Monday, September 12, 2011

Has It Really Been Ten Years?

I haven't been able to get myself to sit down and write this before now. Both the net and TV have been flooded with 9/11 stories and remembrances. Every time I see one, it's like being punched in the gut again. I'm blown away at long it's actually been since it happened. It still feels so recent to me.

And yet, it occurred to me while looking at my oldest that neither of my boys have any idea what happened that day. Neither of them were even born, and in fact I remember thinking how glad I was that I hadn't married or had kids yet because the world seemed like it was falling apart. A year later, I met Oliver.

The other reason I've hesitated? I know I don't really have anything new to add. My own reactions were personal and intense, but I didn't know anyone there. I mourned for our nation, but not for family or friends. I also think we're all flooded with this stuff and sometimes it's too much. So, if you want to quit reading, feel free. I am not going to care.

I was living in Rhode Island at the time, about two hours from New York City. I went to work that morning, and was sitting at my desk when the first plane hit. People started running around the office saying something about a building. I really didn't know what they were talking about, so I ignored it at first.

Eventually, curiosity got the better of me, and I joined the conversation. Before long, my boss had hooked up a TV in his office, and the rest of us crowded in there to watch. I saw the second plane hit, and watched the towers fall on live TV. I remember standing there after the South Tower fell, praying like mad that the North would stand long enough for everyone else in there to get out. I just could not believe that I was watching New York implode at the heart.

At lunch time, I left the office and found another, out of the normal, situation. I worked in a large shopping complex. Our offices were upstairs from retail stores, and there was a grocery store anchoring the place. It had a huge parking lot that was nearly always busy. That day, however, I was struck by the silence. Everyone was sitting still, and the only noise I could hear were car radios, tuned to news reports.

It was more of the same in the grocery store when I went to buy my food. I found myself walking around in a bit of a daze, picking stuff up and not really caring what I was looking at.

After returning to the office, I went back to the TV, as did nearly everyone else. It was like that for the rest of the week, and I'm amazed my boss tolerated it. He was a rather gruff type, and didn't like to see people standing around. But he let us watch, and I'm grateful.

The news coverage ran pretty much 24/7, it seemed. I didn't have cable at the time, but it didn't matter - the networks weren't playing anything else, including commercials. The first time I saw a commercial, I remember thinking it was really weird. It was also a sign that real life had to keep going.

I think one of the reasons it had such a large impact on me was how close geographically I was to it. I can remember evacuations of tall building in Providence, a city I spent a lot of time due to work. Logan International in Boston, where the planes came from, was an airport I occasionally flew out of. A lot of people who worked at the site in the days following the attacks came from our area, due to the proximity. Our office got together and pooled some money together to buy masks and things they had asked for to send on a truck that was heading to NYC to support the relief operation. It felt good to do something, even if that was so small.

I had one co-worker who seemed to come a little unglued over it all. She was the one who spearheaded the campaign to buy supplies, and I went with her to buy them. Soon after, though, she stopped showing up for work, or would come in late. I was in charge of tracking vacation and sick leave as part of my job, and when she came to ask me where she was at, she was shocked to realized that she'd been out so much. Soon after, she quit, and last I heard was planning on a new career as a fireman.

As for me, I tried to join the Air Force in early 2002. Granted, it was a career path I'd considered at 18, but had figured was out of the picture after I went to college instead. But 9/11 got me thinking, and I tried again. A past medical issue ultimately kept me out, which was disappointing, but I met Oliver soon after and ended up chasing the military life in another way.

I don't really have anything particularly profound to add (which is sort of why I hesitated), but I know I need to tell my story to my own children today. I know I have to find a way to explain to them what happened and why. I'm not ready to start that conversation yet, and am happy to indulge in their ignorance for a few more years. It will happen, however.

Maybe when we go back to the States, we'll take them there. I'd like to see the memorial. I flew over NY in early October to visit a friend in Seattle (I did not fly out of Logan). The ground was still smoking, and I could see the plumes of smoke hovering over the city. A year later, I visited with Oliver and some Navy friends of ours. We walked around the site, which was pretty much a giant construction site at that point. I don't even think I took any pictures because there wasn't much to see. We stood in front of a chain link fence keeping us out of the area, and talked about it. One of the guys we were with said this was the whole reason he was in the Navy. I understood what he was talking about.

I've been looking at pictures of the memorial online. It looks beautiful. My deepest hope is that we will remember - and try to build something else that is equally beautiful as we try to live with other people in our world. Sometimes, I wonder if that is even possible. I still have hope, however, that it might be someday.

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Emily said...

Thanks for sharing your story! I love reading about 9/11 stories because they are all so different, yet all the same.