Thursday, October 20, 2011

You are a child of 9/11. You are not a child of 9/11

(this was started on 9/11/01 but not finished until over a month later.)

Checking the parent blog, I find that my recounting of Where I Was seems to have been lost in the big comments crash of ought-whatever. I've only touched on 9/11 a few times over there.

So here's my 9/11 story.  Here are my thoughts about what it meant, what it means, and how it ties into to your story.
In May, 2001, I graduated from college. I spent the next 5 months being a camp counselor and working out at the Y.  I had a fellowship in the State Assembly lined up, but that didn't start until October.  In early September, 2001, I took a road trip up to Sacramento to meet a prospective roommate and find some housing.

I rented a car since my 1984 Mercury Marquis wasn't up for the trip.  It was a white Ford Focus.  I didn't realize the difference between newer and older cars until I looked at the speedometer on the 110N in downtown LA and realized I was going 100mph because the car hadn't alerted me to my speed by shaking when I hit 82mph.

My first stop was at your Auntie Jacqui's house. Back then, they were living in a very rural part of Watsonville - up in the hills, off the grid, secluded and hard to reach in a storm.  It was a cute, small house, with a view of the hills and valleys below where the tap water was too nitrate-rich to consume and your Uncle Chris had to haul their garbage away.  I remember thinking, at night, staring out the windows into the pitch-blackness, that an ax-murderer or other danger was surely lurking just beyond the warm glow of the house lights.

After a day or two in Santa Cruz and Watsonville, I set off for what ended up being a much longer than anticipated drive to Sacramento to meet a potential roommate and check out a potential house.  The meeting was short and productive and we agreed that I'd move in at the start of my program in about a month. It was a darling 2 bedroom cottage in a small neighborhood I later came to know as the Thrifty Thirties in East Sac.  A large red dog, two mostly ill-tempered cats, and a nice roomie lived there. It was a lucky find.

I spent that night with my friend Alecia - you know, Lola's mommy (long before there was a Lola, of course). She lived in a cute apartment in Midtown carved from a larger old home. The sink had two taps - one hot and one cold. I found that odd (foreshadowing to life with English daddy and the English predilection for outfitting even new houses with two taps). There was a shooter or a murderer or something loose in Sacramento (probably not in Midtown) that I found slightly alarming. I went to bed. It was September 9.

The next day, having acquired housing more quickly than I thought, I set off for Watsonville to spend some extra time enjoying the coast and summer weather.  I don't remember what we did that evening. I remember going to bed on the old futon in the front room. It was September 10.

The next morning, your Auntie Jacqui gently nudged by shoulder and said "you might want to get up, there's, like, major world events unfolding," and I followed her to the couch and television.

The timeline gets a bit fuzzy here. I know your Auntie told me she had only gone to the TV because what she'd heard on her regular BBC radio news feed that awakened her each morning confused her. Something about an attack on the World Trade Center and she'd initially assumed it must have been an anniversary of the WTC bombing from years before.  But the tenses weren't right.

I can't recall if I was at the TV to watch the second plane strike or if the footage I saw was already a replay at that point.

The house was so far off the path that cable was required for a good television signal.  Due to a long-standing argument between affiliates and the cable provider, NBC wasn't available. Auntie really needed her NBC people to talk her through this. So did mommy. Uncle Chris was sent outside to rig up an antenna to give us more feeds.

 At some point, we called your grandparents, though I don't remember talking to them that morning. I tried to call my ex-boyfriend and then-best friend but he wouldn't answer his phone.  I talked to my friend Rich, at school in North Carolina.  I remember his fear.  We were both scared for Washington, DC. We both love the Capitol in a way (we felt) few people do and worrying about its fate kept us on edge.  He swore he'd never watch CBS again. Their cameras lingered on the people above the impact zones. The ones gasping for air at shattered windows.  Looking for salvation.  Jumping when it was a better option than dying by flames and smoke.  I missed most of that footage. I'm not sure I'd have been able to absorb it anyway.

Newscasters were wondering whether the buildings would fall. They leaned precariously and I remember thinking, well, of course they were going to fall. Of course they would. Then they did. And for a few moments, it felt like it was over. It was still.

We watched all day. Your aunt and uncle went to work but came home again. Jacqui brought McDonalds for lunch because . . . well, just because.  We watched into the evening though there wasn't anything else to see. I remember the paper - so much paper - blowing around lower Manhattan.  And the strange chirping noise I later learned were the sound of sirens clogged with dust.

That night, the seclusion of the house no longer felt menacing. I felt glad to be well away from big cities, from urban threats.

I stayed in northern California a few more days, eventually driving home later in the week. I don't think the airports were even open again by then.  I remember pulling up at your grandparents' house and my mom coming out to the car and hugging me.

You are a child of 9/11 because a lot of things changed that day.  I discounted its effect on me until I really thought about it on this anniversary.  I should note, we left town on this anniversary because I didn't want to marinate in all the 9/11 sadness and pomp flooding the airways.  As my friend Bethany correctly quoted from the West Wing - we haven't yet learned to remember 9/11 without reliving it.  I don't need to relive it. I don't need to remember because I haven't forgotten.

After 9/11, our President led us into two wars. One arguably justified, the other, decidedly not.  Mommy's reaction to the second war was anger. And she was living in a really liberal city at the time.  Combined with a few other influences, she eventually quit law school to work on a Presidential campaign in West Virginia. This is still mommy's defining moment. 

Had she not - had she kept the same school schedule - she'd never have been in Lake Tahoe to meet your daddy that Sunday evening in May.  And you'd never have existed. So there's a direct line from that day in September to this one.

You are not a child of 9/11 because 9/11 didn't happen to everyone. Not the way we try to coopt its anguish.  It affected our lives but didn't touch them - not for most of us, anyway. We are outside it's fiery penumbra. Yet we all seem to yearn for its pain. On this anniversary, I read statements from more than one directly-affected family that they couldn't wait for this date to pass. Each time that plane is shown hitting the building, said one woman, she's watching her son die. Again.

It saddens me that there will surely be an event for your generation.  I hope it affects but does not touch you.  Each generation has one. Or more.  Your great-grandfather stormed the beach at Normandy but would never speak of it. We may speak too much these days, but maybe you'll find the right balance.

You are a child of 9/11. You are not a child of 9/11.

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