They say “Remember 09/11/01.” I remember… all too well.
I remember not feeling well that Tuesday morning and wondering if I should call in sick. I remember deciding to go to work, thinking I’d probably leave early. I remember what I wore and that I didn’t like the outfit I had chosen. I remember the sheer beauty of the day – the perfect weather, the bluest sky I had ever seen. I remember my commute on a bus through the Holland Tunnel to downtown Manhattan where I switched to the subway. I remember going to the cafeteria to get breakfast, and I remember what I ordered. I remember paying the cashier and watching the second plane fly into the building on the lunch room television. I remember not knowing what was going on and how my life was about to be turned upside down.
I also remember going back to my desk and waiting to learn more about the horrible event I just witnessed. My co-worker Jim was the first to receive a phone call from his wife confirming that this was a terrorist attack and not an unfortunate accident. Then, my phone rang. It was my brother-in-law. “Aim? You okay?” It was at that moment that what was happening settled in. It was as that moment that I wondered where I was going to go, how I was going to get there, and if I would make it out of the city alive. “I’m terrified,” was my response… and I meant it.
I tried to call my father who worked downtown near the World Trade Center. I couldn’t get through. I then called my mother who was teaching at an elementary school in New Jersey. I asked the secretary to send a message up to my mom’s classroom that said, “I’m okay.” She had no idea what it meant. She had no idea what had happened.
I finally got through to my father. He was okay too, thank goodness. We tried to formulate a plan to get us both out of the city safely. He needed to stay at work to ensure that his people got out and that his business continuity plan was activated. He was going to be a while. I just wanted to get the hell out of Manhattan.
The tunnels were closed. The subways weren’t running. The ferries were shut down. The bridges were stopped. One of the great things about Manhattan is that everywhere you go, there’s a landmark. But, when the city is under attack, one of the worst things about Manhattan is that everywhere you go, there’s a landmark. Were more attacks coming? What would the targets be? Where could I go?
Smoke billowed, a burning smell permeated the air, and there was an eerie silence in the city that never sleeps. Few of us spoke… what was there to say?
I needed to leave. I just wanted to be out of the city. Co-workers of mine were taking one of the few subways that were running out to Queens. My boyfriend at the time lived there. I tried calling him to see if it was alright if I went to his place, but I couldn’t get through. He was on a subway under the World Trade Center when the attacks first happened, but luckily, the subway left the station before the trains were shut down. I went to his apartment anyway and sat outside for hours, hoping I’d hear from him, praying that he was okay, and wondering what I was going to do if he didn’t return.
I passed the time calling everyone I knew that lived or worked in New York City. The phone lines were unpredictable, but I was eventually able to check in with many of my friends. Everyone I reached was shaken up, but they were safe. Finally, I saw my boyfriend walking down the block. I was so relieved to see him.
We went inside and I continued making phone calls. Hours went by and I got a call from one of my best friends. She informed me that our good friend, D, whose wedding I attended just six months earlier, hadn’t been able to contact her husband who worked at the Pentagon. My heart sank. D began sending out email updates about the search for her husband and we never gave up hope. Then, we learned the sad news that her husband had been one of the 125 people in the part of the Pentagon that was hit when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the building.
I didn’t want to be in Queens any more. I wanted to go home. I wanted to be with my family. I wanted to hug my parents. I wanted to see my sister and brother-in-law. I wanted life to go back to the way it was at 8:45 am on that day when my biggest issues were my slightly sore throat and a dull outfit.
They say “Never Forget 9/11.” I couldn’t if I tried (and believe me, I’ve tried).
There are things I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to forget the lives of the people who were killed that day. I don’t want to forget the bravery and heroism of ordinary citizens, police officers and firemen, or the search and rescue animals. I don’t want to forget how instead of this attack tearing the country apart, it actually brought us closer together. I don’t want to forget how everyone was kinder, more compassionate, and more empathetic. I don’t want to forget the sense of community and patriotism. I don’t want to forget how much better food tasted, how much prettier the trees looked, how much nicer a hug felt. I don’t want to forget how lucky I was (and am) to be alive.
Every year on this day, I have a very heavy heart. I tear up throughout the day. I reflect, I remember, I mourn. I hate today. Each year, I think it’ll get easier. It doesn’t. Each year I comment on how sad this day makes me and each year my brother-in-law, the one who first called me with such concern, love, and a hint of fear in his voice that fateful morning, reminds me that instead of focusing on the negatives of that day, we should focus our energies on the beauty of the things in the world around us. We should be grateful for our families, appreciate nature, live our lives to the fullest, and love with all our hearts. It’s a hard thing to do when the sheer terror of that day still feels so fresh even 11 years later, but it is something for which I will strive.
Today, I left the crumbs on the floor and the laundry unfolded. Today, we went for bike rides and indulged in full-fat, decadent ice cream. Today, we sat in the sun and watched the clouds float by. Today, I hugged my children even more and sent love notes to my husband.
I didn’t forget, nor will I ever, but today, I remembered to live for today.