Friday, September 11, 2009

What 9/11 was like for me

I've seen a lot of this on twitter and I don't think 140 characters is enough. I'm doing this, mostly, for my daughter. One day soon she's going to ask us to explain...

The morning of Sept. 11, 2001 - we were late for work. I first heard the news from a central Illinois radio station that a plane hit one of the World Trade Center towers. The initial report was a cessna. By the time I got my office, the 2nd plane had hit and everyone's relatives had already called to say "did you hear..."

In our office, we didn't have access to live tv, and trying to get or to load was damn near impossible. We were able to find an internet radio station where the DJ was watching CNN and giving his audience the play-by-play. I saw only a fraction of the images that day. But very quickly, the rumors started. I remember, vividly, one of our faculty walking into the office to say, very matter-0f-fact, the mall in Washington was on fire. While this provide to be untrue, it was hours before we had a confirmation that the Pentagon, indeed, was hit. Compounding all of this: we had a faculty member flying home that morning from Maine. Which meant he was going through Logan. And we had no clue what flight he was on and no way of getting a hold of him. He was on a flight that ended up diverted and it took him several days to get back to us. For some, that made it personal, for others, it was distraction to stop from thinking about all the other strangers that we knew to be dead.

Shortly before 11am I remember thinking about my family in Chicago. My mom worked downtown and my father-in-law worked in the Sears Tower. In fact, before he retired from WTTW, that big white antenna on the left, that was his. Knowing that he had health problems and would feel it his duty to stay in the tower to make sure they kept broadcasting, the news that they were evacuating downtown Chicago didn't help my anxiety. Again, all rumors that later proved untrue, but at the time, we didn't know how to separate what was true and what was not.

And that's how my day went. By the end, we were fatigued from trying to gather the news. My husband and I attended a class that night, which proved to be a blessed distraction. When we finally got home around 9:30pm, we looked up in the sky. It was eerie knowing nothing was up there; positively chilling not knowing what the state of the world would be when we woke up the next morning.

The next morning - well, we headed for the hospital and I gave birth to my daughter by 4:26 that afternoon. 2 1/2 weeks early, but hey, we were thankful she was healthy. The TV was never turned on when we got home on 9/11 and stayed off for about 2 weeks. In the hospital that night, we watched a movie (Wrath of Khan), because there was no way we were turning on the news. We didn't think anything else could happen that would be worse than what occurred the day before. I never saw the images of that day played over and over again and to this day, never have. I've seen a few still pictures, but that's all. The descriptions I've read from people in NY that gorgeous Tuesday morning paint a vivid picture. My daughter does not have a scrapbook from the day she was born. The headline from the day I was born was about bombing in Vietnam and peace talks. I couldn't bring myself to cut out a headline that said "Towers fall, 3,000 dead."

To this day, when people realize not just that her birthday is 9/12, but the year of which she was born, they get a sad smile on their face and shake their heads. I don't know how to handle that because of the despair I feel. In the childbirth class the night before my daughter was born, you could not only feel the tension, but feel the anger and sadness. 9/11 was a demarcation of the world before and the world after. Our children, who were about to be born, would never live in a world where 19 men didn't use commercial airlines filled with people to make such a horrifying statement.

Now, 8 years later with her birthday a day away, she's in 2nd grade and probably about to learn, at least the basics of why the day before her birthday is called Patriot Day. And her father and I have some explaining to do.

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