destroyed, and you must protect it by any means.

We were itching to go to war. When France seemed not as eager to sacrifice their sons, we attempted to wipe their name from our collective conscience. We renamed French fries Freedom fries because to speak the name of cowards would bring a curse upon our house. Americans ate Freedom for lunch, and we spat out justice.

Ten years previous, we had a somewhat positive outlook on the world around us. The cold war was over (for the moment), the Berlin wall fell, reuniting the two Germanys, the world was waking up from history. For a brief, shining moment, I really thought we were leaning toward goodness and light. But then the first Gulf War happened. It was over quickly, about a month and a half, but we got the taste of blood that we never really got from our standoff with Russia. The cold war led to some really cool movies where we got to pretend to blow stuff up and snuff out bad guys. Then the real thing came along, pumped us up for some action, then left us with a case of red white and blue balls.

Then the towers went down, and we had a new enemy. The blood was in our mouths again, and our missiles stood erect.

I have always been a positive person. I believed in Jesus Jones. The couple of years after the fall of the iron curtain truly felt like a turning point. I was looking at events through my own extremely miopic lens, but that’s how I felt. Americans have always viewed ourselves as reluctant soldiers, protectors who only pull steel when necessary, and I bought into that. I was wrong. We have always loved the taste of blood, the grip of a good weapon, the lamentations of our enemy. We are willing to use the death of thousands to justify that lust. Never forget doesn’t mean remember the dead. It means holding on to vindication for our hate. Support the troops doesn’t mean help them survive. It means send us more.

I used to dream of a time without war. I had a box of straw where optimism could live in my heart. It took all the world, failing at its only job, to fully submerge and extinguish my hope.

A Weapon to Be Held Against Us

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Chokes and Warbles
Now Available

Chokes and Warbles, a collection of essays and poems by Michael Channing

September 10, 2021