Seven years and one day

Seven years and one day ago, I sent Zoe off to school and was downstairs in the dark, icky unfinished part of our basement, transferring loads of laundry. I could hear my one year old Helena upstairs as she was busy, busy, busy blabbering on about nothing in particular in her playpen and I remember thinking that it was such a spectacular day outside that I might just take her for a walk and you know I must have been in a good mood, laundry notwithstanding, because even back then, it took a lot for me to even contemplate hanging around outdoors in nature, let alone exercise in it.

I brought up the laundry and dropped it on the floor, lifted Helena out of her padded cell and nuzzled her neck, plopped her down on the floor by my chair so that she could roll around in the clean towels and started to fold the rest of the laundry. I felt pretty damn good that it was only around 9:00 AM and I had already done a load of laundry, taken a shower, gotten Helena dressed and cleaned my kitchen. I mean, damn! Who knew what else I would conquer that day?

I glanced at the TV, which I had placed on mute while I was downstairs so that I could hear Helena because I was a good mommy like that, and noticed that Good Morning America was still on and Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer were staring at the screen behind them. I looked at my clock and wondered if it had gone all wonky on me because wasn’t Good Morning America supposed to be finished by 9 AM? Not that I had in any way, shape or form memorized the morning TV schedule back then when my days were filled with diapers, onesies, bibs and poop. Nope, I did no such thing. And don’t you just love the word “wonky?” Is that not one of the most descriptive words you’ve ever heard?

Anyway, I turned the mute off, realized that it was a shot of the World Trade Center behind Charlie and Diane and heard them saying something about a plane hitting it. I saw the smoke from the one tower and my first thought was holy shit, is that a hole? A big, fat, gaping hole? Whoever let a plane hit the WTC was going to get their ass and every other part of their body served up to them on a silver platter. And then Charlie, Diane and I watched together as the second plane came into sight and then I sat there transfixed as it slammed into the second tower and in the background, I think I heard Charlie say something like “oh my, this doesn’t look like an accident” or something like that and I just didn’t move. I couldn’t move. I don’t even think I breathed for a minute.

And then I was overwhelmed by all of the various reports coming in from everywhere about missing planes and hijacked planes and targets and evacuations and terrorists. I called my girlfriend who was oblivious and yelled at her to turn on her TV and we watched together, trying to make sense of what we were seeing. And we couldn’t. The only thing we knew was that nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, was ever going to be the same again. The world we now lived in was entirely different than the one from minutes beforehand and I immediately longed for that previous world, the one in which a simple shower, a clean baby, glistening counter tops and freshly laundered towels were enough to make me feel invincible on a beautiful September morning.

I called Zoe’s school and Nate and then my parents to make sure they were all OK … not that they were anywhere near New York City as my parents lived in North Carolina and Nate was twenty minutes from home in his office but in my paranoid mind, buildings were going to be blown up all over America and I just needed to hear their voices and make sure they weren’t in any of them.

And when the first tower fell, I sat there stupified. I simply could not process what I had just seen. All I could think about was that sheer mass of smoke, how heavy and dense it looked, how it resembled a monster and how would anyone survive something like that? And on the other end of the line, my father insisted that only the top of the building had collapsed and I insisted that the entire building had fallen and my mother was running interference between the two of us and then we all sat there in silence when it became obvious that the entire tower was just … gone. And we could only guess how many thousands of lives were just … gone.

And when the second tower fell, I watched it through tears and waves of nauseated hysteria.

And when the Pentagon was on fire, I was stunned. Washington? Weren’t there millions of armed forces and guns and missiles and stuff there specifically to stop anything like this from happening? I mean, if it could happen there, it could happen anywhere.

And anywhere turned out to be a large open field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. By that point, I was numb.

In the midst of all this, my neighbors and I wondered if we should grab our kids from school and evacuate because we lived pretty damn close to a nuclear power plant in upstate New York and hell, if they were attacking downstate, what’s to stop them from aiming a couple of hours up north and proving to the world that they could decimate country folk in a blink of an eye just as efficiently as they could city folk?

Other than to take care of my family’s basic needs, I didn’t move from that chair in my living room for days. I was glued to the TV. I didn’t want to miss a single report, a single theory, a single interview, an iota of information. I barely slept.

And like so many others, I mentally sunk deeper and deeper into despair and wondered how I was going to raise my children in this world and by the way, where the hell was God in all of this? Hello?

As they panned the thousands and thousands of fliers asking HAVE YOU SEEN ME? and interviewed husbands and wives and sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and fiancés and friends who were begging for any shred of information, no matter how little or how far fetched, about their loved ones, I had to look away. I wondered how long it would be before they got answers. And I wondered how long it would be before they could accept those answers.

