September 11, 2011
Filed in: The Home Front, The Way We Live Now
Everyone remembers the beauty of the day. Everyone’s story starts that way. If you were anywhere in the northeastern United States, you remember the crystal blue, the perfectly dry sunniness.
I was taking secondborn to his first day of preschool. Normally I am not sentimental about milestones, but I had turned forty a few weeks earlier, and I was minding the way the weeks and months seemed to be whizzing by faster and faster. There was my firstborn, safe and sound in second grade, his first-day-of-school anxieties quelled by a few successful days under his belt already; here was my secondborn, no longer a baby, starting in the threes room at his Episcopal preschool.
It was a get-to-know-you day, which meant parents stayed with their kids. That must have been from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., because when I was leaving with W, relieved that things had gone tolerably well, if not perfectly, a mother who was active in the church stopped me in the hall and said they were having a service later that day “because of what happened.”
“What happened,” I said, thinking first of the pastor’s health, feeling defensive because we were such lackadaisical parishioners and so out of the loop.
“A plane hit the World Trade Center.”
I turned on NPR in the car, keeping it low in case W was listening. It sounded like a terrible accident. Did I know anyone in the World Trade Center? Anyone who was on a plane that morning? We continued with our morning as planned, sneaking in late to the PTA meeting at the elementary school.
Halfway through, the principal was called away, which sent a ripple of unease through the group of scrubbed young moms. Routine was important to us, and organization. We needed to know the school was well-run, the principal on top of her game. Why was she leaving us mid-meeting?
What you think of now is how extraordinary it was to not have instant access to news – some of us had cell phones, but not many, and nobody got news on their phone except the occasional rabid dad who worked in finance and carried a BlackBerry. We were at-home moms, living in a small town a two-minute drive from our children’s schools. Our news was all local, passed from person to person over the heads of our children.
The principal never came back, and the meeting finished up irresolutely. We packed up our toddlers and went on our way, each one hearing in a slightly different way. T called from work and said, “Turn on the TV.” But how could I do that with a 3-year-old at my side? It was all bits and pieces, glimpses and snippets.
People who worked in the city left early, for no real reason other than the comfort of being at home with family, and we stood around in the brilliant afternoon and talked in spurts with our neighbors, sheepish to be safe and removed from something so momentous. We ran the kids ragged and fed them early and put them to bed as soon as it got dark, and then, finally, we could turn on the TV and fall headlong into it all, the images looping and looping hour after hour until what was at first literally unimaginable became familiar, the shock beginning to settle in.