Like many others, I will never forget the morning of September 11th, 2001. It’s an oddly communal feeling to know that I am one among millions for which that is the case. That, for a brief horrifying moment, the world we knew stood still - we collectively paused and each experienced our own unique WTF moment, together - and when the world resumed its forward motion, it was truly never the same.
I remember a lot of moments from throughout that day, actually. And the fact that my life couldn’t be more different now than it was 10 years ago doesn’t make it any more or less surreal. It just, was. And that will always be part of the horror to me. It should be surreal. It should be unimaginable. But once it happened, it could never unhappen. And it would never again be unimaginable.
No, I didn’t know anyone in NYC, DC, or on any of the ill-fated planes that morning. I didn’t know anyone personally who was a first responder or worked on the almost never ending clean-up. But I didn’t have to.
I was in the hallway bathroom of my townhouse in Perkiomenville that morning blow drying my hair. It was the bathroom that had become “my” bathroom; my husband and I had been living in separate bedrooms for over a year at that time and he had the master bath to himself. He came out of the master bedroom (also his) and said “a plane just flew into the World Trade Center.” I turned off the hair dryer thinking for sure that I had heard him wrong. I walked into the bedroom, staring at the smoking tower on the tv screen, asking if it was small private aircraft, and just then the second plane flew into the second tower.
We were both briefly silent then I whispered what I would probably say 1000 more times that day and in the days to follow, “oh my god….” The sight of that plane. Knowing it was a passenger airliner and yet scarcely able to comprehend the size and scale of something that size crashing into a building…. and the people…. my mind wasn’t even ready to begin trying to fit that into my understanding of what I was seeing.
Eventually I drug myself away from the tv and drove into work. Which, at that time, was the framing business I shared with my mom. It was such a gorgeous fall day - crystal blue skies and white fluffy clouds. But every glance to the skies made the morning’s events even more absurd. The soundtrack for my 15 minute drive was a rush of information and speculation being delivered by equally shocked and confused radio station hosts. When I arrived at work, my mom was already there and she was simply standing in front of the tv in shock.
Two things I remember from that abbreviated work day: the woman from the Chinese restaurant next door came over to watch the tv reports with us. Her English was almost nonexistent and the shock of the morning wasn’t helping; she kept shaking her head and clucking, occasionally saying “so bad”. At one point, two men entered the store. They were the only people we saw that day and they were salesmen for Verizon or AT&T or some such thing and as they launched into their overly cheery salesman schpeal, I remember looking at them like they were from another planet. My mom then told them about the tragedy of what had occurred, assuming that they were unaware, to which they simply waved it off, implying they didn’t think it was something to be concerned about - likely pilot error. I don’t remember how we told them to leave, but I know they left.
The first tower collapsed and we closed for the day. I watched tv off and on throughout that day and in the days that followed, still trying to digest what had happened. My husband and I hung an American flag outside our front door. I remember, oddly, explaining to my Dalmatian that it was an important thing to do, as I stroked her fur and thought of my long deceased grandfather. Within a month, I had made the decision to move out of what had been our marital home and thus began the long process of our divorce.
In the span of the 10 years that have passed since that Tuesday morning, my divorce was finalized, our business closed, relationships were built and destroyed. I went back to school, fought with the depression that had been threatening my life for so many years, fell further into debt, fell in love, married, and had a beautiful daughter that came into this world without planning. I found out I was sick and fought more than a simple depression - I fought myself. I began a new career, began a new life, began new relationships and ended others. I’ve loved and lost and questioned my sanity and grown older and stronger and weaker, all at the same time.
I was 23 on September 11, 2001. Even if pressed to come up with the most unlikely life I could imagine for myself in 10 years from that moment, I wouldn’t have come up with anything close to where I am now. I don’t know how I feel about that. But I don’t think we’re really supposed to understand everything about life. It happens. It continues. And I think sometimes that’s all we can know for sure.
The students I work with now would have been just slightly older than my daughter on that day; my daughter who wasn’t even a thought in the back of my unhappily married 23 year old mind. To them, the memories of 9-11 may be vague. For my daughter, it will simply be a lesson in a history textbook someday. Maybe someday she will ask where I was the morning of September 11, 2001. I will have a hard time explaining who that woman was to my daughter. Some days I feel like I don’t remember her well at all. But I will always remember that morning.
The changes that have taken place in my personal world since that day 10 years ago had nothing to do with the actual events of that day. Still, the comparison is stark. However, the changes that have taken place in the world since that day have been vastly impacted by the events of that morning. The world my daughter will grow up in - the only world she will ever know - will always be shaped by the events that I stood and bore witness to on a small tv screen, feeling like what I was watching was bigger than life itself.
The world may or may not be more dangerous now than it was 10 years ago, but for me personally, the stakes are now higher. And I understand what those stakes are in a way that ignorance will never again cover. I have a child; she is my connection to a future that I may never see. I have former students serving in the various branches of the military; I never want to hear their names spoken in a past tense. I want, more than anything, for them to be safe in a world that is very clearly not a safe place.
I joke about a lot of things. I bitch and complain and laugh at inappropriate times. I have to; it's how I cope. I see and experience a lot of pain; not just my own, but the pain of others as well. The world is an imperfect and cruel and completely unfair place. And yet I know with certainty, that to be a part of it is a beautiful and worthwhile thing. I just wish it wasn’t such an imperfect and cruel and completely unfair place. I wish it wasn’t so damn fragile.