Everyone has a 9/11 story. To tell the truth, I don’t have a story. I have a record of feelings.
I was teaching 7th grade in St. Louis when The World Trade Center and Pentagon were bombed. Apparently, our administrators had some debate about whether or not to show this over our TVs. But how can we soften the trauma by veiling it?
At first, it was all a bit confusing. Perhaps I am a bit of a rube, but, since I’m not from New York City, I’ve never paid any attention to the World Trade Center. When it first came on the TV, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. Then, when the film showed the collapse of the first tower — we were watching recordings about an hour after it actually happened — all the smoke confused me. What’s going on? But then I saw the Pentagon. After my years in the army, in Vietnam, I damn sure knew what that was.
My kids were scared. “Are they going to bomb us? Will they fly a plane into the Arch? What about our school? …”
We watched the TV for a bit more. The news was fragmented. The same news clips repeated. It was time to turn-off the TV. Not because the news is sketchy, but because I saw the dissociation in my students’ eyes. My job was to assure them that life will carry-on for us. We will be sad. We will be scared. But no one will harm Dr. Tieman’s class; no one will bomb our school. As always, I will be here at 6:30 AM. Tomorrow, we will begin the next lesson.
Then there were, and still are, the other feelings. I’m a native Midwesterner, a St. Louisan. But I don’t hate New York. Except as the setting for “NYPD Blue”, I’m simply unfamiliar with it. My wife and I take The New York Times on the weekend, but I never read the local bits. So my connections are tenuous.
After a couple of weeks, I noticed that The Times started running extended obituaries for the 9/11 dead. I didn’t think much of it. Till one caught my eye one Saturday.
To be honest, I paused because the woman in the photo was cute. So I read on. She was a well educated, successful business woman. Every Thanksgiving, she threw a party in her apartment, because her balcony was immediately above the street where the big Macy’s parade balloons are inflated.
I imagined having a friend who threw such a party, me sitting on that balcony, sipping coffee, munching a bagel, staring at a two storied Big Bird. I remember the sadness I felt that day — I still imagine the emptiness where this woman used to be — that sadness has yet to leave me.