9/11/01 - 9/11/06
For some reason, I'm having a hard time with all the 9/11 imagery this year. It makes the events of five years ago seem very near. For lack of anything better to say, here is my post from last year.
Every year that brings us farther from the terror attacks of 9/11 makes my memories from that day more and more fuzzy. That queasy feeling I get in the pit of my stomach when I watch the yearly replaying of footage from that terrible day and its aftermath gets more and more elusive as time passes. And this year, the multiple tragedies that Hurriane Katrina left behind makes 9/11 seem even more distant. The news outlets are trying valiantly to keep the coverage of Katrina up, while not giving 9/11 short shrift. But try as they might to give both stories the prominent placement they so deserve, there is a world of difference between the coverage of 9/11 in years' past and this year's coverage.
Though I understand that time goes on, and pain cannot stay fresh forever, I still have a hard time treating September 11th as a day like any other. I was touched very personally by the terror of that day, and I think it will take more than the passage of four years and the horror of fresh tragedy to forget the roller coaster of emotions I went through on this day in 2001.
OrthoDad worked in the Towers. he was there when the plane hit, he was there when the first Tower collapsed. I didn't hear from him for 2 hours after I watched live footage of the Towers coming down. Those were two hours of hell.
The kids were picked up for their first day of school just as the first plane hit. My husband called me from his cellphone. He told me that a "light plane" had hit the tower, but that his floor was ok, and that he was probably going to leave and just come home. I didn't press him to do so, as no one could have known the scope of what was about to occur. That would be the last time I spoke to him for more than three hours. I sat by the television, in the empty house, watching the smoke pour out of the first tower on the screen. Suddenly, in a surreal moment, the second plane hit. I remember thinking, "there must be a radar glitch". Terror just didn't occur to me in my naive 2001 existence. I knew that my husband worked on a lower floor than those that were hit by the plane, but I started calling him on his cell, over and over. A fast busy signal alternated with the message "all circuits are busy now, please try again later". My house phone started ringing. I checked Caller ID. My mother. Told her I spoke to him and he had been leaving. Told my sister, his father, his brother the same when they called. I had no additional information. He said he was leaving. He was OK. It didn't occur to anyone that things would get much more serious than they were. He was OK. He survived the plane crashing into the building. He was coming home. Whew. Our small part in this tragedy was over. I sat by the phone, waiting for him to call from the train, sure he was OK, that he had gotten out. I watched the smoke pour out of the towers, with the absolute conviction that my husband was OK, that this was a small controlled fire, that he was stuck in the large crowds of people evacuating the area, and would make it home soon.
Then the first tower fell. Panic set in. Restrained panic, but panic nonetheless. I wasn't so sure anymore that he was OK. Suddenly, conditions down there had just gotten a hell of a lot more dangerous. The phone started ringing again. My mother, my brother, my mother-in-law, my father-in-law. I didn't pick up. I didn't want to hear the panic and hysteria I knew would be in their voices. I didn't want to have to feign calm and hide the hysteria in mine. I sat watching, in a cold sweat, as the second tower came down. Still pressing redial, still getting the all circuits busy message. Still waiting for a call to come in from him that hadn't yet come in.
Two hours. Two hours I sat, ignoring the incessantly ringing phone, trying to stanch the mounting hysteria that was rising inside of me. Finally, the phone rang. I saw on caller ID that it was my mother-in-law. I still didn't pick up. I heard her voice over the answering machine. "I got through to him, he's OK." I picked up, to hear details, but missed the call. She had hung up.
I went limp from relief. My cell phone rang. It was him. He broke down. I broke down. We didn't talk, silently sobbing together over the phone. I didn't tell him that I had envisioned myself a widow, raising three children on my own. I didn't tell him that I had this foreboding sense that he was gone as I watched both towers come down in a huge cloud of smoke and pulverized glass. I just cried.
Later, when he finally made his way home together with the throngs of people evacuating the City, he told me how close he had been to getting injured by the showers of glass and concrete that rained down around him when the towers fell. He told me about the dust that filled his lungs, causing him to need to have oxygen administered by a passing EMT. He told me that when someone screamed that the tower was coming down, he calculated how high the towers were, and how close three blocks away was, and even as he started running, he thought he had no chance at all.
He had a minor cough for weeks, and a bad eye infection from the dust, and became a news junkie for months, staying up until all hours, watching the footage of the rescue effort which all too quickly became a recovery effort. But he was home. And so many were not. And I had no trouble praying to God over the Rosh Hashana that came so soon after.
So some of you may understand why 9/11 has not yet lost its meaning for me. And I'm not sure it ever will.