Whenever I thought about what to write for the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, the only thing that kept coming to mind was that admonishment from The Onion that asked ballad singers to exercise restraint. I know I should chime in, being an airline pilot-blogger and all, but it just seems so, I don’t know, unrestrained.
Even though the attacks involved my airline, and airplanes I had
flown, I didn’t know anyone who was killed. I wasn’t at work; I was at
home. Considering it was the worst day of my entire life, my experience
of it is rather unremarkable. I wrote a little about it back when Osama
Bin Laden was killed this past May. [Bin Laden is Dead: A City Mom May 2, 2011]
It was the first time I’d ever done so. I couldn’t bring myself to
write about it before that, aside from a few glancing mentions, in a way
that I suppose is not dissimilar to how my father never talked about
World War II until recently.
Early on the morning of 9/11/2001, I looked out my kitchen window at
that surreally gorgeous blue sky and said out loud “Today will be a
better day.” That was the last time I’ve ever said that. My son
had just been diagnosed with a hernia that required immediate surgery.
Four days earlier we’d moved into our new house. The work being done on
it still wasn’t finished and everything was covered in tarps and plaster
and dust. The movers had broken a leg off of the most expensive piece
of furniture we owned: my antique mahogany dining room table. I’d poked
myself, drawing blood, on a TV antenna during the move. The same TV
antenna the most HIV-positive looking mover had just poked himself on,
drawing blood, and was going to start the HIV testing procedure that
Needless to say, my day didn’t get better.
After the crashes, broken tables and minor surgical procedures
seemed, well, minor. Everyone I knew called to check on me. I kept my
kids home from school. I’ve never been happier to see my husband, who
worked at the Board of Trade downtown at the time, walk through our
front door. I wish I had a better story for you, but I don’t.
Perhaps more interesting than 9/11 itself, is what came afterward.
It’s in the ways it changed my life so profoundly. It was going back to
work on the 19th, not wanting to go. Afraid. Were the
terrorists still out there? As I shut the gate and looked up at my
house, where my husband and young sons were still sleeping, I wondered
in all seriousness if I would see them again. I’d written a note, just
in case. To tell them how much I loved them and that I had to go.
Because if I didn’t, then they’d already won. At work I saw a terminal
empty of passengers and filled with flags and patriotic music. And one
anonymous passenger who told me, “Bring it back.” Words I’ve never
I have to ask permission to go to the bathroom now when I’m at work.
Some of my friends carry guns. My salary was cut nearly in half and I
lost my pension. I can’t listen to the national anthem at a Cubs game,
or anywhere else for that matter, without having my eyes well up with
tears. After our retaliatory war in Iraq started, we were treated so
poorly in Europe—by people who would have been speaking German if it
hadn’t been for men like my father and millions like him who’d died—that
we began to say we were from Canada.
Ten years later, it’s better, but life will never be the same.
Everyone was affected by the events of 9/11, which is why my story
doesn’t stand out. It’s no different than anyone else’s. Unless someone
you loved was killed. Unless you were there. Maybe this similarity is
what binds us, why we tell our stories with such lack of restraint. We
try to make sense of the event by talking and writing about it. To quote
from some famous writer or teacher whose name I can’t remember, We are the sum of our stories. And 9/11 is a big one. So hang a flag tomorrow and let’s all tell our stories, so we can show the world how we brought it back.
United Airlines Flight 175
American Airlines Flight 77
United Airlines Flight 93
American Airlines Flight 11
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