The Gleeful Gourmand: 9/11 - Where I Was, Where I Am

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 - Where I Was, Where I Am

My father was a Captain in the Army during the Vietnam War. He worked in the last outpost of the DMZ and saw many young men come in for battle, and those same young men go out in body bags. When I was a child, I was very curious about what he did over there, and what it meant. He was very reluctant to talk about it to anyone, especially his children. There were only two things he would ever say to me aloud: 1) That it was so unbearably hot there, that even in the shade it felt like 100 degrees, and 2) That the enemy looked exactly like common village people, and so it was very difficult to tell the two apart.

Of course, I know now thanks to history books what really went on over there. It never occurred to me back then, or for many years to come, that my own children would someday ask me what it was like to experience and witness that kind of horror. I couldn’t know that thanks to the Internet and television, I would witness horror in HD. It never occurred to me that I would feel the kind of anxiety my grandparents experienced as their loved ones went off to fight in WWII, as they heard of Nazi submarines possibly spotted off Long Island and North Carolina, of the fear that they would come up the Delaware River, where they lived. Or the kind of horror my mother-in-law experienced as a 5-year-old living on Oahu when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor.

And why should I? I lived in a very protected world, and though I kept up with the news daily, I never saw this coming. It was a beautiful morning here in Virginia – crystal clear, but warm. In New York, autumn was already there, but here in the south, it was technically still summertime. I drove to work that morning blaring a CD, and so didn’t catch the news on the radio. I remember walking into work, and setting my things down at my desk. I remember walking to the break room with my breakfast to get some yogurt and some coffee, and a co-worker coming out of his office and stopping me in the hall.

“Did you hear the news? A plane just hit one of the World Trade Center towers.”

“A plane? Are you sure? Was anyone hurt?”

He didn’t know. We both supposed, like many people, that it was just a very small plane that had somehow gotten off course. A mistake. Some kind of terrible accident. By the time I got back from the break room and to my cubicle, everyone was gathering around a TV that someone brought out from their office. We got the signal for our local channel, and then it became apparent as the news broke that the second tower had been hit. This was much more than a terrible accident. We all stood, riveted, numb, horrorstruck for the next hour as we heard the news about The Pentagon, about the plane going down in Pennsylvania. As we watched the two towers crumble. It seemed like it would never end.

Mostly I felt a lot of disbelief and confusion. When it was announced that Al-Qaeda was taking responsibility, I remember most of saying, “Who?” It wasn’t until later, when the Taliban entered the picture that I suddenly remembered reading something about them in the late spring of 2001. I recall perfectly sitting in my mother’s kitchen after church reading the Sunday paper, and an article about what the Taliban was doing in Afghanistan – specifically about their crusade to tear down all remaining and existing Buddha statues in the area and in their museums. I remember thinking how crazy it all sounded.

Later at my desk, I tried my best to write copy for our upcoming catalog (I was working as a Senior Copywriter at the time), but I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t get a hold on one tangible thought. It was just a reeling, jumbled mass of frightening replays of what I had just witnessed. Overwhelming grief and fear. I wanted to go home, and our boss let us, but I remember that suddenly nowhere felt safe. Home didn’t feel safe anymore. My roommates and my boyfriend at the time and I all sat around the television that night, watching the news, and talking very little. We had all purchased the special edition of the newspaper that had come out that night that covered it. The headline read “ACT OF WAR.” I still have that newspaper. It was war, but against whom? It felt like what my father was describing about Vietnam – if you can’t really tell whom the enemy is, how do you wage war on them?

I remember going to bed that night wondering if we would wake up in the morning – and if we did, what we would find? The world was already changed. Two days later I was having dinner with a friend who was about to leave to live overseas. We were laughing over the bill – I don’t even remember what got us started laughing, but we couldn’t stop. The restaurant had been pretty hushed before that anyway, but there we were, laughing hysterically, with the other patrons glaring at us. It was simply a release of all the stress and grief, but I remember thinking that I never thought the day would come when it wouldn’t be okay to laugh.

10 years later seems like the blink of an eye. I’m married, and I have three beautiful children. And I wonder when they will start teaching about 9/11 consistently in schools, and what exactly they’ll teach. I know there will come a time when my children will ask what it was like that day, and what I felt, much like I asked my father. I want to tell them this: That we were struck down, but we rose up again, and the day did come when we could laugh again.

In Memory of Those Who Died:

The World Trade Center Towers

Flight 93

The Pentagon

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