Tuesday, November 30

I will never forget being in New York on September 11, the day I knew there are no guarantees in life | Hadley freeman

ORIn the past two decades, 9/11 has taken on all sorts of different meanings for people, from the end of American rule to the rise of a new kind of terrorism. But when I think of 9/11, the first thing I think of is Tracey Ullman.

I was born and raised in New York City, but I was only there that day because it was New York Fashion Week, and the Guardian had sent me from London to cover it for the first time. He was 23 years old. Look at me mom, now I’m an adult, I’m sent abroad to write news! I was going to fly back on the night of Sept. 11, 2001, and I only had one show to cover that day, so I treated myself to room service (so grown-up) while watching one of those morning news shows that are actually just celebrity talk shows. , occasionally interspersed with the headlines. I loved that the guest that morning was Tracey Ullman, who I always liked. So there I was, having breakfast, listening to Ullman, feeling content with the world and in total control of my life. Then the next interview began, with someone who had written a celebrity biography, and the presenter suddenly interrupted the procedure. A plane, he said, had flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Hey, that’s weird, I thought, not particularly worried, because despite feeling like an adult, I was still really a child.

The presenters spoke of the incident as if it were an accident, because what else could it be? And then as we all watched the live footage and I kept eating my room service, the presenters gasped. “We just saw another plane crash into the other building!” one of them screamed as the south tower burst into flames, and my spoon froze on the way to my open mouth and fell back into the bowl. Suddenly, military planes passed my window.

In moments of trauma, people often forget the important things, but remember the banal details. I don’t remember what happened after that, but I will always remember seeing Ullman that morning. I remember the cereal I was eating (mini Shredded Wheat), and I remember the fashion party I went to the night before (Marc Jacobs). I also remember the Guardian news desk trying to get me help with their news coverage, and one day someone will write a sadly comical play about how one of the worst terrorist atrocities ended up being covered by the fashion press, just because we were all in New York when it happened. I also remember the subject line (“Attacks”) in the email I received the next day from my friend Lizzy telling me that Cat MacRae, one of my oldest friends, was missing. His office was in the north tower.

Like me, Cat was 23 then, so now she has been gone for almost as many years as she was alive. It is almost as disconcerting to realize that my children were born 14 and 17 years after 9/11. I was born just three years after the end of the Vietnam War, and that seemed like another time to me, but on September 11, I remember the cereal I was eating that day. How could it have been 20 years ago? “Time passes” is not a great revelation, but what is so confusing about 9/11 is that, yes, time has passed, but neither has it. Sometimes it seems that it is not so much that everything changed on September 11, but that we have never been able to get over it. The most obvious thing right now is Afghanistan. But there’s also the politics of the US and the UK, much of which still feels like a reaction to 9/11, from scaremongering about immigration (the conservatives) to self-loathing for aggressive reactions in that. moment (Labor). Would Barack Obama have been elected in 2008 if George W Bush hadn’t insisted on that unwinnable war in Iraq, and if he hadn’t, would Donald Trump even bother to run for president in 2016? Alternate history is nonsensical complacency, but it feels safe to say that if 9/11 hadn’t happened, our lives, over the past two decades, would have felt very different to all of us.

Apart from the historical, there is the personal. Many of us who were close to Cat, including me, ended up having three children, even though we all grew up with only one sibling, and some of us have quietly admitted to ourselves that it’s because we didn’t want any of our siblings. The children would never be left behind alone, as was Cat’s beloved younger sister, Annie. We learned on September 11 that there are no guarantees in life, even for the most beloved children, so we stocked up. When I interviewed Cat’s parents on the 10th anniversary of her death, her father, Cameron, told me, “Part of you is moving on, but another part will always be in 2001.” My life has moved on, but a big part of me will always be sitting in the hotel bed, when I, Cat, all of us, think we were taking another bite into our future, only for the spoon to freeze in half. , and all we could do was sit, with our mouths empty and our mouths open, watching the world and our lives change forever.


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