Some strong personal memories still endure from my own experiences of the aftermath of September 11, 2001.
Unlike any time before or since, that first day I was glued to the radio. On NPR, just like every t.v. station, regular programming was pre-empted that particular Tuesday. At midnight struck, I wondered how I would unplug from my need to know more, and go to bed. With great gentleness, the ongoing news reporting just stopped. There were a few words from the male announcer, filled with respect and humility. Then came the emotions, which were wordless, communicated through classical music. As the first haunting notes of heard Lark Ascending begin, I was forever grateful for the power of music.
How many days were the skies quiet while all planes were grounded?
The meeting coordinators arranged for my husband to stay in Philly until the plane began flying again. His one-day-trip kept being extended. Days were planned around watching the t.v. news coverage (which I was glad to miss) where he sat in his underwear; and meals, for which he dressed in his only clothes, the ones he had worn Tuesday morning, when he left.
At home, I first wanted to describe what was going on with our son, who was only two. I wanted to create my own understanding out of my isolation, by sharing...I still remember his fascination at the static images in the newspapers. There came a point where I realized this was an adult-only event I would have to go alone.
Then there was the daily phone call with my husband. Each day, he suggested planes might be flying again, tomorrow. Tomorrow. Which tomorrow? It seemed like we had many days of this ambivalence.
Our planned vacation on a barrier island off our state's coastline felt so important to my idea of family sanctuary, that I did not want to cancel it. We had reservations for a ferry leaving early Sunday morning. The night before, we were to sleep at a hotel on the mainland, six hours from home. If I wanted my husband home in time to help me make final packing decisions, he needed to be home Friday.
Once I realized how uncertain a Friday flight would be, I made the unilateral decision to nab a spot for DH on Thursday's night train out of Philly. He rested all night in a full train, sitting up in his Tuesday clothes. His closest seat mates had been in New York city on 9-11. A husband and wife, who had narrowly missed oblivion, they were now returning home to Texas. They had stories to tell. And gratitude to share---they treated all their folks around them, including my husband, to breakfast.
At nine Friday morning, I picked my husband up in a train station an hour away. I remember him smelling none the worse for wear. But I have no memories of packing or our drive to the Coast. I do remember watching my first footage of the planes at our hotel, and my need to turn off the images. We would have a complete break from technology when we got on the ferry the next morning and until our return on Wednesday.
Once on the barrier island, all the normalcy of camping and all the decisions and actions required, for setting up camp, cooking, and sleeping took over. Taking cold showers is a first memory for our son, who had become almost grey playing non-stop with the dirty sands beneath the live oak understory. I remember it was the only time in twelve years that we'd experience a beach almost completely littered with shells of all kinds. We collected so many, and made nary a dent.
On every other beach since, the sands have seemed almost clean-swept. We usually come home with one or two intact specimens. The rest are battered by the waves of time...