It was as if real life had been canceled for the day.
September 11, 2001 was any ordinary Tuesday. I was about five months pregnant with my second child. We knew it was a little girl. I was up early, as usual, with her older brother Brooks. He hardly slept, it seemed, 5:00 in the morning was a typical wake up call. He was just shy of turning two in early November.
Back then we didn’t have cellphones or internet, our main news was in the form of the Today Show in the mornings. While I didn’t love having our shows on in front of Brooks, the news was important. We lived in our first purchased home, a townhouse in Lafayette, just behind the Burger King where on terrible days I would retrieve a meal deal of a hamburger, small fries and endless Diet Coke. Poor baby-in-my-belly Claire who had to put up with such nonsense.
Did I mention Brooks was an early riser and a terrible sleeper?
I was standing in the kitchen, facing the television which also lined up with our sliding glass door to the minuscule backyard our enormous golden retriever/lab mix Maddy could relieve herself. I was tending to all the things while Eric was getting ready upstairs for his workday at IBM.
Getting breakfast for Brooks and my expectant self claimed top priority as I heard the frantic voices coming from the television set. I stood transfixed, my eyes glued to the aged television screen, Brooks toddling about being precious and annoying all at once. I couldn’t believe my eyes. My hand rested somewhere between my open mouth and my heartbroken chest. The other hand bracing me against the counter.
Never in my 30 years of life had I experienced anything such as this. Call me sheltered. Call me naive. Call me Generation-X. We didn’t know this nor should we have.
And now to have a two-year-old standing at the base of the television, looking up as smoke billowed from the towers, as we watched the dust and grime emanate from the ground. To have a little boy and a partly known girl to raise in a world such as this one. It took my breath away.
Brooks kept calling “Fi-uh, Fi-uh”, pointing at the television set high above his head. I wanted to turn off the TV but couldn’t. I couldn’t take my eyes off.
Somehow I extricated myself from the situation downstairs, ran upstairs to alert Eric of the news. He, the most balanced and least hyperbolic, responded with the enthusiasm of an engineer about to head to work off of too little sleep. I was concerned maybe I was overreacting. I hoped I was overreacting.
I cautioned Eric from going to IBM. “It could be a target,” I said. He went anyway. We chatted through the day.
I had a slight, minor job at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center implementing a nutrition program in schools. My contract was ten hours a week, trying to keep my pregnant and overwhelmed foot in the door of what I thought was my career. I was planning to drop Brooks off with my grandmother before driving to Aurora for the long morning.
None of us knew the significance or the extent of what was happening. I called my supervisor and called off my day and my drive. I needed to be home. I needed to hold my son and nourish my daughter. I needed to grieve.
That night I went to church. It felt true and right. I cried, held a candle, prayed.
We came together, our communities and families. But I have learned other communities – particularly the Sikh and Muslim communities – their nightmares began that day.
I have since visited the 9/11 memorial in Manhattan. The day I was there it was raining a soaking rain. I walked through the exhibits freezing because I was sopping to the skin. Wandering and shivering perusing the names and stories of the deceased, all of our iPhones alerted us at the same time of potential flooding. The buzzes and dings triggered in me a sense of the terror felt in that exact location on that September day.
My children will never have what I had – a life of national carefree innocence. Their lives were ushered into terrorism and fear. But I also hope their lives were ushered into community and generosity. This is where I choose to stake their hope, and mine.