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January 28, 2004

Flashbulb Memories

Eighteen years ago today, the space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing six astronauts and schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe. Overg and I were talking about how we both know exactly where we were when we found out that the Challenger had exploded – I had first (early) lunch that day and had just arrived at my English class when the teacher came into the room in tears, having watched the whole event on the television in the teacher's lounge.

This prompted a whole discussion about flashbulb memories, and what ours were for significant events in history. In addition to the Challenger disaster, I can distinctly recall where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the following things:

Elvis found dead – I was in my parents' bedroom with my mom, and we were making the bed with the nightly national news playing on a small television on the dresser. We were putting on the last thing - an off-white crocheted bedspread - when the newscaster announced that Elvis was dead.

Persian Gulf War begins – I was in college at Florida State and was corresponding with several servicemen who were stationed in the Gulf (I can remember the names of two - DeWayne Johnson, a Marine, and Patrick Mahoney, an Army captain). Every morning during that time I would wake up and immediately turn on CNN to check and see what was going on. One time I turned it on and there were reports of bombing in Baghdad, and CNN's Bernard Shaw was hiding under a desk.

Oklahoma City bombing – I was at my desk in Chesapeake, Virginia, at my job working for the Virginian-Pilot. Someone in the main newsroom in Norfolk sent out a message - the kind that would appear at the top of your Atex terminal if you were logged on - telling us there had been a catastrophic bombing in Oklahoma. From then on, we all tracked the news updates by constantly checking the Associate Press newswire. This was one of the only times when I haven't been near a television ("Teacher, mother ... secret lover") when a major event unfolded.

September 11, 2001 – I was unemployed and still living up in Raleigh, NC. My mom called and left me a message (I was still asleep) in a hoarse voice telling me to turn on the television. The call woke me up enough that I went out to check my answering machine immediately, so I turned on CNN right away. At first I just saw frantic shots of people running and covered with dust and crying, so I called my mom to ask what had happened.

"The World Trade Center collapsed."
"What do you mean it collapsed? It can't collapse."
"A plane flew right into it and later it collapsed."
"It collapsed? You mean it's just ... gone?"
"They think it was a terrorist. A plane flew into the other building, too, and now it's on fire."
"It's ... gone?"

And then I started sobbing. Damn, I'm getting teary-eyed just remembering this. I don't know what I was feeling that made me start sobbing - certainly I was stunned and shellshocked, but why that led me to cry I don't really know. I think maybe I was just so horrified by the implications of what had happened that the only thing to do was sob.

My mom and I stayed on the phone talking for a little bit, because I still just could not wrap my brain around the idea that one of the World Trade Center towers had collapsed. Even when I saw footage of the rubble I still couldn't comprehend it.

Then the second tower fell, live. Neither of us could really handle that, so we said our goodbyes and hung up the phone so we could deal with our anguish and disbelief on our own.

Posted by Highwaygirl on January 28, 2004 03:54 PM to the category Current Affairs

The only flashbulb memory I have is 9/11. I was at work by 6am and I knew something was wrong by the tone in the office. My staff had become restless.

As it turns out I spent most of the rest of the day figuring out how much the closing of the border would impact our business.

Posted by: mike at January 28, 2004 08:29 PM

I remember when I heard that Ronald Reagan had been shot.

I was in Mike Mitchell's driveway, talking about changing rear bicycle tires and how much of a pain it was to do. His sister came down from the house, (Wendy, the neighborhood hottie, who ended up marrying a shitbum guy and having three kids by 24) and told us the president had been shot. I remember thinking, "I bet his mom is sad."

Posted by: Phildozer at January 28, 2004 09:57 PM

When Challenger exploded, I was in the Model U.N. room at college. I remember someone running by the open doorway saying, "The shuttle just blew up" and thinking that was totally impossible and the guy was just messing with me. I was shocked to find out it was true. I watched the footage for days and desperately hoped the incident would not ruin the space program.

We have our tv set to turn on at a certain time every morning. It's kind of like our back-up alarm clock. On 9/11, I remember waking up and hearing Katie Couric sounding a little frantic. I glanced at the tv and saw the second plane go crashing into the tower. I remember thinking it must be some sort of awful accident. I started shaking my fiance awake and we sat there, mesmerized by the tv. Then, they cut to Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon who said they just heard a tremendous explosion there and everyone was getting out of the building. Right then, I knew the whole morning wasn't an accident.

I had an interview for school the next morning in Michigan and had planned on driving up that day, but I started to get a little scared about making the trip. Everything was so chaotic. No one knew what to expect from minute to minute that day. I remember we had a run on gasoline and the prices skyrocketed from $1.25 per gallon to $5.00 and the lines for gas were pretty long. I was terrified that I'd leave town for this long drive and not be able to get any more gasoline halfway to my destination.

I remember wondering how "back to normal" things would be in time for my wedding (which was a month away) and if my guests/family would be able to still fly in. I remember worrying about my soon to be in-laws who lived about an hour away from the crash site in PA.

Very chaotic, very scary, very terrifying day. And I wasn't even anywhere near New York or Pennsylvania.

Posted by: Kyara at January 29, 2004 11:34 AM

My flashbulb memories?

Pres. Kennedy assassination - 8th grade english class. shock.

John Lennon murdered - watching TV; this event really shook me up like the end of an era

Challenger blew up - at work. shuttle launches were commonplace by then; some coworkers came back from viewing the lauch in someone's office and I casually asked, "How'd it go?" With wide eyes and an incredulous wavering voice, Larry responded, "It blew up!" I couldn't believe it.

The Berlin Wall comes down - I was home and was overcome with tears of joy and thankfulness at this event and it's impact.

OK City Bombing & Waco Branch Davidian fire - both happened on Patriots Day, a holiday for our MA-based company. I turned on the TV to see the beginning and continued coverage of these stories.

September 11, 2001 - I arrived at work at 8:45 and soon after a co-worker said there was a radio report that a plane had hit the Trade Center in NYC. My thought was that it must be a small private airplane that got in trouble and that I'd see it on the nightly news. A few minutes later word came that a second plane hit and then we all knew it wasn't an accident. We listened to radio reports and eventually watched TV coverage as the stunning events of that day unfolded. Each 15 minutes there was a new horrific shock. We stayed at work and did the basics but we were all in absolute shock and deep pain. For me that state continued for the next days, and perhaps weeks. About 2 weeks later TV Guide had some articles about what TV reporters experienced that day and it opened the floodgates and I sobbed for a very long time. Tears had come before, but it was not until this point that I let it all come out. It brings back tears recounting this.

Posted by: lifeonhold at January 29, 2004 01:09 PM
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