Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11

As another generation asked, "Do you remember where you were when you heard that President Kennedy had been shot?", so do we now ask each other, "Where were you when you heard the news on September 11?" In 1963 I was two years old, and yet I remember vividly the TV being on all day, which was unusual; both sets of grandparents showing up at our house, which also was unusual; and all the grown-ups crying.

In 2001, I was the grown-up, with two small children of my own. Here is our family's story of that day.

Ten years ago it was Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

My daughter Alice was just twelve days away from her eighth birthday.

My son Davey was not yet four years old.

That morning they were both sleeping snuggled up next to me in the big bed in our townhouse out in McHenry County, about 50 miles west of Chicago. Their dad had left for work less than an hour earlier.

It was going to be a special day for us three, because we had decided to go into the city and take the elevator up to the top of what was then the Sears Tower, the tallest building east of the Mississippi. We had visited the museums and parks in Chicago many times, but had never done the Sears Tower thing, so we were excited.

As a freelancer working nights after everyone else went to bed, I usually stayed up very late tackling my current projects, then slept in until at least 10 a.m., as did my homeschooled children.

But at exactly 7:46 that morning--8:46 a.m. New York time--for reasons still unknown to me, Davey started sobbing desperately in his sleep. 

Which was not a thing he ever did, being the best sleeper--unlike his sister--an always-exhausted mother could ever hope to have. 

I glanced at the clock to see numbers that still haunt me. 

Then I gathered him in my arms and tried to understand what was wrong; but, always a man of few words, even then, he couldn't really tell me. He was more than half asleep, but yet he was truly, almost inconsolably, distraught.

As I cuddled and rocked him, I worried that maybe he was getting sick; he had severe asthma when he was little, and had suffered bout after bout of pneumonia. But I didn't hear the tell-tale wheezing, and he wasn't coughing--so then I was just the teensiest bit fried because it was an awkward time to wake up: too early for me to feel well-rested enough for the day we had planned, but too late to really go back to sleep now.

Eventually, though, he quieted, and I laid him gently back down next to me and dozed off a bit myself.

About 45 minutes later, my husband called.

"Turn on the TV," he said. "Now."

And so I did.

Just in time to watch--in utter, uncomprehending horror--as the South Tower fell.

My husband explained with intense urgency what he knew thus far as I stared at replays of the planes hitting the towers.

Without thinking, I pulled Davey back onto my lap and held my sleeping child ever more tightly as the images unfolded before me.

All I could think of, as tears streamed uncontrollably down my face, was that there were children on those planes.

Dear God.

Those children.

Their parents.

The people in the towers.

The firefighters. The EMTs. The police officers.

All those people.

All those families.

Then Alice woke up.


The rest of the day was unlike any I've ever lived, before or since.

Of course we did not go into the city. By 10 a.m. CDT the Sears Tower was being evacuated.

By noon my husband's employer had sent all its workers home.

We watched the live coverage all afternoon in complete and absolute shock. It was mind-numbingly unfathomable.

Late in the day I called my parents in Phoenix to ... since I thought ... it seemed important to know ... 

Because I needed to hear my mother's voice.

Finally around 6 p.m., my two subdued and wide-eyed children, who grasped with sadness that many, many people had gotten hurt that day, needed a break from everything.

So I took them, on this gorgeous, sunny early evening, to one of our favorite parks nearby, popular with the families in our neighborhood.

Today there was just one other family there, a father and mother and three children, who appeared to be of middle-Eastern descent. We didn't know each other, but we acknowledged each other's presence with polite nods and uncertain half-smiles.

As my children played on the swingset, I became aware that it was oddly quiet.

So very quiet.

Eerily quiet.

I looked up at the cloud-free sky and realized.

On any other day, whenever we were outside, there was always the thrumming background drone of flight after flight after flight making its way to O'Hare Airport. A noise so common that it was just part of the soundtrack of our lives, day in and day out, always that distant roar.

