Wednesday, December 6th, 2006 • 2 Comments on Flashback, 9.11.2001
I’m feeling much better now than I did about six hours ago. Ah, the healing powers of cookies!
It may seem strange, but I still— after more than five years— can’t talk too much about 9/11 without getting emotional. I don’t voluntarily view the images from that day if I can help it, but I didn’t have a choice tonight as our last pop culture class was all about 9/11.
There are so many memories attached to that day— for everyone, of course— and my memories center around being alone. Jay was at sea (and actively involved in the military’s response following 9/11), I had only been at my job at the library for four months and hadn’t made any real friends yet, my only “friends” in Virginia were other Navy spouses who were little more than acquaintances in the same boat I was in (no pun intended). Most of them had children, so they were doing their best on 9/11 and the days immediately after to avoid turning on the television and freaking out the kids. Meanwhile, I was glued to the television for days (when I wasn’t online reading whatever news I could get my hands on and sending e-mail to Jay who wasn’t getting it) from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed. I dreamed about it when I wasn’t watching it.
I was supposed to be at work at 1 p.m. on September 11th, but I couldn’t make my body move from in front of the television. I called in “sick”— and I was— though I would have gotten to go home early anyway because they decided to close the library at 5 instead of 9. I stayed in front of the television, alone, trying to make sense of the senseless as the world fell apart. The world didn’t really fall apart, of course, it only seemed like it as rumors and chaos kept us all on edge waiting for the other shoe to drop. What next? I kept asking myself. What next?
September 11th wasn’t supposed to mean anything to me. September 12th was the day I was looking forward to because it was the half-way point of Jay’s six month deployment. The half-way point is a big deal for Navy families. There was supposed to be a party that weekend to celebrate and to start making homecoming plans. The party went on as planned, but it wasn’t a celebration. It was somber and sad and filled with unanswered questions. The ship came home on time, but we didn’t know on September 12th if it would and there was no point in planning a homecoming for a ship that might not be coming home. The half-way point meant nothing anymore and the second half of the deployment felt like it lasted forever.
There have been few days in my life when I’ve felt as alone as I did on September 11th. I’ve been alone a lot, I can handle being alone. I can handle any damn thing I have to handle. But on 9/11, I didn’t want to be alone. I was worried about Jay’s safety, not sure if he was getting e-mail even as I frantically cut and pasted whatever articles I could find online so he would have something more than the “official” report, something real and human that wasn’t about the military. I was worried about friends and editors and other writers who lived in New York, both Manhattan and outside the city, and a couple I knew who were supposed to be visiting there soon. I was worried about myself and my own sanity, sitting in front of a television that showed the same images over and over and over again. I don’t remember eating for two days. I probably did, I just don’t remember it.
All but one of the phone calls I made on September 11th were long distance, and the one local call was to tell my boss I wouldn’t be coming in. I didn’t call anyone else locally, the only other person I planned to call— the wife of Jay’s commanding officer— called me to tell me what I already knew: she didn’t know anything. A few people called from out-of-state and a bunch more e-mailed me, all to ask the same questions: where is Jay and how are you holding up? The answers were: right in the middle of the action and not so well.
I did call another Navy wife on September 12th. She and I had become something like friends, I thought, though we had absolutely nothing in common except our husbands’ jobs. I was in tears when I called her, as I had been off and on for twenty-four hours, but I knew she’d understand how I felt. I was wrong. She was annoyed because her son wanted to watch television and her daughter, a toddler, was getting into something. She was from New York originally, so I said how awful it must be to be from New York and see all of this happening so close to where she grew up. She said no, it didn’t really upset her that much. In fact, she said, the bombing on the U.S.S. Cole seemed more real and scary to her than anything that happened on 9/11 because her husband was in the Navy and she didn’t know anyone who worked in the World Trade Center. I still remember feeling shocked and angry and just disgusted that, because she didn’t know anyone who worked at the WTC, it didn’t have much of an impact on her other than the fact that she couldn’t let her kids watch television unsupervised. I made some excuse and got off the phone. I didn’t talk to her much after that. I couldn’t reconcile what she said with how I felt. I still can’t.
We talked tonight about 9/11 in that academic way of observation-from-a-distance. Rather, the professor and some of the other students talked. I couldn’t. I had nothing to say. I was alone on 9/11. I was scared. I was in mourning. I still am. I refuse to watch any movie or made-for-television drama about 9/11. I go to movies and watch television to be entertained, and that’s not entertainment. I don’t need to be reminded of the events of September 11th, or have them reinvented and redefined for me, it’s still fresh in my memory. It doesn’t ever go away completely. The images, the words, the chaos, are there, always. Tied up with those memories are the more personal memories of being alone, watching television, crying until I ached and trying to make sense of the senseless. The memories will always be there and, looking at the world we live in five years after 9/11, I think part of me will always be waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I hope I won’t be alone next time.