On my very first trip to New York, back in 1997, I realized right away that it was not the place for me. Most of my husbands college friends are from the New York/New Jersey area and they are quite a bit different from anyone I ever knew out here on the west coast. Although they are plenty nice in their own unique way, I remember feeling like everyone out there was getting nowhere, fast! Most New Yorkers talk even more and louder than I do, are constantly on the move and live large. It was fun but a little overwhelming for me. I like to say that I have more culture shock in New York than I ever do when I visit Mexico, and I mean that. So you can see how I never would have thought that I would ever feel very connected to that part of the country.
It's also funny how hindsight can truly be 20/20.
The last weekend before the events of 9-11 was a pretty remarkable one for me and my family. We were all together at a local state park having a small reunion type picnic. You have to understand that this is not something that would ever normally happen. Someone in my extended family is always mad at someone else and won't participate in whatever event is being planned. However, on this particular labor day weekend there had been some sort of miraculous cease fire and a bunch of us were all together. It was a fun and easy time for once and I remember feeling a distinct sort of calm.
Here is a picture that I took during that weekend. A larger copy of it still hangs just inside my front door.
As we all know now, the peace that is embodied in that photo was shattered very shortly after as the horrors of 9-11 were revealed.
As the day unfolded, you might be surprised to find that most things including business went on as usual around here. My husband was already at work by the time it became clear that America was under some type of attack. And being from the northeast, he had become accustomed to smaller attacks on the World Trade Center. We hadn't yet realized that this was more than that. I couldn't help but think of all the times his friends on the east coast had joked about how if there was ever a nuclear bomb, it would be set off in New York city.
It really took several days for me to grasp some of what the events of 9-11 actually meant. I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to happen, but I could sense some sort of fight growing inside me. I had never been all that political, but I had always known what I believed in my heart- that there is no place like America and nothing that could ever replace her.
Photo credit: Bill Wechter
I was working as a nanny during this time and the kids and I painted a flag
just like this one, using only our hand prints.
As time wore on, the world around me seemed to be coming together with some sort of national bond. It was an amazing time and I remember that part of things very fondly. It was one of the very few positives that came from that day. Meanwhile, my family was falling apart as never before. They actually took 9-11 and used it as something else to argue about. No matter how nice one day is and one picnic in a park can be, I just knew I no longer needed to wallow in the pathetic stew of addiction and mental illness that my family had become. As strange as it sounds, 9-11 actually helped to set off an independence in me that would allow me to eventually set myself free of a very twisted situation.
In our effort from that previous summer of 2001 to become a closer family, my husband and I had planned a big trip for my mother and step-father and us to go to Disneyland together on Sept. 22, 2001. My mother and step-father cancelled their tickets out of fear, but my husband and I were determined to go on the trip. You have never seen such an empty flight and the airline actually passed out little prayer cards. I began to wonder if I really was crazy to be headed to the happiest place on earth at that point in time. But once we got there, there was never a doubt. We were right were we needed to be. (Come to think of it, Disneyland is my answer to many things.) I had been crying every day since 9-11 and we really did just need to get away. The park was nearly empty, but everyone there was just so nice. We met a wonderful Australian couple on the Mark Twain boat that had been decked out in red, white and blue. The woman saw that I had tears in my eyes and came over to me and told me how sorry she was and that they loved Americans. I'm not sure why, but I finally stopped crying after we talked with those people that day.
Over the next year, I learned that some of our friends from the east coast had experienced dramatic changes because of 9-11. My husbands friends Dad who worked right near the towers had been on the train that day, headed for work and he had ended up wandering the city taking in the awfulness of that day. His son had moved out west in 1996. This guy ended up literally leaving New York city within days of 9-11 and moved out here to be near his son. My husbands best friend, who lives in New Jersey and absolutely loves New York City, had not been back into the city since before 9-11 and over 8 months had passed. He said he just could not bear to look at that skyline without the towers.
My husband had a high school reunion in Pennsylvania that summer after 9-11. Whenever we go back east we always visit his friends in New Jersey and this time it would be me that would suggest we go into 'the city' even though I am the one who never really relished everything it has to offer. It was time to get my husbands best friend back to his beloved New York City. He put on a brave face and joined us though he was unable to visit the World Trade Center site itself. He did look at the pictures and video that we took.
It had been almost a year since 9-11 at that point and I could not get over how raw everything still felt. The gigantic hole in that city was like a hole in those peoples hearts. Someone was playing the song that is on my blog right now on the street near the site when we saw it.
I brought home this sparkly pin of the towers and wore it until New Year's Day 2003. I have worn it for the 9-11 anniversary every year since.
This little pin is what finally got my husbands friend to go and see the site for himself. His mother asked him to go back into the city and get her one after she saw mine. I bought it at a place just down the street from the WTC site. When he went back to get the pin, he took the short detour over to the site. He needed to do it alone. He never told anyone about that visit until just a few years ago.
Several of our friends and family are military and have done multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq since 9-11. Thankfully, they have all come home alive. They are tough and claim that they knew what they were getting into and would have done it all again. I may not be as strong as they are, but I do know that nothing that happened that dreadful day in September almost 10 years ago could ever kill my spirit. I am not a quitter and never will be. I know that although terrible things can come into anyone's life, it is what happens during and after those things that make a person who they are. We in America experienced and survived 9-11 together and we have been changed- each of us in our own unique way.
My husband and I have taken several trips back east with friends who never would have thought to go there; just because we feel they should experience it, at least once. And, of course, we always include a trip to New York City. It may not be the city I dreamed of in my little 5th grade heart, but it is a very special place with people that I will always love and now have a little bit better understanding of.
I leave you with some photos that now serve as a reminder of 'before' for me...
View from the Empire State Building
I still can't get over how immense NYC is...
and how much larger those towers were than the rest of the buildings,
or how tiny the Statue Of Liberty is back off to the right on the tiny island across the river.
View from Liberty Island
View from inside the Statue Of Liberty
Please join me in sharing your memories about 9-11-2001 by linking up to my post, here. I would love to see what you have to say.