Thursday, September 11, 2008

My annual remembrance

Seems like I'm making a habit of this. Each anniversary of 9-11, I remember what it was like for my family in 2001. The world changed after that, so I think it's important to remember what a significant day it was.

I was living in Lubbock, Texas, and working for a health PPO. I was a technical writer and just beginning to realize that my job had no advancement possibilities. I was contemplating graduate school. Both of my kids were in elementary school. Son was in 4th grade, and Daughter was in 1st. I tended to listen to my own music, and not the radio, on the way to their school and work. So, I didn't hear news until I got to my office.

I was working in a cubicle then, in the IT department. The programmers around me were the kind who would email questions to me, even though I sat four feet away from them. So, the silence in the office wasn't unusual.

I saw the alert on my desktop, but had trouble loading any information from the Internet. "Hey," I said, breaking the room's silence. "Have you all seen what's going on in New York?" They nodded and one started filling me in. We were all trying to get news from the Internet, but so was everyone else in the world.

I called my mom. She'd already heard. I called Old BF (who was a current BF then). He was in a convenience store and saw the news, but thought the pictures were of some war in the Middle East. He was shocked and went home to his own TV set.

I remember watching the Today Show. They were showing live footage of the first tower, spewing smoke, and interviewing a lady. I think she was in a nearby building. She was describing the plane as being a large jetliner, and Matt Lauer was using his condescending voice to say something like, "Now, certainly it wasn't that big...." When you could see a little dark spec enter the picture and head straight to the towers. I remember the chill I got, realizing the thing wasn't veering away. What the hell....?

Then the bright blossom of the explosion out the front of the second tower. The lady talking to Matt Lauer screamed and said, "What was that?" It took them a moment to see their own live pictures and realize the second tower had been hit.

And it all changed in that moment. This wasn't an accident. We were being attacked.

The health PPO was headed by an aggressively born-again Christian who wanted to encourage the Christian-ness of each employee. So, each Tuesday and Thursday morning, we had the opportunity to go to a devotional, led by the owner's pastor. We actually got extra time off if we went to this regularly. So, I went regularly.

By that time, we'd heard about the Pentagon. Someone volunteered that the last news they heard was that the capital building was on fire. We prayed for our country.

My boss went home and got a small TV to put in her office. Not much work happened that day. Late in the morning, our mayor had her own press conference about security in our city. Then, she announced that all school children had been released for the day.

WTF? No one told me this! I turned to my boss and said, "I have to go." She agreed.

Our local news anchor broke in on the Mayor's press conference. "We've been told that the schools have not released students at this time. The school schedule will continue as normal. Parents do not need to go pick up children at this time. The schoolchildren"

I sat back down and felt a little relieved. I told my boss that I would leave early anyhow, to pick up my kids myself. My mother wanted to, but I needed to be the one to talk to them about what was happening.

Elsewhere in the world, my sister was coping with a bigger mess. She lived in Cherry Point, NC, on a military base. She was trying to figure out how to talk to her kids about this, without alarming them about their father's safety. Seeing as how he's a soldier, the kids' concerns were about him going to war. When she picked them up from school, her oldest was beside himself. His teacher had wheeled a TV into their classroom and turned on the coverage. No explanation. No discussion. Just the news, running all day. To kids whose parents were Marines.


When I picked up my kids, Son was full of news. A friend of his had gone to the dentist and heard about the attacks, early in the day. "We're being invaded!" my son said. I shushed him and said he and I would talk about it privately at home, when I could speak to each of them individually. My daughter was blissfully unaware, and I wanted to be careful how she became aware of what would be frightening for a six-year-old to see on TV.

Also, I understood that we were experiencing an important point of history. They were living it. Someday, they would be asked about what it was like. I didn't want to shield them from it and not let them remember it as it was, good or bad.

I avoided turning on a TV when we got home. Since my son had a little information, I spoke with him first. I explained that no, we weren't being invaded. I told the story of what had happened that day. I told him what he'd see and hear on TV. Did he know what hijacking meant? Did he know what terrorists were? He did. I let him turn on the living room TV once his sister had come to see me.

Daughter was harder to talk to. Her wide eyes told me that the words "hijack" and "terrorist" were foreign to her, as was the hate associated with them. The idea that someone would hate another kind of people so much that they wanted to kill not one, but all off them, was a concept that had never occurred to her.

And I resented it to my core that I had to tell her about these things. The world changed for all of us that day, and a little innocence was lost.

She sat in my lap as we all watched the news together. Son considered himself beyond sitting in my lap, but he stayed close. We talked and I answered questions the whole time. It made him angry, and he wanted to know what would be done about it. That one, I couldn't answer just yet. I suspected the answer, and my mother was already freaking out about "What if the bring back the draft?" and "What if Son is drafted at 18?", but I didn't want to voice any of that to my children.

I noticed two divergent reactions among the people I knew and the people I saw interviewed on the streets of New York that day.

The men wanted revenge. "These animals don't deserve to exist on the face of this earth!" one man exclaimed. As a whole, the men I knew wanted to take up arms and swim the ocean if they had to, to get revenge. The women wanted to rush home, gather their loved ones close, and protect them. They wanted to be able to reach out and touch everyone they cared about, keep them under their wings, and be sheltered and safe. I still find that fascinating.

Another thing sat in the back of my head. It was September 11th. The following day would be Son's tenth birthday. What shitty timing. Okay, I know that sounds selfish, but I was looking at this little boy who had been looking forward to this milestone birthday, and now.... I just didn't know how to pull off a birthday party with this cloud literally hanging over everyone.

Apparently, Son had the same thought. As I tucked him into bed that night, he said: "Mommy, can we put off my birthday? I can wait another week or so. It just doesn't seem like a time for people to be thinking of me."

That moment is one of my best memories. I was never so proud of him as I was in that moment.

I agreed with him, and made the calls the next day. We still had our family celebration. We went out to dinner at his favorite restaurant. During dinner, Daughter lightly tapped me on the arm and pointed up. I hadn't noticed the TV so close by. It was showing 9/11 footage of the disaster. The sound was off.

Daughter's little voice whispered to me and her eyes looked frightened. "Is that an old picture," she asked. "Or is it happening again?"

I hugged and reassured her. She went back to the celebration, visibly relieved.

And it's that innocence lost, that lingering fear, that seems to be the 9/11 legacy for our family. I do resent that, still.


Walker said...

Childran should never have to experience such horrors but life isn;t fair but that where parents have to stewp in and reassure them that the world isn't coming to an end and there are bad people everywhere.
Things will happen and life will move on for the living and the dead will remain in our hearts and memories.

Happy Birthday to your son.

Blogget Jones said...

Wise words, Walker. Thank you!


e jerry said...

Yeah, well...

I've been disinclined to indulge, myself. I was trying to avoid my birthday then, and I'm still trying to avoid it now.

Sparx said...

A little bit of something died for a lot of us that day - the world is indeed a new place.

Blogget Jones said...

e jerry -- sorry :o( I know what you mean!

Sparx -- Too, too true. It was indeed a turning point in history, both globally and personally.