Sunday, September 11, 2011


I have never been to New York. For almost ten years, I have known that when I finally get to visit, I will see Yankee Stadium, Rockefeller Center, Tiffany & Co., and FAO Schwarz. I will eat a hot dog from a vendor on the street, and try to decide if New York pizza is the best. And I will visit a firehouse – maybe more than one – and say, “thank you.”

But a few days ago, it dawned on me that “thank you” is not at all what I want to say. I want – and need – to say “I will remember.”

On September 11, 2001, I was 25 years old. I was single, having emerged from a 5 ½ year relationship a few months earlier, and I was enjoying being unattached. I indulged my wild streak; I drank entirely too much. I had fun with my friends, and I was planning a trip to Las Vegas in October for my best friend’s wedding. It would be the first time I flew. Like it was for most people, that morning was utterly normal. I was getting ready for work and listening to the local morning show when one of the on-air personalities broke in with news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but the announcement was given almost in passing. At that point, everyone thought a small plane had hit the tower accidentally.

As I drove to work, coverage of the events was nonstop. By the time I arrived at work, a few minutes late as usual, the second plane had hit. I went to my desk, and the two girls who reported to work before me asked what was wrong. They had no idea what had happened. I remember not being able to access news websites; the fact that I couldn’t find out what was happening added to my anxiety. Someone located a television and put it in a conference room in our area, but watching the coverage was worse, in some ways. I remember that I was watching the tv when people began to jump from the burning towers; a woman was eating at the conference table, and I wondered how she could keep her food down while watching people die.

Very little work was done that day. I spent the evening with my friend R.J., the man who would become my boyfriend and then husband. We watched continuing coverage, but I was numb. On October 11, 2001, I flew to Las Vegas for my friend’s wedding. When we arrived at DFW Airport, there were soldiers with machine guns at every entrance. It was real then; life would never be the same. In Las Vegas, we went to the New York, New York hotel. A makeshift memorial had been established along the railing by the Statue of Liberty. There were lots of unsmoked cigarettes woven among the notes and flowers. My friend made a comment about “why the hell are people leaving cigarettes???” I looked at what I was carrying: my ID, a little money, a camera and extra film, the hotel room key, and my cigarettes and lighter. People left cigarettes because they needed to leave something, and all they could leave behind was a cigarette.

In the news over this past week, I’ve heard reporters say that 9/11 was a dividing line: there was Before and now we live in After. I believe that; I know that 9/11 changed me. The thing that struck me then, and that still strikes me now, is that Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was just another day. The people who died woke up and went about their lives. I picture a husband and wife, bickering in the kitchen that morning. She leaves for work, and because of their argument, doesn’t kiss him goodbye. As she gets onto the subway, she thinks how silly the fight was, and how she’ll kiss him twice that evening to make up for it. But she doesn't come home that night, or ever again.

I say, “I love you” to J. at least five times a day. We say it so often that some might say it loses its meaning, but that is not true. I say it so often because I do mean it so deeply, and if something happens to me or to J. while we are apart, it’s important to me that those words were said. I’ve always been an emotionally-present person, but 9/11 made me even more that way. When I care for someone, I tell them. I celebrate the lives that matter to me every single day.

I will remember the lives lost on 9/11. I will remember the heroism, the loyalty, and the compassion for fellow men that was shown by so many during that time of crisis. And I will remember that the names carved into those fountains are not just names. Each one was a person, someone who had a favorite food, a pet peeve, a silly thing they were afraid of. Each one had embarrassing personal stories, and regrets, and dreams for the future. Each one was a life - a life that deserves to be remembered.


RoseAnn said...

I thought that once the anniversary came and went this year, I'd be ready to move on. I had taped several specials from the History channel but didn't know if I'd be emotionally up for watching them. Last night I started watching the "Voices from the Towers" thinking I wouldn't be able to finish it but it's actually very well done.

I am very glad that on Sunday I got out and participated in a memorial event because if I'd stayed home, I would have been glued to the TV.

In 2001, my workplace set up TVs in several areas and work continued at a stilted pace while we all checked in frequently for updates. I will always feel a particular connection to those coworkers because we went through that day together.

Carol said...

We watched "Voices from the Towers," and also thought it was very well done. I don't like to watch too much coverage, but I watch some every year. I feel that it's sort of a responsibility - a way to honor those who died and the many more who were directly affected.

I know exactly what you mean about feeling that connection to the people you were with on 9/11. I feel that way, too.