I had just graduated from university two months before. A month after that, I met a girl in the pub in town, and we started seeing each other. Her little brother had his tenth birthday. I was working in a pub. An old schoolfriend had just died, and a memorial service at our former school was being arranged. When I finished the lunchtime shift I drove to my old school and went to talk to our drama teacher. As I got out of the car, just before 3pm, I remember the radio presenter, almost certainly Simon Mayo in his afternoon slot on Five Live, announce that there was breaking news in New York. I assumed, as I imagine a lot of people did, that it was a microlight that had crashed into the World Trade Centre. I got out of the car, walked to my old teacher’s office, and talked about death for 45 minutes. When I got back to the car and turned the radio on I realized very quickly that it hadn’t been a microlight.
I spent the rest of the afternoon glued to the television, watching 24-hour news via satellite. I saw both towers fall. I rang Emma, or Emma rang me, I forget. She was working in a record shop in Exeter. She said the town centre started to go eerily quiet very quickly after news broke and started to spread. The shop emptied. She asked me if this mean there would be a war, and I said yes, almost certainly, but I wasn’t sure who with, or why, or how. It wasn’t really the answer she wanted to hear.
That evening I went to play football in Exeter, as I did every Tuesday night back then. It was a solemn, weird hour. Everybody said that the television news footage had looked like a weird action film. It had. I remember sitting in the car, listening to the radio, trying to figure out what the name was that they kept saying, what the syllables were, how many component words there were, how it might be spelt. I’d never heard of Osama Bin Laden.
My friend James from university was in America. He’d been working at a Camp America thing, tutoring or guiding wealthy American kids during their summer holiday camps. That had finished in late August and he’d been travelling around the states since then. He was in Washington. He had his camera confiscated near the Pentagon, I think, for trying to take pictures. It took him days, maybe even weeks, to get a flight back to the UK. I’ve probably only seen him half a dozen times since. I still consider him a great friend. He came to the wedding when I married the girl I’d met in the pub, ten years and a month ago. Yesterday evening we went out for a meal for her little brother’s birthday. Today he is 20 years old.
I have no memory of the day that followed, or the specific days after that, at least not in relation to what happened in New York ten years ago. I remember buying The Guardian a lot and reading what people had to say about it, what predictions they made, what they identified as causes, while I worked the quiet lunchtime shifts I the pub. But I still remember, distinctly, what I did from 2:30pm onwards. I remember driving home from football, turning off the route I normally took to sit a moment and listen to the radio and concentrate, and then getting a little lost when I drove off again.
A year afterwards I started working in the library. Five years after that we bought our flat. Three years later we got married. Our deposit for the flat came from my father-in-law, who spends a lot of time in Iraq and Kurdistan doing business. Which means, I suspect, that we might not be living where we live if it wasn’t for what happened on this day, ten years ago, indirectly. I suspect there are a lot of people in similar situations. The lines of causality may be blurred and twisted. It’s rare, I suspect, that you get a genuine turning point in history, a fulcrum that alters life for a huge amount of people, in different ways, rather than a slow, evolutionary trend. Sometimes I feel that what happened ten years ago wasn’t all that world changing, that the things which happened afterwards would have happened anyway. But if I think about it properly, consider the ontology of where we are now, not just Emma and me but everyone, society, culture, the west, the middle east, then it seems undeniable that what happened ten years ago changed everything, both brutally and subtly. We honeymooned in New York. We didn’t visit the place where the World Trade Centre used to be. I suspect that the New York we experienced was a very different one to the one that existed ten years and a day ago.