Autumn in east Texas is a relief!
After a scorching summer, the wind blows cool, football season begins, and the leaves whisper promises of turning to a rainbow of color. The sun fades to a soft warm glow, no longer the enemy of anyone who wants to be outdoors. Nights are glorious for sitting on the porch and basking in the Northern air that has finally made its way to us. It’s time for chili, soup, pecans, and pumpkin . . . .
Days were beautiful, and nights were brisk. My sleep was messed up as usual, and I was writing ten hours a day. I was happy, bored because I couldn’t take myself anywhere. Happy and discontent in a way that only a 27-year-old can be.
I had just finished a long and productive night of writing, always with music as my soundtrack. Around 7:30 AM, I turned off the radio, for maybe once in my entire life. No reason, just bored with it as I mentally plotted my story. No internet at all, no IPhone, just me and a reliable old DOS computer.
My Mom was working at my cousin, Mike’s, flower shop, and she was getting ready to go to work. I walked into the living room, and asked her to microwave some bacon for me. (I LOATHE the texture of it when it’s not cooked, which is why I asked her to do it.) She was dozing, said sure, to wake her up in a few minutes and remind her.
I was getting ready for a “good night’s” sleep, since my days and nights were backwards, but I wanted to eat something before I went to bed. So about thirty minutes later, I went back to the living room to ask about the bacon.
Mom’s voice was soft and sleep-muffled, “Hang on, I’m watching this. A plane crashed into the tower in New York, and another one just hit it.”
I thought she was having a dream.
The TV was on low, so I couldn’t hear the news.
I asked her what she said, and she repeated it, so I knew she was awake. She turned up the TV, and I started listening to the news reporter talking about the plane crashes.
There are a few tipping points in life, most good, a few bad, when everything you knew and understood about the world changes. You say goodbye to the world you knew, and step into one you don’t know at all. You can go willingly, or be sucked up into a cyclone of chaos and deposited there. Sometimes you know as it’s happening, and sometimes it only becomes obvious after the fact. It happens when you start a book, fall in love, when you marry, when you have a baby.
And sometimes . . . it happens when your invincible fortress of a country comes under attack by invisible and unknowable enemies. Mom made the bacon for me, and left for work. We were in a suspended state of unsurety and shock. I was alone in my house, with a big-screen TV, a cat, and a world that would never be the same. I watched as a plane zoomed toward the Pentagon.
I watched the first tower fall.
I called my Grandma, and my sister-in-law, but nobody had anything to say. They were watching like I was.
I was so very glad to be blind, so I didn’t have to see. But also, feeling guilty that I didn’t see, feeling like all Americans should see this together if we had to see it at all.
The second tower fell, and a planeheaded for the White House. Hell had been unleashed.
It was my very first inkling of knowledge, that being an adult might not be as cool as I thought, that it might not be fun all the time, that maybe, just maybe, kids were the lucky ones. . . . Or were they? . . . The realization hit me about 10:30 AM, that while I had the chance to grow up in a world that was completely safe, my niece and nephew would have no such luxury.
Fear and dismayed innocence set in, a childlike feeling, like all the rules you had been taught were broken, and you had no idea how to proceed. Lost . . needing the monster to be unmasked, needing the villain to be defeated by the good guys . . . no Daddy, no friendly policeman, no hero. . . Lost . . where was John Wayne? Where was Ronald Reagan? Where were the older wiser people with their calm voices and assurances that everything would be all right? All you wanted to know is WHY?
I have always liked my solitude, but as the longest day in history dragged on, I had never hated so much to be alone! Tigger snoozed blissfully unaware on my bed. Dad was working, so was Mom. I had the radio for company, as first one person, then another, made the horrific decision between being burned alive or jumping from the twin towers.
The second tower fell.
The plane crashed in Pennsylvania.
I was living history.
The day took on a surreal quality, since I’d had no sleep in nearly 24 hours. The sunshine was still bright, weather still softly warm, but now autumn was different.
The autumn afternoon was completely silent, with no planes droning through the sky.
By the end of that hellish day, I saw things I never thought I would see, longtime news reporters crying, at a loss for words . . . . And I wanted.
I wanted Coke in glass bottles . . . laugh tracks on goofy 70s sitcoms . . . my grandma’s house smelling of frying burgers with the Carol Burnett show on TV and Grandpa laughing . . innocent obliviousness, . . .
I mourned a world that was gone forever.
Sepember 11th 2001 changed everything and everybody, and that is my experience of it.
God bless America.