For the first 34 years of my life, September 11th was just any old ho-hum day. No family birthdays, no wedding anniversaries, nothing real significant in my world…it was just a day that wove into the typical back-to-school or back-to-work-in-earnest-because-the-Labor-Day-holiday-is-done kind of rhythms.
It was simply just A Day. Now for ten years and forever it will be a Day Everyone Knows. A huge wound trying to slowly heal itself and rebuild but forever scarred no matter how we try to think otherwise.
I’m stunned that today is the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks. It is a beautiful, clear morning here – just like it was that morning in New York City. I’ve been kind of weirdly looking forward to this day only to just get through it if that makes sense…a sort of ‘self duty’ I have to write about it, and even moreso that my typical Sunday Blog Day falls on the anniversary.
So here I am, swirled in memories not only of that horrible day but the 2001 I knew prior. Some memories are a little fuzzy – maybe by design as my mind moved through the decade and replaced them with others, but I could pretty much sum it up into one word: INNOCENT.
My God, how innocent and quaint the world was prior…at least in my own little world. Remember when you were a kid (maybe you do) when you could just go to the airport with your family, sit in a terminal and just watch planes take off and land for fun? When I was getting ready to fly to Florida in 1997 to catch a cruise to the Caribbean…and I forgot I had a huge pair of scissors from my office in my purse (no idea why)? And the security agent looked at them but let me put them back in my purse before boarding the plane? Dear Lord how things have changed!
Early 2001 started for me out of the country…in Vancouver, BC. OK, OK, I remember now. See, for those of us who worked in IT-related fields over Y2K, that New Years was spent working pretty much the entire day and into the wee hours. No vacations or partying allowed. I toasted 2000 with a bunch of co-workers and a carload of lasagnes we picked up from Olive Garden earlier that evening, washed down with a little sparkling cider.
So. The calendar flip from 2000 to 2001 meant Time to Party, making up for the working New Years prior. I started dating a guy, D, around summer of 2000. He and I met during a huge technology deployment project and while I was not fond in theory of dating co-workers, this project was so huge and he and I really didn’t cross paths too much. We didn’t even work in the same building or same department. So we kept it discreet, people knew, but didn’t give us a hard time about it – well, not terribly hard. In a word, it worked because we kept things professional. And wow, we were really in love.
We got pretty ripped that night in Vancouver, enjoying dinner and doing a couple of bar hops around Robson street. Cabs were working hard that night! And New Years Day was sunny and glorious…we took the tram up Grouse Mountain not to ski, but to just walk in the snow and enjoy the beautiful view looking back down on the city. Gorgeous.
I remember the random Monoliths that a group in Seattle had planted around the city…a funny prank. I remember the Mardi Gras riot in Pioneer Square…and the 6.8 earthquake we suffered the very next morning. UGH what a horrible 48 hours for us.
Probably my favorite memory of 2001 was the two weeks I traveled through Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. Ah, the time one could take a (PAID) two-week vacation…that DOES seem innocent. I traveled with a group from my church – we were touring to share our music! We had a choir and a handbell group…I’d been in the handbell group for many years and was so thrilled to take this trip. If you haven’t traveled yet with a group of 70 people and lots of equipment, I highly recommend it. It can be grueling at times, but the bonding and friendships last forever.
We got back in the states in mid July. Ah yes, that’s right! We celebrated the 4th of July that year at a pub in Varazdin, Croatia. A little surreal being out of the country on that holiday, in a place where people have no reason to care that it’s July 4th. When I got back home, other than fighting off the jet lag I was wondering if I would have a job to come back to…our company was re-organizing and there were a lot of uncertainties and rumors flying around.
I ended up moving to a different department on our team and immersed myself back into the swing. I was not particularly looking forward to having direct reports again, but the group was well established and in good standing so there was nothing majorly broken. Or maybe that’s the fuzzy part of my memories.
D and I had been going through some struggles in our relationship. We’d been together about a year by now. He’d been working a lot and we were just, well, struggling. He’d always given me a hard time on whether I truly didn’t want to have kids or not. He was ten years older than I with an 11 year old daughter and made it perfectly clear he did not want any more kids. So clear that he took the steps to ensure that if you know what I mean. I was 34 and knew deep down I didn’t want to have kids, even though a teeny part of me was still kind of wondering…what if I really did? I think he sensed that…he kept bringing it up ALL the time and we’d argue. Looking back on it now, I think he was worried that if we were to be together long-term, well, if I changed my mind down the road then I would resent him? And then leave? I guess in a twisted way he wanted to make sure I was happy. But I wasn’t in how he handled it. I was kept arms distance from his daughter too – I rarely got to see her…I wanted to get to know her because she was well, his family and part of him. Wow, I haven’t thought about that in a long time…hence my ramble.
And oh that first part of September…I remember driving him to jail. Yes, jail. Now more is flooding back. Earlier in the spring he’d been out drinking with a buddy of his and swerved getting off a freeway exit ramp – and got pulled over. And failed sobriety tests. I remember the night he told me what happened and I just fell to the floor emotionally, but immediately gave him a hug. What the hell already?
