I originally wrote this in December of 2001, as a way to try to process the 9/11 attacks. I think that publishing it on the anniversary of that terrible day is a fitting tribute.
The blue sky.
I remember that most from that day. The sky was so blue. There was literally not a cloud in the sky. It was a spectacular late summer day. Alex was in Kindergarten, about to turn six years old. I was excited that he was scheduled to start T-Ball later that afternoon. Alex and I had gotten up and ready for school, and he was thrilled to be going. I dropped him off on time---and he smiled and waved back at me. It was a great day.
Then I went home and turned on the news.
That was my morning routine, and I didn't think much about it. I walked in the house, flipped on the the TV, and walked into the kitchen to pour me a bowl of cereal. I could hear Matt Lauer and Katie Couric in the background, but to be honest, I was paying more attention to my Cheerios than I was to them. I grabbed my bowl and my spoon, a can of pop, and bounced into the living room.
The first thing I saw was one of the Towers with smoke billowing out of it. There was nothing else on the screen. NBC had fed in a shot from some stationary camera in Manhattan---it was a long shot, with the towers centered on the screen. You couldn't see much detail, but that didn't matter. You didn't need a close-up to see the smoke.
I walked in just as Matt was saying something like, "There has been an accident in New York. Reportedly, a plane has hit the World Trade Center. Early indications say that it was a Cessna-type plane."
I knew that a Cessna could not have caused much smoke or that much damage. I've been in a Cessna, and I was fairly confident that the Cessna would have sustained the majority of the damage. It was obvious that whatever had hit the Tower had penetrated it; I knew that if this had been caused by a Cessna, the smoke should have been billowing from the ground, where the plane fell. Not from a hundred stories up.
The rest of the day is pretty much a blur---with some pointed exceptions. Pretty quickly after my thoughts about the Cessna, Matt and Katie started reporting "unconfirmed reports" of a highjacked American Airlines plane. NBC still had that long shot of the towers, and I remember, very distinctly, see the second plane hit. I was screaming at the TV...I saw the plane arch and head for the tower...and somehow, I hoped that my futile warning would travel all the way to New York.
Then events started happening very quickly. I remember thinking that it was like a row of dominoes being knocked over. Reports of highjacked planes. One, then two, then three, then four flights. The FAA ordered the skies above America cleared. My dad, who works for the FAA, called me to tell me before the grounding order hit the news. Two flights were not on the ground and could not be accounted for. NBC was getting a report from its correspondent at the Pentagon when a plane hit it. The camera shook violently, the screen went black, but the audio didn't cut out right away. I remember hearing books fall off of the shelves, then the reporter scramble to get back on the air. He reported that the sirens in the Pentagon were going off, and early reports indicated that there had been a bomb blast. My mother called me, hysterical. She wanted me to pick Alex up from school and go hide in the basement. She was worried because she couldn't get a hold of my brother, who lives in the city. I called the school to see if they were locking down, or if they wanted the students picked up. It was business as usual there-they weren't making any announcements to the students, and they didn't recommend that I come pick him up. I agreed and decided to let him stay at school...for the time being.
Katie Couric said, "It appears that America is under attack."
My dad called again---by now, a plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. I begged him to leave work. They were sending home everyone but management. He was management. I cried for the first time then, but it certainly wasn't the last time I would cry that day.
My husband at the time called, and asked me if I was watching TV. Everyone at the office was in his boss' office, watching the news.
My mother called again. She was so mad at me because I wouldn't go get Alex out of school.
Katie and Matt were reporting all of the events as fast as possible---it was nearly impossible to keep up with them at that point. I remember the exact moment that the first towers started to fall. NBC still had that long shot of the burning towers on the screen, and a big puff of dust and debris came out of the side of one of the towers. I remember thinking that the possibility of the building collapsing never even occurred to me. Matt didn't catch the collapse at first. About the top third of the tower was gone before he realized what was happening. I watched the rest of the tower go down, one floor at a time. I knew that both towers were going down.
I cried again.
My husband called. My dad called. My mom called.
And the news just kept getting worse.
Before I knew it, it was time to pick up Alex. I picked up my baby from school that day a different person than I was a mere three hours earlier. I remember being unsettled by the silence outside. It was too quiet, and at first I couldn't figure out why. Then it hit me---there were no planes in the sky.
Not one. The silence was deafening.
The other moms looked as shell shocked as I felt. There wasn't a kid in that class that didn't get scooped up into a monster hug as they came bouncing out of the school.
I took Alex home and I wouldn't let him turn on the TV. I told him, as gently as I could, that something terrible had happened while he was at school. As my husband and I struggled with our confusion, hysteria, anger, and grief, we also had to find a way to discuss these events with Alex.
As my husband and I struggled with our confusion, hysteria, anger, and grief, we also had to find a way to discuss these events with Alex. How do you explain these atrocities to a six-year-old in a way that he can understand them? The short answer-you can't. There is simply no way. My husband and I didn't understand. I think it's safe to say that no one in the country fully understood. In the end, we let Alex guide us. We sat down with him, and in the simplest terms possible, explained that some very bad men did some very bad things. And then we let him ask questions-some of the hardest questions that I have ever had to answer. Questions like, "Are we safe?"..."Did we do something bad to these men?"..."Why do they hate us?"... These are questions that I have asked myself, questions that we may never have the answers to, questions about war and peace and God that I never wanted to ask.
Although our family didn't lose anyone that we knew on that terrible day, we grieved for those that did. As we started to move on with our lives, we met with eerie reminders nearly every day. A software application project that my husband had managed for the Port Authority of New York was destroyed. There was no way to reach his contacts at the Port Authority---their headquarters was destroyed---so he would have to wait for them to re-initiate the project. He's still waiting. A series of high profile calls that I set up for a major insurance company never took place that fateful week. The host's office was located on the 102nd floor of Two World Trade Center. There's no one to call to reschedule the series, no one to call to confirm my worst fears-all that I can do is pray for this man that I never met, that I only spoke to on the phone. I set up calls for American Express, Aon, Merrill Lynch, American Airlines, and a slew of other companies that week-first to account for as many employees as possible, then to hammer out disaster recovery plans. Nearly two months after the attacks, Alex (completely unprompted) drew an American flag with the words "America Loves New York" emblazoned across the bottom.
Life goes on---but it will never be the same.
It's been seven years today since the day that the world stood still. To say that life is not the same as it was seven years and one day ago is a huge understatement. It's evident in every aspect of life...when you fly, when you go to a sporting event, when you buy gas for your car...
In many ways, I hate the changes that have taken place since that day. I think that the erosion of some of our liberties here in the United States is a travesty, and I think that in some ways, the terrorists were successful that day. Yes, I want to be safe, and I want my country to be safe. And I don't have a better answer to that dilemma than our government does.
I still cry when I think about all of those innocent people that died, and all of the innocent ones who didn't die. I cry when I think about the terror that so many people experienced. I cry when another soldier dies in Afghanistan or Iraq. I get P.O.'ed when a stranger feels me up because the underwire in my damn bra sets off the metal detector at the airport. But most of all, I am so proud of this country. Yes, we aren't perfect. We're human, we make mistakes. But when it mattered-when it really counted-we were there for one another.