I watched them interview the throngs of people lined up to donate blood, only to realize that the amount donated far exceeded the amount needed because dead bodies and vaporized human beings don’t need blood.

I watched in horror as they televised people jumping from the towers. I could not wrap my head around having to choose between jumping, burning, bleeding out or suffocating. How does one make that kind of choice?

And the phone calls. Those shouts of fire and smoke and heat and then the desperate pleas for help and then … silence. And those last I love you’s. In their final seconds, knowing that they were going to die, leaving so much behind.

And when Mohamed Atta’s image was splashed across the screen, I was overwhelmed with doom. I don’t know how else to explain it. His empty eyes were dead, long before he flew into that tower.

And when tales of bravery and teamwork and sacrifice eventually surfaced about United Flight 93, I was filled with unbearable heartache and a sense of pride reserved for the underdog who whips a bully’s ass and nails it to the wall.

Nate ultimately had to drag me away from the television because he could see that what I was doing was, to say the least, unhealthy. For me and my family. I was obsessed and quietly freaking out that it would happen again the moment I shut the TV off.

To this day, when I wake up in the morning to get the girls ready for school, I turn on the TV to get the news and hold my breath until I confirm it’s the local station and not the national one because the local station means no terrorists are attacking at the moment. I still can’t look at an airplane without thinking weapon. I don’t even remember what it’s like to watch the news without a ticker tape running at the bottom of it.

Last year, Zoe and I had the opportunity to take a tour of ground zero while in New York City on a girl scout trip. We were privileged to have two survivors as our tour guides. One lived a couple of blocks from the towers and watched hell unfold from her living room window. The other told us simply that she knew, she actually felt, the instant her one and only child breathed her last breath in one of the towers. I simply cannot fathom that type of grief. Neither could any of the moms as we all quietly sobbed, staring at the expanse before us, where thousands of unsuspecting souls had succumbed en masse one bright, sunny, September morning. The emotional onslaught was staggering. Our daughters, all of seven years old at the time of the attack, stood quietly around, not knowing what to do or what to say.

I didn’t lose anyone on September 11, 2001. I didn’t have any close calls. I was never bumped from one of the flights, I never had an appointment in either of the towers, I didn’t miss the subway that day, I never had a reason to be anywhere near the Pentagon.

I don’t have a brief voice mail message as a reminder of my beloved’s last words. I don’t drive by any memorials on a daily basis.

And since I am on speaking terms with God again, I thank Him for those blessings.

But I still grieve for my scarred country and that’s because I am an American.

And I still grieve for those who perished and those who went on to survive without them, those I never knew but wish I had and that’s because I am human.

I know this post is about as far away from my typical post as is humanly possible and you’re probably wondering if I got hit on the head recently because where’s the humor, lady? Why am I not laughing, woman? What is wrong with you? While I did feel like my brain was going to explode yesterday after I discovered day old dirty dishes on my living room floor, it did not result in any permanent cerebral damage and it did not cause me to wake up this morning and shout to the masses HEY! WHO CAN I DEPRESS TODAY? Not that I have masses in my bedroom because wow, that would just be weird.

No. I just get melancholy when this anniversary rolls around.

Do you?

What were you doing seven years and one day ago?

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25 thoughts on “Seven years and one day”

  1. Avatar

    I was pregnant with Alec, it was around 9pm at night here and we were on our way to bed, but ended up sitting watching not knowing what else to do.

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    In Australia, most of us were safely tucked up in bed when the first plane hit. My husband was watching TV later than usual and I was sitting on the computer (this WAS usual). He said “Come and look at this!!”. I did. And I stood tranfixed on the spot until my legs started to go numb, then I sat on the floor. I didn’t even make it to a chair. I just sat there for hours. At school the next day the students (17 and 19yos) who had caught the news had barely slept. And those who had slept in blissful ignorance where deeply shocked. And during the day all the TVs in the school were transmitting the news as it unfolded.
    It had a profound effect here, too.

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    My oldest was 2 months old. My husband had just taken company command of his unit. I knew after the first plane hit it was NOT an accident. I was waiting for the call saying my husband “had to go.” Thankfully it didn’t come right away, but they had smaller missions closer to home. After that day, you needed your military ID to get into the armory. Never needed that before. We all knew each other. To get on post at Ft. Detrick you had to have your car searched if you didn’t have decals. Before that it was “Where are you headed today?” And that was it.

