Emotions are still raw for all of us, but I have to admit that in light of my own recent personal tragedies (can Mom's death be considered "recent" even though she died back in January?), this anniversary isn't hitting me as hard today as it did last year. (More on that below.)
Because I'm obsessed with exactness, I've made sure for a while now to know the exact times of certain events that took place on 9/11. The bare sequence of events at the World Trade Center was as follows:
8:46:26 AM: North Tower Hit
9:02:54 AM: South Tower Hit
9:59:04 AM: South Tower Collapsed
10:28:31 AM: North Tower Collapsed
I'm a New York City native, born and raised in Queens, and I grew up in a city in which the Towers always stood. On 9/11, I was at my teaching job in Newton, Massachusetts. The following comes from my journal, a hand-written one that I was keeping at the time.
"The second [staff] meeting ended early, and I went back to the Science lab to check my e-mail. I idly noted a message...which said that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center.
"I didn't really think much of it and I went back to the Information Center. Shortly after the meeting...began, [a colleague] walked in and asked if we had heard the news. He told us that two planes had hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and he set up the small TV to receive CNN. They showed pictures of two commercial jets crashing into the twin towers...
"I ran to the phone...to call [my younger brother] at work. At 9:35 AM I called and got him. He had just gotten in, and he said that he seen the smoke from the 7 train. I told him to stay in touch, but due to circuits being busy, I wasn't able to reach New York City again for a while.
"The rest of the day passed in a blur of rumors and news. I kept checking webpages; when I couldn't reach cnn.com, I checked the New York Post webpage and the Newsday webpage. I called Nomi...
"At 10:15 AM, the...students returned from their physical education class...and...we told them the news...
"When the meeting with the students ended, I collapsed in tears..."
There's more, of course, but to summarize, I spent the day trying to get news of family and friends, making sure they were all safe. The drive home was surreal, knowing that fighter planes and battleships were protecting New York City. Nomi was already home, as her office had sent everyone home early. The rest of my family was safe, but my older brother, an emergency medicine physician, had been called up to report to New York City. Nomi and I took a walk at 5:30 PM, which included browsing at Brookline Booksmith and getting ice cream at JP Licks. Everything on TV was the news; we watched C-SPAN, which was running a feed from the CBC, so we could get the Canadian perspective.
The next few days, the events were fresh in everyone's mind. On Wednesday, I flinched at hearing an airplane in the sky, then remembered that all commercial flights had been grounded, so it had to be one of our military aircraft, protecting us. I bought my regular comic books that day; Adventures of Superman #596 had an eerie panel of the twin towers of Metropolis being repaired. A friend came over that evening after attending a local religious service.
On Thursday, Nomi and I were sick of the news, and Animal Planet had gone back to regular programming. We watched a documentary about moose to help us get our minds off things.
And life went on. Today, I'm no longer teaching, but editing textbooks in Boston; my younger brother no longer lives in New York City, but in Richmond, Virginia with his wife and two children, soon to be three children; and my older brother is still an emergency medicine physician in the Boston area, specializing in disaster management.
But...last year I noted that "my mother still lives in New York City, as do my two older half-brothers." Anyone who knows me understands that this year's 9/11 anniversary feels a touch different. All my life, Mom worried about my brothers and me, to the point where it would be a joke that she would call to check in on us because of a plane crash that took place halfway around the world. On 9/11, it took me a long time to finally get through to Mom on a phone, and when I did, I collapsed with relief. (I did a lot of collapsing that day.) The idea that Mom is no longer around to call and check up on us in the event of another emergency or disaster...well, it should be no surprise that it's an empty and upsetting feeling.
So even though I'm grateful that I didn't lose anyone close in the 9/11 attacks, I still think about losing Dad in 1990 and losing Mom in 2007. In some way, there's a part of me stuck in both those years. Dad never got to see how the world played out after his death, and neither will Mom see how this country finally adjusts to the fact of 9/11.
One final note about 9/11. Ever since then, Nomi and I check in with each other every morning when we get to work. I'm very grateful that she's around to be a part of my life. I probably don't need to tell anyone this, but today's probably a very good day to remind your loved ones, familes, and friends how much they mean to you.