September 11th, 2001.
I was living in Newberg, OR. My eventual husband and I had purchased our first home in March of that year. and about 2 weeks before the towers fell I brought him back to NY to meet my family and close friends. I still recall our return flight, one of the only times I’ve flown on a half-empty plane. We had an entire row to ourselves, the sky was blue, the flight from Chicago to Portland exceptionally smooth. I remember stretching out across the seats, smiling at my future husband across the aisle, tucking the blanket around my legs, and falling asleep – secure in the knowledge that our plane would arrive safely at our destination as the sun sleepily arose around the clouds.
That morning we had to work. My husband had to wake up about 15 minutes before I did, so I was snoozing in a rather gloatful way when the first plane hit. My husband had been in the living room and was watching the news about this when he saw the second plane hit. He ran into our bedroom and woke me up, saying “you have got to see this.” I stumbled out of my bedroom and stared at the images on the screen, the 2 smoking buildings. I was confused. “They will show it again,” my husband assured me. Within seconds the footage of the second plane directly hitting the World Trade Center was on, and again I was puzzled. How do 2 planes accidentally hit the same building?
I still remember the newscasters at the time saying at first they thought the planes were small, commuter-sized. I recall expressing my confusion to my husband that morning before he left for work.
“I don’t get it,” I said. “Why would anyone do that?” See, my husband knows all the stuff that I don’t, it’s part of our partnership. When he wants to know something medical, or something Oprah said, he comes to me. And when I want to know something complicated, like how to pronounce the different types of dinosaurs or why the people in the Middle East can’t just suck it up and shar, well, he is my source of info.
“It’s pretty smart actually,” I remember him saying. “The world trade center isn’t just the center of American trade, which is how our market runs. It’s also a symbol of American capitalism. By doing this, whoever did it is not only going to impact our economy but they are also making a pretty big statement.” I shit you not, this is what he said, and this was before the towers even fell, before anyone had taken responsibility. I was just sitting there thinking some air traffic controller had fucked up and sent 2 planes into the same building – see why my husband and I are together? It’s very yin-yang.
I watched the television as the towers fell while I was safely enjoying my breakfast. I called my husband and still remember how my voice cracked as I left him a message describing what I saw. On the drive to work I heard about the Pentagon, and by the time I arrived at my job there was news of another plane that had gone missing while headed toward the west coast.
I worked in a day treatment center for mentally ill teens and because of this we tried to keep the things light and worked hard to keep the kids distracted throughout the day. At this time my mother had begun her foray into dating after a midlife divorce and I vaguely recalled her saying something about being in New York City on a date a few days prior, so I panicked. And the phone lines were down because of everyone else in the country panicking like me and trying to call loved ones. My older brother is in the military and was stationed in New Jersey. My entire family was in New York state. I suddenly felt very far away.
It was days before I realized what had actually happened to our country, our way of life, and the people who died. I assumed there would be many survivors from the collapsed buildings – there were not. The fear the passengers on the planes must have felt in their final moments haunted me. The slurry of phone messages sent from people in the towers to their loved ones – “there’s a fire but I’m ok” – made me nauseated, because we all know they weren’t ok. Nobody was.
For years I could not go back to 9/11. Every documentary, movie, article, clip on the internet – I turned away from them all. The wound was too fresh for me to revisit. It could have been any of us. That is a fact. Had I flown back to visit family a few days later, it could have been me and my beloved on one of those planes. That is a reality that I honestly do not like to consider all that often.
This 9/11 I feel differently. I am not sure why. Maybe it’s my age, or the passing of time, or maybe it’s Obama. I don’t know. I am finally ready to look back at that time, and reconsider how life changed for everyone in those minutes. Right up until the moment of impact the men flying those planes could have turned away. THAT is what I think about now – how what one person believes can lead to decisions that destroy countries.
That is what I am choosing to take from 9/11 to pass onto my children.