    We were in Hagerstown, MD at the time and I was FREAKING OUT. The Pentagon, only 2 hours away. All the secret bunkers and Camp David, within mere miles of where we lived. I could see the jet streams in the sky, but there were no planes. Anytime after that day the President was at Camp David I’d freak all over again. It was 10 miles as the crow flies from us, and you could hear the fighter jet patrols all weekend while he was there. I was never so happy to move to a rural area in my life. Then gas prices spiked and now I’m ready for civilization again because it costs too much to drive 20 min one way to a “town.”

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    Very powerful, Andy–thank you for sharing.

    I was at work, which was the only place I had access to a TV. I’m really glad I wasn’t caught up in the interminable after-shock of television re-hashing. But I cried at work at my computer, for all those dead and dying people, and for the horror of the existence that led those muslim men to do what they did.

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    I was working in a bank in Belfast, but had taken the day off to go shopping and meet up with my Mum. First I heard of it was when I was driving home at around 2 pm (just before towers collapsed after 9am, New York time). I spent the rest of the day watching the news.

    My husband flew to US a few weeks later for a conference, and I was so nervous about him flying, and got him to ring me between each of his connecting flights.

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    Well this makes my blog this morning seem kind of silly. But I had just graduated from high school the year before and in an effort to save up money, I was working 3rd shift. So I actually slept through the entire thing and was only aware of what was going on when my brother woke me up at 3:30 when he got home from school. Then our eyes didn’t leave the tv for what felt like weeks.

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    Sept 10 is my birthday. That year my mom had come down to celebrate with me, and was getting ready to fly out the morning of Sept 11th. I just happened to flip on the computer, and my homepage (at that time) was a news service.

    I remember seeing a picture of the first tower smoking and saying “WTC hit by a plane?” and my mom immediately flipped on the tv. We watched in horror as we saw the second plane crash into the other tower. We both sank to our knees in front of the tv. I don’t remember much else about that day except feeling of horror, confusion, and trying desperately to convince myself that there was NO WAY this was true…

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    I too was pregnant. We were living in Laurel, MD. Hubby was suppose to start working at the Naval Yard (near the Pentagon). We were out and about trying to get our tags for our car and hubby a hair cut. We heard it on the radio and I was thinking it was someone’s very bad joke. Then we watch the live feed at the barber’s shop. I was very concern for a friend of mine who is a pilot in Canada.

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    I live in CA, so I was awakened by the radio dj’s talking about a plane flying into the towers. I thought it was a joke, till I turned the tv on.

    At first you hope it was pilot error, but when the 2nd one hit, we all knew.

    Just a couple of weeks before, my 17 year old son signed his ‘delayed entry’ papers for the Marine Corps. As a minor, dh and I also had to sign those papers. We all knew that his military career plans were changed from that moment on, that he would actually have to serve in a war instead of just “getting training and an opportunity for education”. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that he stuck by his commitment and served his country, but at that moment I was looking at my 17 year old ‘baby’, wishing I hadn’t signed those papers.

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    I think everyone can remember where they were that day. I was stunned when I saw them announce on TV that a plane hit the first tower and then couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the 2nd plane hit the 2nd tower. We were on vacation here in NC where we finally moved to after retirement. I remember calling my daughter at her law firm (in Washington DC) and saying to her, get out of the city, the twin towers have been hit, they’ll head to DC next, tell Todd to leave the Capital (he worked in Congress at that time). She said oh mom they won’t come here. As we spoke she screamed, the Pentagon got hit, they lived across the highway from the Pentagon. My heart was racing, I said leave the damn city, get out of there. Next I had to worry about my younger daughter getting called back into service, she had just finished 4 years in the Army so of course she was in the reserves to finish her required time. Thankfully she didn’t get deployed but her husband who was and is still in the army did get deployed, thankfully he returned home safe and unharmed. So much destruction and the lose of so many innocent lives, on that day and since then. I’ll be saying a special prayer tomorrow for all of those that lost their lives that day and for the men and women who are fighting for freedom.

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    I was at Sam’s Club, of all places, with no real concept of what was happening. I remember seeing other customers gathered around in the TV department, seeing something smoking over their shoulders as I passed out of the store. It wasn’t until I got home that I really realized what was going on. Still seems like some kind of a bad bad dream, doesn’t it? It’s just hard to grasp that people actually plan to hurt each other this way.

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    Wow! Your story brings it all back. I, too, did not lose anyone on that day, but I feel we all lost in some way.

    Thanks for sharing your memory.

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    Thank you for writing this – September 11 is a hard day for me in double doses, because 15 years ago, my brother was killed in a car accident on the 11th. Then with the horrific tragedy that re-defined September 11th forever… well, it’s just too much sometimes. The only way I’ve been making it through September each year is to remember that it WILL pass, and October is around the corner. This year there is a lot going on – my sister is fighting for her life with stage four breast cancer – and I’ve been a little extra melancholy at times… BUT, for some reason… for the first time in seven years… I’ve had a few moments of clarity and peace and hope. I think it’s because of my 3 children. I HAVE to have hope for THEM. And so I’m fighting the melancholy and rejoicing in the HOPE. And hugging my family every chance I get.

