I usually don't post on this blog about serious topics, but I had a revelation I wanted to share: I think I'm finally healing from 9/11.
It's been twelve years. I didn't lose a loved one that day, though I know people who did. I wasn't in the towers, nor near them. I was working on 56th Street, a few miles north, teaching. I was at work an hour earlier than usual because I'd taken on a special Business English group that started at 9:00 instead of the usual 10:00 am. If I'd had my regular 10:00 class, I would have left home at about 9:00, but I would have had the news on until then, and so probably would have known that the first tower had been struck and perhaps would not have set off for work. But who knows? At that point in the morning, no one yet knew it was an attack, so perhaps I would have.
The point is, I was in Manhattan when I normally wouldn't have been. The administration of my school was not glued to the internet so they didn't know about the attack until around 10:00. At that point, our Academic Manager came into the classroom telling us the Pentagon had been hit - that's all she knew. At the same time, someone rushed in to say there was a phone call for me from my husband. I went to the office to take the call.
"I heard the Pentagon has been attacked," I said.
"The World Trade Towers have been hit too," he said, calling from his office on 45th Street. "We have to get out of Manhattan. Meet me at home!"
I couldn't believe what he was saying. This meant we had been attacked on U.S. soil for the first time since Pearl Harbor, and I assumed it wasn't homegrown terrorism. The reality was, I didn't know anything, no one did. I hurried into the teacher's room and grabbed my stuff, even my lunch out of the fridge, and ran into my friend Teresa there. She also had to go to Queens so we decided to go together. We first tried the subway, but the trains had stopped running. We then thought to get a cab or a car service, but they were all taken. So we walked to the east side as she listened to the small radio she carried, one earphone in her ear, reporting to me what she was hearing. We couldn't see the World Trade Towers from where we were, but she said planes had crashed into both and they were burning. She said Chicago had been hit - we couldn't distinguish rumor from fact. In my mind, I saw the country under siege, who knew by whom, or where the next attack would take place. At the Queensborough bridge, we caught a bus. They were letting people on without paying, Everyone was trying to get off the island. I was terrified to be on the bridge, fearing another airplane attack would take it out. As we drove over, we saw the towers in the distance, though it was hard to know what exactly we were seeing. I think one had fallen by that time, and one was still burning, but mostly, they were covered in smoke. I tried not to look, and in glancing away, saw a Muslim woman, a frightened look on her face. We'd learned enough to know, or at least assume, it was an attack by a Muslim faction, and I prayed she wouldn't be harassed.
Once over the bridge, I said goodbye to Teresa and got off the bus because it wasn't going my way. I walked several miles to my son's school, trying to flag cabs along the way, but none would stop. When I got there, I took him in my arms, trying to explain in simple terms what I knew to be happening. He was nine at the time, old enough to comprehend some of it. He said some of the teachers were crying, others were trying to keep the kids calm and occupied. We walked about a mile together to where my car was parked, then stopped to pick up a few staples on the way home - rice, pasta, beans, I didn't know what else to do. As I pulled up to my house, I saw my husband walking up the street. He'd walked all the way from his office, across the bridge, and through Queens. I was so glad to see him!
Home was the place we live now, but under heavy renovation at that time, filled with boxes and construction - not exactly a welcoming haven. We turned on the television, and watched, horrified, though we put on cartoons for our son in the other room. I got on the phone and called my parents. I'll never forget my father saying to me as soon as he picked up, "I've never been more glad to hear from anyone in my life!" We both cried.
I won't even talk about the days and weeks that followed because they were the worst of all, as the reality of loss of life set in, and we had to deal with the gaping void in our city, a void so much bigger than buildings destroyed.
That was twelve years ago. I've never written about it until now. Sometimes I tell people my experience, people who weren't in New York at that time, but I don't like to. Yet now, it suddenly feels less difficult. My pulse isn't racing, my heart isn't in my throat. Tears aren't springing to my eyes. It's beginning to feel like an historical event, though a terrible one. And this is the first time in twelve years I haven't begun to feel dread as the date approached. I always used to pray it would fall on a day when I wouldn't have to get on the subway or go teach a class. I always hated being the cheerful ESL teacher on that day, and having to explain it to a bunch of people who weren't here and couldn't understand what it was like. This year, I don't have to do any of those things, but I realize that, for the first time, I wouldn't mind so much. Maybe. I also realize I'm not resenting the perfect, blue, September skies for the first time in all these years because that day was such a brilliant, cloudless azure. And though I have no desire to see the 9/11 Memorial again, thinking about it doesn't fill me with as much sadness as it did at first.
I am still thoughtful as the day approaches, but it's becoming more of a distant ache. This is how I know I've finally begun to heal. I suppose I've been healing all along but didn't know it.
What do I plan to do this September 11th? I'll go to the gym, as usual. And then maybe I'll go shopping at my favorite used and vintage clothing place because I need some clothes for the fall - not, as some suggested all those years ago, to do my patriotic duty to the economy, but just because I can finally, on that day, do normal things again.