Wake me up when September ends.
I’ve been pretty clear about my love for September and the whole Back-to-School event. I do, I love it. I’ve always loved the Back-to-School event, even as a child. That hasn’t changed.
And September in New Jersey is lovely. Days begin cooler, and warm up to pleasant temperatures without soul-sucking humidity, and evenings bring back the cool. There are light breezes, and crystal clear blue skies. That hasn’t changed either.
But for me, like for the rest of the world, September 11th changed everything. I can’t feel the same way about September any more. Particularly for this week, this day, in September, when the weather is perfect and the kids have just gone back. Nothing is the same.
I want to be clear, I didn’t lose anyone close to me that day. I don’t want to pretend that I have a “right” to grieve deeply on September 11th by virtue of geographic proximity. I don’t. I didn’t lose a husband, a sister, a brother, a parent, a child. But at the same time, I can recall everything about that day in sharp, sharp focus — I don’t think I ever understood the phrase “etched in my brain,” until this happened.
It was my oldest child’s first full day of Kindergarten. The weather was spectacular and it was a glorious day. I was driving home from drop off when the first reports were coming in over the radio. Hardened, cynical, seen-it-all-’cause-we’re-New-Yorkers were at a loss to explain what they were seeing. I pulled into my driveway and ran into the kitchen and ignored the babysitter with the two other children. I stood in my kitchen watching that tiny television on the counter for minutes, hours.
I checked in with my husband, who happened to be in The City that morning (but not, by the grace of God and pretty much only by that, downtown). He could see the smoke from the floor he was on in midtown. We remarked that it was “crazy.”
And then it got crazier — a second plane, a DC plane, a falling tower, a second falling tower, a plane crash in a field in Pennsylvania.
I remember crying, standing there in the kitchen, not able to understand what was going on but knowing deep in my soul that everything was different.
My husband was safe — albeit stuck in NYC for the night, sleeping on a friend’s couch — and so were the dozens of friends we both had in The City. I had a stranded New Yorker sleep over when she couldn’t get back, I had my sister-in-law over for dinner (funny but I don’t remember this, but she does and can tell you all about the meal — there was sausage, pasta and cheese. Comfort food, anyone?).
But thousands were not safe, not sleeping on someone’s couch, not stranded.
I am certain that nothing will ever be the same in this tri-state area. We may have gotten “over it,” to some degree (we’re all back to being snide and snippy and rude, for example), but there were too many lost that day to ever allow any of us — grieving personally or not — to ever really get “over it.” I know that for me, the world shifted completely. It became very clear to me very quickly that life is short, life is arbitrary, carpe diem. None of that is revolutionary, to be sure, but when you get that life lesson, well, everything changes.
I don’t recall the exact date — I think it was just before September 11th — but I found out I was pregnant with #4 that week. My husband got laid off from his Wall Street position shortly thereafter, and he was home for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. It was a good time to hunker down and be together. It was a very mixed blessing.
Today, wreaths will be laid, prayers will be said, tears will be shed. Children will ask questions that have no easy answers (adults will ask them too). Nine years later, we march on. We’ll go to the dry cleaners, the grocery store, soccer practice. And a large part of me will be profoundly sad, wondering how this terrible thing happened, and knowing that September will always have a black ribbon next to it.