    Thanks again – you write beautifully, whether humorous or not. Thank you…

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    Your feelings are my feelings as well. My blood ran cold that day and I’ll never forget it. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people HAVE forgotten. I wrote a similar blog entry last year and I’ll be reprising it tomorrow, so stop on by!

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    That was a very thoughtful post. I was actually in the hospital with my 5-week old 3rd son. He had had an incredibly high fever and a couple of seizure-like moments and when I saw the news the doctors still weren’t sure what was wrong with him. I saw the panic and fear on the tv and in the hospital but all I cared about at that moment was my baby. I had had a hard pregnancy, I was suffering from pre & post partum depression, and had been wondering if it was a mistake to have had a 3rd child… Suddenly it was clear to me. He was ALL that mattered. 9-11 awakened everyone in one way or another didn’t it?

    Visiting from IL via the DST blog train – come find me here: htpp://

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    I was a sophomore in college. My college roommates Mom had called and told her to turn on the t.v. We sat in our living room trying to understand what the pictures were and thinking that it was of our West Coast town snowing in September. It took us minutes to realize it was ash falling from towers in New York. I went to ballet class that morning looking for other people to be around. My whole class showed up. It was a quiet class but dancing helped us to cope.

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    7yrs and 1 day ago today I was at work and our switchboard operator told us her sister had just called her to tell her about the plane hitting the WTC. I immediately called my husband-a LT and PD avation commander to ask what was up. At that moment the second plane hit and he said “it’s terrorist, don’t say anything, I gotta go”…and hung up on me. I was physically sick for an hour and left work to go home to my children who were being released from school early. I finally heard from my husband 4 hours later when he told me he was mandated to work until further notice and would be staying at the airport where the PD helicopters were kept. That night I lay awake and could hear the jets fly over the house on missions and prayed to God like I never prayed before. I saw my husband twice in 90 days-once to bring him and the guys some dinner and once when he got 1 day off. We also got news of a friend who was a firefighter in Manhattan and was killed when the towers went down. Needless to day, like so many others, 2001 was an awful year for us.

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    I was visiting my mom’s house, very pregnant with our first child due in two weeks. My hubby came downstairs and told me to ‘come see this’. His demeanor was grave and I didn’t know what was going on. My brother and his fiance were sitting in the room, I can still remember the looks on their faces. I watched and I couldn’t understand what was happening. The facts were coming in and I understood those but it felt far away, like a dream. And I kept waiting to wake up. And all those people in pain, stuck, their loved ones, wondering. I just remember wrapping my arms around my unborn child and crying. I still can’t think about it without crying. If only that much hate could be turned into its equivalent in love.

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    We were in Indiana visiting one of my brothers. He had taken my oldest son to Wal-Mart to get fishing poles, and the rest of us were up and getting ready for a day at the lake when my mom called and told my sister-in-law about the first tower. My sis-in-law came upstairs and told M and I that my mom had just called and said something about the World Trade Center–we thought she must have been confused, or it was a rumor. We finished up getting ready and clicked on the t.v….and then the day came to a complete halt. A while later, my brother returned from Wal-Mart. He had stood with my son and many other shoppers, stunned, silent and still before the television monitors in Wal-Mart.

    I remember cuddling my 5 week old baby that day, thinking that the world had shifted and that he would not be raised in the same culture as his older siblings…

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    Beautiful post Andy. Like you I was home, FAR away from NYC taking care of 1yr. old Hannah and 3yr. old James, watching cartoons until my girlfriend called to tell me to turn on the news.

    I thought when another hit the Pentagon it was going to be the end of the world…here comes World War 3……

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    This blog, painful and haunting, beautiful and enchanting in articulating the human suffering that we all have witnessed is the best I have read on the 9-11 attack.

    I am glad to have found your blog and I shall be coming back like a wanderer thirsting for that unfailing source of strength and hope.

    You write so well and you are a blessing to me.

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    Your writing is just perfect Andy. As a Canadian, it didn’t hit me as hard as it did most Americans. I was newly pregnant with my now 6 year old and just got into work when my co-worker told me about the plane hitting the tower. After that we listened to the radio all day and took turns going to the big screen TV in the department store that is close to where we worked. That’s all we could do is just listen to the news. It’s just unfathomable that something like that could ever happen anywhere in the world, let alone so close to home.

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