Thursday, September 11, 2008


You know your birthday (or anniversary) is near when it shows up as the expiration date on perishables. When I bought these eggs a couple of weeks ago I had a "gasp... is it really coming again?" moment. But I had to get back to my shopping and couldn't dwell on it because it wouldn't be good to start sobbing in the dairy aisle.

We were living in the suburbs of Detroit on 9-11-01. I was late to work because the house across the street was on fire and I couldn't get out of our parking lot. The radio in my car didn't work, so I had a cd in. When I rushed into the store where I was working (a major home decorative fabric retailer that isn't worth mentioning), ready to pour out my big story about why I was late, everyone was gathered in the office. My "you'll never believe what just happened" disinigrated in the air as one of my co-workers put her arm around me and said "honey, a jet just crashed into the World Trade Center". (I can't even type that without tears)

There are moments that are forever frozen in time, and that is one that cannot leave me. I remember every thought that raced through my mind in a second, trying to process the impossible. "No, wait... what Bruce Willis movie was that? This is a "War of the Worlds" broadcast, it can't be real."

I called Aaron and woke him up, told him to turn the TV on. He asked what channel, and I said "I don't think it matters".

As the day went on (our manager still opened the store and "suggested" that we carry on as normal... with the radio on over the PA system) the shock rolled over me in waves. I will never forget the woman I got stuck with for hours that day. Middle-aged, fake tan, fake boobs, shortish. She was really concerned about finding fabric for draperies that would pull out the mauve in the flame stitch on the wing-chairs in her living room.

The next August we moved to Brooklyn. On the first anniversary I didn't really know what to do, so I took the train into Manhattan. I wanted to just be near the people and the city I had grieved for. I think I hoped they would recognize me, that they would know how I would come home from work at 6 and still be sitting in front of the TV with my keys in my hand, purse over my shoulder when Aaron would get home at 11, just not wanting to miss when they found someone. I wanted them to know how I ached too as hope dwindled, that I sent work gloves with messages written on them and biscuits for the rescue dogs.

I wanted to be a New Yorker, but I felt more like I was crashing a funeral so I just came home. I realized by the silence and the look on their faces that I could not comprehend what their grief was.

Over the next 6 years of living there and becoming a New Yorker, I realized that there would forever be 2 classes... pre and post. I never met a pre 9-11 New Yorker that did not have some personal loss that day. Every fire station that I ever walked past had a memorial to the brothers they lost. Not that they lost some, but that these were the ones who were lost. We all have a story about that day, but it's not the same as the stories of the people who were there.

This is the first anniversary of that day that I am not in New York. It hurts. It forces me to realize that even this sorrow is a feeling of empathy, not of personal grief. When a tragedy happens that effects you on a deep level that you don't understand, I think our nature is to dilude ourselves into thinking that it makes us part of it. The feelings are real, but when you are on the inside you don't have to be reminded of a day like this by the stamp on a carton of eggs.


Stacey said...

"We all have a story about that day, but it's not the same as the stories of the people who were there."
You said it so well. Your blog is a touching tribute to that day.

Betsy's girl said...

thanks, Stacey.