Autumn Phillips: Catapulted by events


Sept. 11. It came and went like the ticking of a second hand. It passed like river water. If it weren't for the news coverage, I may not have noticed.

Three years later is no significant anniversary and, even at a political rally held Sept. 11 on the lawn of Slopeside Grill, I didn't hear one conversation about "the attacks."

Three years ago. 2001. That crazy week started me on my journey to Steamboat Springs. Like a piece of gravel kicked up by a car tire, I was spit out of my life and found my way here.

On the morning of Sept. 11, I was already half awake when the call to prayer came singing through my window. Our neighborhood's muezzin was an old man whose voice sometimes cracked as he sang, "Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar."

I rolled over in bed and pushed open the doors to the balcony. It was 5 a.m. and seagulls were still circling the light of the tower on a nearby mosque like moths circling a streetlight.

The sun was just starting to rise when I started the teapot and sat down for some cornflakes. I lifted the box, but my hand was shaking so badly that I missed the bowl and cereal covered the table. It was the first sign that I was a mess.

Planes would not fly into the World Trade Center until 5 p.m. that night, Istanbul time, but I already had seen enough terrorism to last a lifetime.

The night before, on Sept. 10, like every night before that, I was on my commute home from work in a small minibus. We were approaching the center of the city when traffic stopped. I heard a popping sound. The air filled with smoke.

We walked out into the smoke, and I saw that the windows of the taxi in front of me were smashed. There was glass all over the street. I saw a woman crying. I heard sirens. I thought the window of a flower store had exploded. There were little roses everywhere.

That night on the radio, a group who had been on a hunger strike to protest conditions in Turkish prisons claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing. Twelve police officers were killed or injured.

At dinner that night, my friend Roni told me that she had seen a terrorist attack years ago in Tel Aviv. She was walking away from a bus when she heard the sound of twisting metal. She turned around and saw the bodies of old women who had been pulling their luggage from below the bus. She saw an apple rolling away from the bus. She walked away and never told anyone.

It's a secret you keep. There's a shame you feel in seeing something so horrible.

After I cleaned the cornflakes off the table, I went into my room and pulled out my suitcase.

I didn't go to work that day, and I didn't call. My phone rang all day, and I didn't answer it. Instead, I made a bus reservation for the overnight ride to Bulgaria.

That night, I saw two planes hit Manhattan while I sat in the lobby of the British Embassy waiting for a friend to get out of work. I was numb. The entire world was being destroyed.

I locked the door to my apartment and left the key under a flowerpot for the landlord. I left tea in the cupboard. Furniture. Books. A yellow raincoat.

When I landed in the United States more than a month later, all I wanted was to be safe or have the illusion of safety. I wanted to live close to my family.

I searched out and found Steamboat Springs, far away from the city center of Istanbul.

Fight or flight.

I think I am one of many who were catapulted here by the events of three years ago.

When historians looks back at this era, they will see all the ways this country changed, including the migration of urban dwellers to small towns like this one -- the Sept. 11 migration.

Or, in my case, Sept. 10.


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