Sept. 11, 2001

I remember what shoes I was wearing on Sept. 11, 2001.

It’s almost absurd to think about; thousands lost their lives and I remember cheap black shoes.

It occurred to me in the days following 9/11 that my mother often said the same thing about JFK’s assassination. “I remember where I was when I heard,” she’d point out. “I know what dress I had on that day.”

For generations X and Y, the 9/11 terror attacks are their JFK assassination.

I got up slowly that morning knowing I didn’t have to be at work early. I remember turning on the television to find some L.A. news personality looking concerned and sounding frightened. The screen image cut away to a smoking north tower. I remember wondering what happened.

Information came in chaotic bursts in the beginning and I was having a difficult time wrapping my head around what I was seeing. I was watching a live feed when the south tower was hit.

I called John on his cell phone and he said he’d been listening to the radio and knew what was going on.

“You’re coming home, right?” I asked him.

“I’m almost at school. Let me see what’s going on first,” he said.

“What if something happens near us when you’re there and I’m here?” I asked, frantically.

“Then I stay and make sure the kids are safe.”

My eyes were glued to the screen as I hung up the phone. I thought about how terrified the people in the world trade towers were at that very moment. I wondered how they’d get out. Then just like that, the south tower was gone; as though it had never taken up space in the sky. 

I wiped a fallen tear from my right shoe.

It felt like I cried a million tears in the weeks following 9/11.

On my way to work that Tuesday morning, I was waiting at a stop light and tears flowed freely down my face. I glanced to the driver of the car next to me and our eyes met. Her hand was over her mouth and she was crying too. That morning she and I, and everyone else in this country, became members of the same club.

Not long after I arrived at work, both towers were gone, the Pentagon had been hit and little was left of Flight 93 in a Pennsylvania field.

I cried for the loss of life. I cried for the bravery of the firefighters and police officers who died trying to save. For the warriors on Flight 93 who, knowing their lives were about to end, sent that plane into a field before it could fly into Washington D.C.

I cried for the children of the victims, especially the yet-to be born; for them, my heart is still broken.

My grief for the surviving wives was sometimes overpowering.

Eventually my tears flowed because of a profound sense of patriotism. Pictures of American flags whipping in the wind, people helping others- a nation galvanized.

That day changed this nation. We all awoke to one type of America and by that night, we knew She’d never be the same.

Sept. 11, 2001 was the worst kind of tragic. It was crippling fear and loss. It was dust and noise, sirens and firefighters. It was “Let’s roll!” and good-bye, chaos and heroics.

It was a day that I will never forget. It’s a kaleidoscope of images burned into my memory.

A few days ago my 8-year-old asked me about 9/11. I considered how to explain it in a way that wouldn’t frighten him; I wanted to protect him from the heartache of that day. 

“I’ll never forget where I was when I first watched the news,” I told him. “I still remember what shoes I was wearing that day.”

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