Yesterday caused a lot of memories to bubble up. The vast majority of these were memories of the suffering and pain of others. You see, I, like most of us, experienced September 11, 2001 as an observer. Most of the tears I shed were for the pain and suffering of others. I wasn’t there, I didn’t lose anyone I knew. My heart broke for those that did, but this was not what changed me.
That is what changed me. I believe that it is what changed all of us. I also believe that it was the part of the whole experience that we most wanted to forget.
My September 11, 2001, started when I got my two-year-old son up and brought him into bed with me after my husband left for work. This was pretty typical. I wasn’t working that day (back then I had my own law practice, but only worked part-time), so we could laze in bed for hours after my early-rising husband left.
Some time later, the phone rang. It was my husband. “Turn on the TV,” he said. “Something has happened in New York.”
A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. It was awful. My brother was a pilot for United Airlines. I found plane crashes particularly upsetting. This was reportedly an American flight. It was just awful, but I was relieved that my brother could not have been involved.
It was terrible to see, the flames and smoke marring the blue sky. Those poor people.
I held my sleeping son closer.
Then, before all of our eyes, a second plane hit.
This was something different all together.
That was when I started to feel fear. Someone was attacking us. It was on purpose. And all of those people in the towers. People were jumping. How terrified would you have to be before you would jump? I was sobbing and clutching my son.
Then they announced that the second plane was a United flight.
Could it have been my brother piloting a high jacked plane? What would he have felt? How scared would he be right up until impact? Oh my god.
Then they came on with more news. Another plane had hit the Pentagon.
I kept thinking over and over, as I looked at my son, “You will live in a different world. The world will forever be different now.” We were being attacked, and who knew when it would end and where it would stop.
By this time, there were so many horrors, I don’t remember in what order they happened. One tower collapsed, clearly burying so many people inside, including the firefighters and police officers who were there to help people. Another highjacked plane crashed in field in Pennsylvania, this one another United flight. The second tower collapsed.
I watched it all, in disbelief. It just couldn’t all be happening.
At some point, my mother called. She had heard from my brother. He was safe, and in San Francisco. I was so relieved. This made me feel guilty. Clearly so many people had died. But not my brother.
I stayed glued to the television. For days I watched the hundreds and hundreds of stories of horror and loss and heroism covered by the press.
We learned that a college student who worked at our local Chilis was on one of the flights. A local man was one of the heroes on Fight 93, and one of the pilots grew up nearby. Theirs were stories among thousands. Too much to comprehend.
My brother was grounded in San Francisco for days. I took my son and we drove up to see him. He was staying at the St. Francis on Union Square. The city seemed empty. Union Square was vacant. I had never seen it like that.
When we met him in the lobby of the hotel, he was standing holding a piece of paper. It was a fax from United, listing the United personnel who had been killed. The co-pilot on one of the flights was someone my brother knew. My brother had been one of his flight instructors in the military, and they had become reacquainted when this pilot had joined United.
I had never seen my brother look like this.
We went to get something to eat, though nobody was hungry. We went to The Cheesecake Factory. It was completely empty. We ate without tasting the food, but we were glad that we were together. My son was a good distraction since, at two, he had no idea what had happened.
Eventually, a day or two later, my brother got in a plane and flew away. I don’t know how he was able to do that.
After that, I just remember days and days of tears and fear and, mostly, the numbness. People vacantly walked through the grocery store because they had to get things, but they couldn’t remember what. It didn’t seem right to talk. We just did what we had to and got out as soon as possible.
We didn’t know what else would happen. We were afraid to go to public places or to gather in groups. That year we were afraid to trick or treat on Halloween — it just didn’t seem right. We didn’t want to take the kids to Halloween gatherings at the mall or downtown. At some point, Anthrax scares started. It was all very bewildering.
I worried about the world in which my son would live. Would he grow up afraid? He wouldn’t remember any of this, but I just assumed that more incidents would happen and that the terror would go on and on.
Gradually, though, the fear was buried. Our ordinary lives went back to the ordinary. I know I started to worry less about how our lives had changed, and more about the day to day things.
After the first of the new year, I got pregnant. I started to feel hopeful about things. We were no longer afraid to go out. Gradually, we pushed all the fears down inside, and could read about the war on terror without shaking.
My nephew (the son of my pilot brother) joined the army and went to Iraq. Mercifully, he came back.
Now, ten years have passed since the attacks. Our lives have changed in innumerable ways, but, as it often is with fear, not in many of the ways I feared. My children know about September 11, but it is a distant thing to them. They don’t worry that it will happen here. It is something that happened a long time ago. They know about “the war” but don’t feel affected by it on a daily basis.
And, when my son watched a program about September 11 yesterday, he saw about specific loss to those many, many families directly affected. He did not understand that, at least for a time, we all lived in incredible fear. But I remember.