The Day After

I wanted to blog about September 11. And yet, I also didn’t want to blog about September 11. It is, of course, a very important and sad day in the United States. Everyone I know blogged or vlogged or FaceBooked about it. And, as always, it’s a day that brings up a lot of feelings and confused emotions for me. It was a day of great contradictions, where the best and the most heroic and most amazing moments of humanity existed right next to the most horrible and unthinkable ones. As always, I couldn’t manage to gather my thoughts enough to talk about all of this in a timely manner. And besides, there were a lot of other people out there doing a much better job of commemorating the day than I ever could. All these years later, I’m still not sure I have adequately parsed through my own feelings.

Most people I know remember everything about that day. They remember what they were wearing, down to the most minute detail. They remember exactly what they were doing at the moment they found out about the planes hitting the towers. Perhaps there is something wrong with me or with the way my brain processes information and memories or something, but I don’t really remember these things. I remember I was at work, but not exactly what I was doing. I don’t remember what I was wearing, either, although I’m sure it was something black. I wore a lot of black when I was working. I remember little things. Like how amazingly gorgeous that day was. It was one of those days when I felt good about life, like anything was possible. The sky was so blue. The sun was warm. The leaves had just barely started to turn. I remember standing in the break area closest to my office and watching news coverage of the first plane and thinking that it had to be an accident. Everyone thought it was a horrible accident.  Nothing else seemed possible. But then, the second plane hit. If I close my eyes right now, I can picture that second plane hitting the second tower. And I remember feeling cold all the way through. I still wanted it to be an accident, but how could it be? And then more information started coming across the television. I don’t remember much about the rest of the day.

I went home. I walked my dog. I cleaned the cat box. I fed the critters. I called my parents. I called my husband, who lived in a city hundreds of miles away. I ate dinner. I watched anime that night because I couldn’t take the nonstop news coverage. Maybe I wanted to hide away from the truth or something, but hearing other people say they had no idea what was happening didn’t feel particularly comforting to me. That night, I crawled into bed, snuggled up next to my dog and my cat, and, after quite a lot of tossing and turning, I fell asleep. Even now, as I think about it years later, it all felt so NORMAL. Isn’t that strange? With what felt like the whole world going crazy and falling apart, my little corner of life felt normal. I did all my usual things. It was almost like I could convince myself that none of it had happened. That, maybe, I had imagined or dreamed it.

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Even more than that actual day, I remember the day after. Because I went to sleep in one world and woke up in another. My whole life, I felt “safe”. I guess it’s a privilege to be able to grow up feeling that way. At the time, I was naive and didn’t know this. I didn’t think about this. That feeling of safety and security was all that I had ever known. Of course, “safety” is an illusion. It always was an illusion. And, like all good illusions, it hurts when it’s suddenly ripped away. Facing reality is hard and painful. In that moment, I knew nothing would ever be the same. I knew it in a way that felt ominous and painful and just much, much too real.

At the time, my husband and I were trying to have a child — something that was an ongoing struggle for us because of fertility issues compounded by the fact that we had to live apart due to our work. It hit me, painfully hard, that my child — if I was ever blessed with a child — would grow up in a completely different world than I did. My child would never know the feeling of thinking the world is a “safe” place. My child would never know a world where people couldn’t fathom the kind of hatred that causes someone to fly a plane into a tall building. My child would grow up in a world where terrorists and hatred and cruelty are all too real. I know, really, we all grow up in that type of world. The world is cruel. It always has been. But I think the difference is that I realized I would never be able to shelter my child from those things. My innocence was gone, but, somehow, the innocence of my future child was gone, too. Gone, even before he or she could experience it.

On the day after, I woke up in my own bed in a weird, different, and unfamiliar world. I was wearing a University of Texas t-shirt and gray sweatpants. I hugged my dog to me and cried for hours.

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