The nightmare of the events occurring on Sept. 11, 2001, is permanently seared into my memory. I was living in Newport at the time, working as the office manager and production assistant in a cute little embroidery shop downtown. It was a bright sunny day, as most will remember. My boss was from New Jersey and I am originally from Brooklyn, NY, with all of my extended family still scattered about the Empire State.
I found his sense of humor to be a bit strange at times, so when he leaned over my shoulder to pull up the image on my computer of the first tower in smoke I glanced a puzzled expression toward him trying to hide my true thoughts, “sick! Not funny!” He went back into his office and I continued to work.
My mother called a short time later to let me know what was happening. I was stunned to learn it was real.
Her brother is a New York City attorney. I have a few cousins and their friends, which have become my friends, who often worked in Manhattan. I had uncles who have at some point worked in the towers themselves, though I was almost certain no one that I knew worked there at that time. My grandmother in Brooklyn was okay, but that was all we knew for sure. The events were still unfolding in New York and other areas of the East Coast.
I remained in a bit of a daze the remainder of the afternoon until I watched the news bawling my eyes out and sobbing uncontrollably in the confines of my living room.
The following morning I was driving during the moment of silence at 8:45 am. Patriotic music followed. I had to pull over, again unable to control the sobbing. I notified my boss that I was useless that day, turned around and convened with my sisters at one house for comfort waiting to hear more news.
President Bush’s speech actually made me hopeful. It was the first time in more than 24 hours that I felt like we were indeed a strong united nation. Nobody messes with us on our turf and gets away with it!
Eventually, we were blessed with the word that all of our friends and family were safe and sound. Life gradually regained some normalcy, but I don’t believe things have ever been the same.
New words and phrases were being thrown about over the next few months and several years to follow, “Shi’Ite, “Al Quaeda”, “Sunni”, “Jihad”, “Weapons of Mass Destruction”, and “War on Terror”. It was all very confusing, but something inside of me tried desperately to make some sense of it all, so I read articles in magazines and newspapers, feeling pretty stupid about my ever-lingering confusion.
Four years later, my heart stopped when my oldest wrote a free write essay in Mrs. Sousa’s second grade at Rockwell about being a fighter pilot in the army. War has been on American minds, as part of our continued reality. It had been close to home, and was now uglier than ever, in my mind, but I couldn’t possibly argue the nobility and honor of being an American Soldier.
Three years later, when my oldest was in fifth grade, he and his equally caring and kind friend were discussing their hatred of the Iraqi people. My stomach knotted and I fought the lump in my throat doing my best to explain that it was that exact thinking that has put us in such a mess with the war on terror in the first place. Hatred begets hatred.
As difficult as it was to believe, members of Al Quaeda fought in the name of their religious beliefs. They think we are the devil’s advocates. I will spend however long it takes to get through to my kids that each side of those involved in war thinks they are right and the other is wrong.
My boys are all impressed with soldiers. I don’t know if even my oldest understands just what it means when they read “Support Our Troops”. But I do.
We were in Papa Gino’s in Warren for dinner a year or so ago and there was a man in full army uniform. He was ordering a pizza just like us. He had family members with him, though I don’t know their exact relation.
I said a silent prayer for him and his family, then took that moment to extend the prayer to all the American soldiers and all their loved ones. My eyes were full of water. I tried not to let the tears spill over for fear of being embarrassed. We were just having a pizza in a safe environment with a positive and happy atmosphere, what was I doing getting so sentimental?
It means much more to me now when I see men and women in military uniform. I want to thank each of them individually and show my appreciation for their services.
This June I finally made it to Ground Zero. Being of New York blood, I have been torn about never visiting the site. I knew I couldn’t handle it emotionally, but a part of me felt like I should pay my respects, as though if I didn’t go, people might think I was trying to ignore the reality of that fateful September day.
My younger cousin, New York born and bred, gave us a tour. He is a playwright who wrote the NYC Monologues, an eye-opening and thought provoking play about 9/11 and New Yorkers years later recounting their versions of the events.
Before reaching the site, we stopped first at a memorial room. In the window is a motorcycle made mostly of recycled material from the rubble a mere few hundred feet away. I thought it to be a bright and optimistic outlook and so dared to enter the building.
The room was crowded with people, typical of what most think about being in New York. I stood at the crammed entrance, inching my way further into the doorway. Though the room was packed with people, there was only a low hum of voices, as if everyone inside was trying to respect the peace and memory of the tragic event that forever changed the lives of all Americans.
As I inched forward I looked up for my first glance inside. High up on the wall was a black and white photograph banner of the Twin Towers up in smoke. I literally choked, swallowed hard and tears streamed down my face. I turned and walked out. I couldn’t walk any further in, for whatever reason.
We proceeded to Ground Zero construction with the proposed Memorial Pools, which was well under way. The fence is supposed to come down Sept. 11 of this year, marking the 10-year anniversary, and making the site a part of the city once again.
Mixed emotions came over me as I stood there on the outside of the fence. Sadness of the loss, remembering vague memories from my childhood running through the World Trade Center office space ready to take one of our uncles out to lunch, grateful to have memories that make me a part of something so grand and powerful, and distant as a tourist where this new World Trade Center is being built.
I am now a full-fledged Rhode Islander, a Bristolian, where my husband and I have rooted our children and our growing family. But no matter where we are, I no longer feel corny when I say, “I am proud to be an American.” I mean it with every ounce of my being, and that is a connection not only to NYC, but also to all Americans. I don’t know if I ever would have felt this if I hadn’t been alive to experience the tragedy of Sept. 11.