I’d only returned to my job at AFSCME District Council 33 on a full time basis for a couple of months. I was a new mother. My son was not yet a year old.
My position, and well my attitude about my position, gave me the luxury to not have to be at my desk at 9am. I may not have been the boss, but I rolled like one.
It was fast approaching 9, I’d breastfed my son, bathed and changed him then handed him to his grandmother so that I could prepare for the day at the office.
My aunt Valerie was in the house as well, she never seemed to leave this house in those days.
I was in my room, putting on panty hose, and Fox 29 was on in the background.
Something had happened in Manhattan. Sure I thought something is always happening in Manhattan and here I am stuck in Philly.
It was quickly clear though that this was not some ordinary something.
The World Trade Center was on fire. Not like someone didn’t want to get caught smoking and ditched a butt in the wrong place fire, there was a hole in the building.
My mind thought back to the truck bomb years before that had tried to dismantle the towers. Yeah good luck with that I thought, it will be repaired in 6 months, its New York! They’ve seen it all and done it all.
Then I saw it. The black moving mark on the screen. I saw it before my local broadcasters saw it. They were still talking about the possibility that a small sesna got lost on the way to JFK. Mind you, if you DO get lost over NYC, at that time….you could not miss the towers. I didn’t realize until I looked at the screen with horror that missing was never the intention.
The black moving mark was obviously a plane, and it was obviously heading for the tower.
I began to scream as if they could hear me 100 miles away.
My mother and aunt got to my bedroom door, holding my infant child, stunned and terrified, just as the 2nd plane made impact. They were not watching broadcast TV. They did not know, until just that moment.
I got up and grabbed my son, holding him in my arms and away from the TV. There was no way he could know what was happening, but I did not want him to see it regardless.
We stood there, as I reached out to hold my mother’s hand, and watched the towers burn.
Broadcast TV could not tell me what was going on, and when I am upset I need to focus. I eventually slipped on my dress and shoes and got in the company car to head to the office.
My family was safe, we were 100 miles away. I could watch TV from my office and see why a 747 could not see that big assed tower in front of it.
I was on Broad St, headed for I76. KYW radio was on, as I listened to the updates from NY. This was not an accident, and this was not a mistake. This was also not over as they began to report planes being grounded and a very large explosion in Washington DC. I did not wait to hear the end of the word Pentagon before the Buick Century was in the middle of its U-turn.
When I realized it WAS the Pentagon my only thought was of the children I’d left on Limekiln Pike. My “cousin” Kyle was attending the grade school in the next block from my house.
I went there first. I knew that my mother would die before something hurt my son, but I also knew that Kyle’s ‘mother’ was not as attentive to details.
I once attended that same Catholic School, and when I walked in the office Secretary Mrs Henry still knew me by name. The school had gotten many phone calls and still was. The school had decided that they would keep the children until it was clear what was happening and no one was going to leave.
“I’m going to get Kyle out of class Mrs. Henry”
“Nicole you can’t take him out of class”
“Yes the fuck I can.”
Saying fuck in a Catholic Elementary school gets attention, and I was soon leaving with the boy.
We walked the few yards back to my home and sat in the living room.
Kyle’s ‘mother’ argued that I should not have taken him out of class.
Valerie, if we have to get ghost, we are going to need every second we can get. That means we can not spend 20 minutes trying to get Kyle out of school and into the car if this gets uglier. You don’t know what the fuck is coming up next.
Yeah, I said fuck a lot back then too.
All day we watched the television, all day I felt fear for the very first time in my life on the molecular level.
I was not afraid of terrorists, I was afraid for my child.
9/11 affected us all in many fashions, but to be the mother of an infant, on that day…..
We wailed together as the first tower came down. We watched the faces of the toughest people on earth New Yorkers as they ran from a dust could that seemed it would never stop rolling. There was no toughness to be seen.
Determination to live – or help. Terror. Extreme sadness. No toughness.
No one was tough on 9/11. Not even the first responders who ran to the towers as the rest of Manhattan ran away from the towers.
They were not tough, they were brave beyond description. Examples of the best of humanity. While the fire they went to extinguish was an example of the worst.
Eventually Valerie left, and all that remained here in this house were my mother and son. The way we live today 10 years later.
Somethings have changed, but this nation changed as well.
A different 9/11 blog will discuss those changes, and other conspiracy theories. I have plenty of them.
It needs to separate though, because the memories of what was witnessed on that day can not be polluted by politics, even if 10 years later it is all political.
What were you doing that day?
I was facing the realization for the very first time that my son was not safe. It’s affected just about all of my decisions since.
I remember how in 2000 just prior to knowing I was pregnant, I’d considered taking a position in my International Union in Brooklyn.
I thought of the man that I loved, and at some point that day I did call his phone.
We were not talking at that point, but I’d watched people jump from the 70th floor of a building to escape death.
Can you imagine the horror inside those towers that your ONLY option was to jump to certain death?
It was a call that I had to make and I do not regret it. I still remember what I said verbatim.
As fear gripped the rest of America, and opened many eyes to the idea that tomorrow is not promised, my fear was that those I loved would be taken from me.
As days went by and the dust cloud refused to settle on the city, clarity was given to me.
Like many other Americans I lost that clarity at least once in this past decade. The anniversary always brings it back into focus though.
I’ve had occasion in the past decade to meet some who made it out of that rubble of that day. Some worked in or near the towers, others were emergency personnel or personnel with emergency experience that went to help.
The timid thank you that I can muster does not seem to be enough, for what they gave.
I met a man, one of the most beautiful human beings on the planet, who like so many others stopped what he was doing that day to help as the towers fell.
He will never know the depths of my affection for him, nor that it is that spirit which compelled him to try to save lives on 9/11 that roots that affection. He is magnificent in so many other ways, but knowing that he was one of the few makes him irreplaceable to me. Like many others who assisted that day, he’s had health issues. When I must finally say good bye to my friend that I love, his number will be added to the death toll of that day.
I hope that I get to introduce him to my son before that day arrives though. My child does not comprehend in the way typical children do, but I will make him understand that it is people like my friend, and my son’s very existence that got me through 9/11 and its aftermath.
These two men, a half a century apart, one of which I did not even KNOW in 2001, are why I can keep fighting the good fight.
A child too young to be scarred by the falling of the towers, and a man with too much integrity to be scarred by the falling of the towers.
Most of us fall in between those two extremes, but those extremes are the best examples of hope for humanity I know.
That despite that dark day there is light…and that I hope is the memory we all carry with us in some form as we remember that day.