But now

the brilliantly blue

late-summer sky


as silent

as the tears


we three



In memory of all those we lost that day, and all the families whose lives were irrevocably changed. May we never forget.

copyright 2011 / Binky and the Misfit Mimes / Lynn V. Ingogly / all rights reserved


WheresMyKoppy said...

I haven't written anything about 9/11 this year other than the one essay I wrote for Yahoo News. There is plenty I could say, especially since I've not really written much about exactly where I was or what I was doing when I first heard about it.

But you've done a brilliant job, as always. Very personal, very heartfelt. You've captured the emotion very well.

I was on my way home on the bus from my second job which I worked at overnight at the time. We didn't have cable at the time, so when I got home to relax I would turn on an early morning show on PBS. That morning the first thing I saw was a shot of smoke coming out of the first tower. I couldn't figure out what it was until, of course, they started talking about it again. Then the second plane hit. I woke my mother up and told her to turn on her TV. I don't think either of us turned it off for at least two days.

I remember the eeriy quiet skies also, no planes in the air. I worried frantically about two friends in New Jersey, and indeed both of their husbands escaped being in the area at the time by what were really strokes of fate. We found out ten days later my dad's brother had died at the WTC. An old high school classmate found out his college room mate was on United 93.

I'll never forget.

AnmlBri said...

I wish I remembered that day more vividly, but I was only 10 at the time, and as my mom reminded me a few days ago, knew nothing of "terrorism" or the true evils of the world, so she didn't expect me to have fully understood what happened at the time. I do remember though, that I was asleep in bed and my mom came in to my room, woke me up, and told me to come into her room to watch the news because something big had just happened; I don't remember if she mentioned the WTC specifically at that point.

The first plane had already hit, but I don't think the second one had yet. My dad had been in the process of getting ready to fly to Chicago that morning and was the one who initially woke my mom up and told her to turn on the TV. I remember sitting with my parents on the foot of their bed, watching as the tragedy unfolded. I saw the images of the smoke billowing from the North Tower after the first strike, and I don't really remember what went through my mind - whether I could wrap my mind around it or not, etc. I don't remember if I saw the second plane hit in real time or if my mom had come in after that and told me our country was under attack. Dang, I really wish I could remember better and I feel bad for being so fuzzy about the whole thing. Like mom said, I was only 10, but I really get down on myself for it.

Anyway, I do remember seeing the towers fall, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. They were there one second, and then within seconds they each cascaded down all the way to the ground and were gone. I think I might have heard about the Pentagon before I left for school too. There was a part of my little 10-year-old mind that hoped school would be cancelled for the day, but of course, living on the west coast, that didn't happen.

When I got to class, I remember my teacher talking to my class about the day's events thus far.

Now that I'm older, the real tragedy of that day resonates with me more, but I also still have trouble knowing how I should feel. I don't know anyone that was there or died that day and was young when it happened, but I still somehow expect more out of my 10-year-old self and feel bad at times for not crying more often now when reflecting on 9/11. (In case you haven't noticed, I'm very hard on myself.) Sometimes it feels like a scene out of a movie and I have trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that it's all real, but at other times it just takes the littlest thing, the smallest bit of poignance, one photo of a crying firefighter or audio clip of someone telling their spouse that they love them, to set me off into tears.

I know not everyone handles things the same way so I shouldn't be so hard on myself but...oh, I don't know. I just know that I don't plan on going anywhere today because it feels wrong to me to treat today like any other day. I plan to use it to reflect and watch the news and try to remember.

germansoulmate said...

Thank you for that quiet post on this day. Thank you,

aaaack said...

Thank you for your account. Loved ones felt especially precious from that day forward.

And I was so grateful that my brother did not get offered a job working in one of the Twin Towers. Sometimes setbacks are a blessing in disguise.

WheresMyKoppy said...

My two friends in New Jersey, one husband took the morning off to run errands with plans to go to work that afternoon. The other missed his train that morning. Both of them would have been around the WTC at around 8:30 am. This is what I mean by strokes of fate.