An ordinary day like no other
A perfectly ordinary September day.
Except it wasn’t.
The first reminder came when I turned on the radio and the newscaster said in his ordinary voice: “Today is Thursday, September 11, 2008. This is NPR.”
Seven years. Seven.
It hardly seems possible. All day as I went about my chores and errands, fulfilled my responsibilities and duties, I swallowed a lump in my throat and felt tears burning behind my eyes.
I managed to avoid the horrific images most of the day, though much to my chagrin when I was at the gym MSNBC insisted on re-broadcasting its footage and commentary from 2001, complete with the smoking Twin Towers and Pentagon, as if anyone who was alive in 2001 needs to ever see those again. They are images that are unfortunately filed in my permanent memory whether I want them there or not.
I ran on the treadmill not wanting to look, but unable not to. I tried desperately to focus instead on the other networks’ coverage of the Memorial service. But it was no good. My eye kept getting pulled back. The gym was eerily quiet. No one was chatting next to each other on the equipment like usual. Or if they were, I was too wrapped up in my own emotions to notice.
My head spun with the horror of that day: Sitting in the conference room at work watching smoke stream from the first Tower on a fuzzy feed from the local ABC affiliate. The dreaded realization when the second plane hit that we weren’t watching a dreadful accident, but something much, much worse. Something out of a nightmare. The panicked calls to Mark begging him to get out of his building and as far away from New York as he could get NOW. My coworker who sat anxiously by the phone – not even wanting to get up to use the bathroom – trembling with fear and not knowing if her husband, an employee at the WTC, was dead or alive (she finally got the call around 3 p.m. that he was fine, thank God.)
Compounding things was the fact that September 11, 2001 was a day much like today in the New York area: Sunny, clear blue skies, a hint of cooler fall air. It felt like it did that day. It even smelled like it did that day, if that makes sense – the scent of fall blown around on a pleasant breeze.
I don’t think anyone in this country came away from that terrible day unscathed. We were all victims in some way. But it is impossible to live in this area of the world and not think of September 11, 2001 on a regular basis. It is impossible to live here and not know someone who knows someone who died that day, or who ran from the City covered in dust. Someone who has nightmares still about what they saw or heard.
I think of 9/11 every time I drive to work when I come up over a hill and catch a glimpse of the New York City skyline, forever, irrevocably altered. I think of every time I hear a jet screeching overhead, glancing up nervously waiting, waiting for the worst. I think of it every time I walk into the dry cleaner around the corner from my office and see the poster tacked up, “Remember our nephew, Josh, killed 9/11/01,” and see Josh, smiling back at me in a tuxedo looking happy and alive.
Most of all, I think of it each and every time I set foot in New York. I love that City, but I will never feel completely, 100% safe there again. It doesn’t stop me from enjoying everything New York has to offer, but my body always does a full exhale when it hits the western shores of the Hudson once again.
But despite the regular reminders, the anniversary always hits me particularly hard. I go about my day doing ordinary things because I have to. But on this day, more so than usual, my heart aches and weeps for those who were lost on what started out as a perfectly ordinary September day seven years ago.