Yesterday I woke up, looked out the window at a gorgeous, bright, sunny sky and experienced an excruciating sense of deja vu.
As a New Yorker, I still grieve for my state. As an American, I still grieve for my country. And as a human being, I still grieve for all of humanity and the unfathomable losses we sustained nine years ago on one spectacularly beautiful September morning.
Two years ago, I wrote my one and only September 11th post and I leave you with it now, along with my wish that one day, we will all recognize the value of life and celebrate the wonder that is the human spirit and its uncanny instinct to overcome the most devastating of events with dignity, grace, courage and hope.
Seven years and one day ago
(originally published September 10, 2008)
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.
What were you doing seven years and one day ago?
(Originally published September 10, 2008)