I’ve spoken to kiddo ab0ut that day, specifically about how I thought my mother (his grandmother) died that day. September 11, 2001 emerged as an ordinary day. I was at work at Penn Plaza near 34th street by 8:30am. WPLJ announced that the first plane hit the World Trade Center and compared it to when the Empire State Building had been hit by a small aircraft decades before.
I immediately called my co-worker who was on medical leave and asked her to turn on the television. I didn’t have internet access on my computer so I couldn’t watch anything. I told her what happened with the plane and waited for her to tell me what was going on. The dj on WPLJ then announced that a second plane hit the towers and a third crashed into the Pentagon. I realized it wasn’t a normal day; a regular Tuesday.
I called my mother’s work phone and received a busy signal. I then called my baby sitter to check on my son and also called his father. I tried Mami’s number again and nothing. By 10:30, my co-workers and I were all dazed by the news that both towers had fallen. Some had gone to internet connected computers to watch everything. I didn’t. One co-worker came back to her desk and quietly shared that the towers fell.
Our assistant comptroller sent us home to check in on our loved ones. I hadn’t heard from Mami, but still thought she was okay. Mami was very strong and independent. She could handle anything.
I mostly walked home that day. I took a bus up Sixth Avenue and ended up getting off after a few blocks. It took me hours to get from 34th Street to the South Bronx. I called my son’s father to let him know I was coming and stopped at McD’s to get lunch because I hadn’t eaten all day. Arriving at my son’s father’s house, I sat and ate quietly.
By the time I finished, the 5 o’clock news was on and for the first time – I watched with horror all of the video I refused to watch earlier. And I cried as I saw the powder. Mami had asthma and she couldn’t have run away in all of that. Mami was dead. She HAD to be.
Only she wasn’t. She called there. My son’s father passed me the phone crying and I yelled at her. “You’re DEAD!!!” It took her several minutes to convince me that she was fine and was at home. I yelled at her for not leaving a message on the answering machine. I yelled at her for not thinking to call because I was checking the machine all day. Mostly I yelled because she’d scared the crap out of me. It was the only time before or since that Mami let me yell at her. She didn’t take offense to it.
I went home with my son and hugged her. I expected powder all over her, but she’d cleaned up already as if nothing happened. I looked around to find traces of the day’s events because I just could not believe what happened. All I found were a pair of white, dusty Reebok sneakers that I knew used to be black.
Nearly ten years later and the man who was named the mastermind behind this attack is dead – killed in a raid on May 1, 2011. I still don’t believe it and don’t know how I feel about it. Even while others in my city and around the world cheer, I don’t know how I feel. Maybe because as a woman of faith I don’t believe in violence or war or hatred.
I haven’t figured out what to tell kiddo, but I surely won’t be cheering. All of this has left me reflecting on the value of human life, faith and the fate of our world. Growing up now isn’t simple and it isn’t pretty. Parenting now isn’t either.