Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 revisited

I was not there. I did not die.

I did not feel the tremors of concrete exploding above me in this morning's business meeting on the 56th story. The soles of my shoes did not melt to the floor as it was licked by the flames on the level beneath me. Jet fuel vapors did not saturate my nostrils when I gasped for clean air in my smoke-filled office. My clothes were not torn or ripped off my body when glass and debris pierced the safety of the stairwell. Rescuers will not scrape my splattered body off the sidewalk because I leaped to my death from a window a quarter of a mile in the sky. You did not see me fleeing in panic from the cloud of ash chasing me like a mugger through the streets of New York City. I did not yank every door handle looking for that one unlocked car to serve as refuge from the criminal grabbing at my sleeve. The gritty taste of soot did not stain my tongue in the snowy blizzard of ash that bleached my skin, hair and clothes.

I did not mutter the 23rd Psalm just in time for the nose of my plane to kiss the steel walls of a skyscraper. My throat was not slit with a box cutter by the man who held my fate. My cell phone wasn't dialed in the last minutes of my life as I hid in a tiny box of a restroom. I did not describe to my husband the terror I was encountering just seconds before my exit from this world.

Instead, I was here. I lived.

I gaped at the radio in disbelief when Tim McGraw was interrupted with a late breaking news story of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. I surfed the radio stations searching for more information on this catastrophic event. When a journalist's voice was replaced again with song, I would punch the "seek" button on my Alpine until another somber voice was heard. I contemplated turning my car around and returning to the sanctuary of my home. Algebra just didn't seem quite that important anymore. Math won out as I parked my car on campus. The repeated stories echoed through the empty hallways from radios turned on a bit louder than usual. A television in the student lounge boomed ominously to an astounded audience of students, most barely old enough to recall the Oklahoma City bombing with any accuracy. Many had never seen disaster of this magnitude. For that matter, none of us have.

I don't remember sitting through Prof. Jensen's examples on the board today and I still don't understand #20 on the worksheet she assigned. I can't even tell you how I got home this afternoon. Somehow, I managed to pick up my kids and meet my husband at the door with a sigh of relief. The television became our Midwest connection to the horror on the eastern seaboard. We watched in grotesque interest when CNN rolled footage of limp bodies plunging to the ground in some twisted form of suicide. I didn't blink until the video was shown a third time as the plane suddenly appeared in the right of the screen, veered suddenly and exploded through the 83rd floor of the second tower. It wasn't until the whispered words became harmonized verses as this country's congressmen sang "God Bless America" that I finally felt emancipated enough to cry.

My six year-old asked me to show him on the globe where the "bad man crashed his plane." I did. I also showed him where we live. I repeated in "kid terms" what happened and whom they think did it. I attempted to explain why the person is mad. My son, a young man who at times carries the weight of the world on his shoulders said to me, "Mama? I don't want there to be a fire. I don't want to die." His body will not be laid to rest with the thousands who perished in this disaster. But there is a small part of him that will be buried. A small part of all of us will be.

Music of patriotic mourning steals the silence of my quiet home as it nears 3am here in the Heartland. Still a bit shell-shocked, I sit in this chair typing sporadically as ideas pierce the numbness of my mind. With tearstained cheeks, a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach that cannot be loosened I pray yet again. I beg God for some whisper of understanding or a sheet of peace to envelop me so that I may at last sleep tonight.

Today, someone took a proverbial bite of the Big Apple, but I was not there.

I did not die.

(written September 2001)

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