I awoke this morning and decided to turn on the television, to try to catch up on current events. I have been too busy with other things to pay much attention to what is going on in the world (and have been avoiding the constant coverage of politics). Since it was early, and I had not yet had my coffee, I had forgotten the date (which to be honest, I hardly pay attention to anymore). I was quickly reminded.
Today is a tough day. It has been for the past 15 years. Though no one I knew was lost that day, I have not gotten through an anniversary of the day without tears. I remember the morning clearly and now understand the question “Where were you when…?” For my parents’ generation, it was the day was Kennedy was shot. For mine and my kids, it was September 11. No year is needed, it is simply September 11.
I remember (and relive each year) the emotions of that day. My older kids were off to school, I had just showered and put the TV on for some light entertainment, yet it wasn’t Regis and Kelly I saw on the screen, but an image of New York, with smoke coming from one of the towers. Matt Lauer and Katie Couric were discussing breaking news: apparently a commuter plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Moments later, a plane flew on to the screen and crashed into the other. I felt sick. It was obvious that this was intentional and the reports began – we were under attack. Then they went to DC were an explosion had rocked the Pentagon and then were reports of another plane going down in central PA.
Now we know what happened, but at the time, one could only speculate. I was afraid. The hows, the whys, even the who was unknown. I couldn’t step away from the television. I watched the World Trade Center smolder. I had been there on multiple occasions. Like many tourists, I stood at the top and viewed the city below; I had been to the restaurant at the top, celebrating an anniversary. That morning, I called my husband, multiple times. I asked him if the tower would fall over. He reassured me, no, it was built to withstand just about anything. Then, just seconds later, the towers crumbled. I couldn’t breathe.
Then I had the uncontrollable urge to collect everyone I loved and get them close. I called the elementary school and told the secretary there (which whom I had developed a relationship) that I was going to pick my kids up (from three schools). She convinced me that they were safe there and it would be best for them to stay. I contacted family members throughout the country, ensuring they were all safe. Though I could not reach those in New York, other family members were able to and assured me they were safe.
I continued to watch the coverage. At this point, my three year old was wondering where Mommy was and came looking. This is what finally pulled me away. No child should watch that. When the older kids got home, I didn’t have to tell them what was happening. They had heard about it in school (and despite a news blackout ordered by the administration, one had seen some of it on TV).
I felt helpless. I didn’t know if anyone I knew was involved and felt guilty that all my loved ones were accounted for. So many others could not say the same. Then the stories started coming out. Stories of loss and of heroism. They all made me cry. Though the kids knew what had happened, they couldn’t understand why. How do you explain this kind of evil to a child? Our church announced a prayer service and Mass that night. No one else in my family wanted to go, but I had to. I was too emotional to stay for it all, but going helped me.
The days that followed were also difficult. One of the kids spent time building block towers and knocking them down with a pretend airplane. I tried to not talk about it around them and limit the television to kid-friendly channels, but they needed to talk as well. It was eerily quiet. The lack of air traffic was a dramatic difference since there were several airstrips nearby. When a military plane flew over, we all jumped in fear.
As the first anniversary approached, I planned to avoid media altogether. It was too much. I couldn’t handle my emotions. I understand why we memorialize these things, but there is no danger that I will ever forget. Our community lost a few people and there are ceremonies each year. My children attend; I still can’t. I wonder if I ever will.