I know everyone is currently being inundated with the media’s version of the 9-11 anniversary. Some of it is poignant, some of it cheap and trite. I am personally having a difficult time believing that it’s been a decade. In so many ways it feels like it was yesterday- every detail permanently burned into my mind. And yet… my life is completely unrecognizable from what it was then. This account is mostly for Griffin because one day I’m sure he’ll want to know where I was when the tragedy unfolded.
Ten years ago I got ready for work just like any other morning. At the time I was working in the call center at MBNA America Bank in Cleveland. I was 23 and it was my first real job after graduating from college. I left my little apartment where I lived alone and drove through normal rush hour traffic. Soon after I arrived, one of my co-workers came in and asked if we had heard about the plane that crashed into the the World Trade Center. She had heard it on the radio on her way in but said the details were fuzzy. I remember a few of us talking about how it must have been a small plane, an untrained pilot… a horrible accident. A few minutes later I heard my supervisor gasp and say “Oh, my god. We’re under attack.” The second tower had been hit. All of a sudden this was no accident. We were all sort of paralyzed. My Aunt Chris lives in New York City and my first thought was of her. I couldn’t help crying- for her, for those on the plane, for the unknown. I ran downstairs to call my mom who was living in Columbus at the time. She hadn’t heard from my aunt. She was also crying. I made the call quick and went back upstairs. We turned the radio on so that we could all hear what was happening. We were glued to the hazy reports, the early theories- and yet we were still expected to perform business as usual. While most people stopped calling, mesmerized by their own tv sets across the country, there were a few people here and there who made it through the phone lines. I remember not being able to mask the emotion in my voice when a little old lady called asking for a lower interest rate. It was the last call I was able to handle.
Soon after, the pentagon was hit and there were reports of a plane circling Cleveland. Because we were a major financial institution, they decided we were a potential target and we were evacuated. This time, driving back to my apartment, no one was on the streets. I made it home and turned on the television just in time to see the first tower start to collapse and I collapsed myself. I spent the rest of the morning curled in a ball on my couch, bawling as I watched the same horrific images- images I wont even describe- over and over again. Because phone systems kept going down due to the overload of people trying to get information, I wasn’t able to reach any of my friends or family members. It was a feeling of fear and emptiness that I am fortunate not to have felt since. As morning turned into afternoon, my doorbell rang. I went out to find my friend Laura standing there, her face also tear streaked. She said she couldn’t take being alone anymore- or watching the news. So she asked me to get a beer with her and it sounded like the best idea I’d heard in a long time.
We expected the bar around the corner to be empty, but instead it was packed. Filled with people just like us- people who were terrified, sickened, saddened, yet needed some type of camaraderie. Conversation was quiet, stilted. People kept repeating the same things… half expecting not to be answered… as though they were talking to themselves. It was like we were all zombies. On that day our hearts, our passion, had been stolen from us. I wondered if life could ever be the same. If I would ever be able to bring children into such a horrific world.
I don’t remember that night. I don’t remember if I was able to go to sleep. Or if I had nightmares. I don’t remember if I talked to my brother who was in college in Cleveland… I must have.
But the next day was different. My heart was still broken. I was still terrified of the potential threat- every emergency helicopter or plane I saw in the sky made me want to take cover. But somehow there was some kind of hope. My aunt was safe. The country had started to band together. There was a nationalism I had never seen before. There was no work so I walked my neighborhood. People all along my street hung signs and American flags out of their windows. Some burned candles to honor those we lost. I remember finding a paper flag on the street that I immediately hung in my apartment. It stayed there until I moved out a year later.
I don’t know how, but life slowly returned to normal. I don’t know that I can say it was ever the same, but somehow that horrible day stopped being the first thing I thought about when waking up in the morning. We returned to work. Planes started flying again. And while the feelings aren’t nearly as intense, that original nationalism stayed with me. We hung an American flag from our new house last night and I thought about those that lost their lives, but those thoughts, while still aching and sad, were out of respect and not fear. And I thank God that I decided I could bring a child into this world. In a way, he has healed me from so much of the residual pain and angst I carried with me- not just from 9-11, but from life in general. He makes me understand the true value of life, the impossible depth of love. He makes my life more full than anything I could have ever imagined. And most importantly, he is part of a new generation. One that may be able to find peace.