Now, if you have to drive your boyfriend to serve two days in jail, be glad it’s a small county jail in a very rural part of the state (rather than downtown). That’s where he had his little, uhhhh, incident. The whole thing was so surreal…and those were two of the longest days of my life. He couldn’t have any phone or email contact with me, obviously. I had to call the jail two days later to confirm he was going to be released so I could make the hour and a half drive north to come get him. SURREAL.
Somewhere in all this mess we agreed to just stay together 24/7 and try to work things out. Plus he had a suspended driver’s license so yours truly was the chauffeur.
Lots of those days after bringing him home from jail are a little blurry, but one night I will never forget. We were watching TV…Larry King Live. One of the last news stories was about an old Air Force One 707 that was being retired. Seriously…it was a total snoozer of a story and we both looked at eachother and said WOW, they’re really must not be a lot of news going on right now! We even went to sleep that night giggling about it.
That night? Monday September 10th.
The next morning my alarm went off around 6:30am or so. I had it set to my favorite radio station at the time but I remember immediately shutting it off and getting in the shower. D was still fast asleep.
After my shower I turned on the radio again. The first words I hear are the DJ saying “…yes, yes, we’re getting your phone calls. We know one of the World Trade Center towers has just collapsed.” I thought I was completely losing my mind.
I ran down the hall and turned on CNN. That was the very first thing I saw on TV…one of the towers was gone and the other was on fire. And I had no fucking clue why. I screamed for D to get in here right now! We were both so sleepy still and couldn’t believe it. We just sat on my living room couch, dumbfounded. THEN we saw the replay of the 2nd plane hitting a tower and we just gasped.
For all the thousands of times everyone has seen that horrific moment, I don’t think any of us will forget when we saw it first. And keep in mind here on the west coast we are three hours behind, so a lot had already happened that we simply didn’t know about, except for the real early-risers.
Then we learned the planes were hijacked. My stomach dropped. One of my brothers was a flight attendant with American, based at La Guardia at the time. Could not reach him. I had two cousins in college at Columbia…was everyone OK??
The TV was focused on the one remaining tower. I’m pretty sure the whole world was by now too. And then, in seconds, it collapsed. That was the only thing D and I saw live on TV. I remember feeling like I was going to throw up. What does this mean? Who would do this? All those people still in the towers…how many thousands and thousands are there? In the streets? In those planes? Are we going to be attacked next?
My mind raced and whirred. The Pentagon was attacked too…and there was a plane crash in Pennsylvania (which we we learned later was Flight 93, probably intended for the White House). I remember calling my folks and my Mom answered the phone. I said “are you watching TV??” She said yes…and I sort of yelled “OMG, where is M?” (my brother). She didn’t know. And my Dad was up in rural BC on a fishing trip…
Somehow D and I drove into work, in a daze. Everyone at work was either zoned out, panicked trying to locate family members or crowded around the TVs in our lobby. I don’t think much got done that day. I remember just trying to infuse some sense of normal routine into a day that was anything but. We sat at our computers but mostly surfed news channels, tried to track down our family and friends, tell people we loved them.
After the shock there was fear. D and I spent that night of the 11th at his house. I didn’t sleep well for several nights. I was panicked, worried that there would be more attacks in other cities. Thank God my brother was off that day and home in New Jersey, by the way. Waiting to find that out seemed like eternity.
I did some journaling in the days following. And I wish I knew where that writing is…it is probably on an old computer I don’t have any more. Too bad, for the writing there is a lot more raw. Funny how a decade smooths our raw edges out.
I remember speaking with my friend J…and you know what immediately popped into each of our heads about that day (along with so many other thoughts)? She and I went on a Caribbean cruise in the spring of 2000. We’d flown to Newark on a red eye before catching a connecting flight to Ft. Lauderdale. I remember arriving with her in Newark, bleary after an all night flight and walking to our connecting gate. There, out the window was a beautiful sunrise…and the Twin Towers glowing as we looked across the river. How I regret I never had an opportunity to visit the WTC. And I’ll never, ever forget that image in my mind of them.
The rest of 2001 played itself out grimly…what started out as a great year save for an earthquake plunged me into sadness. What was the world going to be like NOW? Will we ever find time for humor, laughter? There sure wasn’t much to smile about.
The year fizzled out horribly. My grandmother passed away that November after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, just two days prior to my Mom’s 60th birthday.
And D and me? Well, we gave it a go for awhile but we couldn’t get through many hurdles in that relationship. I broke up with him…New Years Eve to be exact. A year prior we were celebrating in Vancouver. And now, too many walls up. We were sitting on the couch, supposed to go out for dinner, but we knew it was ending and that that dinner would never happen.
It didn’t. He left and I sat again on the couch, sad and in shock. Just like when he and I watched the 9/11 footage in horror together. So while our relationship didn’t work out, he is seered in my mind forever, mostly for that reason. They say you’ll never forget where you were or what you were doing if you were old enough.
So when people ask me where I was, I start off with this: “I was in my apartment at the time with my boyfriend at the time…”
10 years. Wow. Blessings to all who lost loved ones that day.