Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11, 2001

It's five years later. Do you know, I've already forgotten the order of events on that morning--it's some sort of protective denial, I think. Here's what I do remember:

My mom called just as Petunia and I were leaving home in Worcester to drive into Boston. She told me, "A plane hit the World Trade Center." My first thought was that she meant the World Trade Center in Boston, and I was alarmed but not frightened. "Thanks for telling me, " I said. "Accidents happen. I have to go to work now."

In the car, Petunia and I turned on NPR, and that's when we learned that both towers in New York had been hit. We also heard that the Pentagon had been hit and that one last plane was "making its way up the Eastern seaboard," with fighter jets in pursuit of the plane. Clearly, it wasn't an accident at all. The feeling I had upon hearing those reports is indescribable; I burst into tears, simultaneously thinking of my childhood as an Army brat, the kids at my work, my family and friends, and Petunia's and my immediate safety. Petunia was driving, and her knuckles were white on the steering wheel. I couldn't take my own hands away from my face.

We debated whether to turn back, but Petunia was needed at the child psych unit where she worked and I was needed at the LGBT youth center where I worked. We made emergency plans of where to meet up if necessary; we had a Plan A meeting spot and a Plan B meeting spot. When I said goodbye to her that morning, I wondered for just a second if I'd ever see her again.

I think I went to work that morning, but I also remember being at my program director's apartment. Our center was in the long shadow of the Hancock Tower, and there were fears that our youth and staff would be harmed in an attack. I think the decision was made to close the center at some point, though I can't be certain. I do remember that it seemed prudent to stay off the streets.

In the weeks that followed, I watched too much television. I saw things I shouldn't have seen. I called everyone I knew in New York to be sure they were safe; thankfully, they were. I helped some of our youth organize a vigil, and I watched police in riot gear push back a crowd of protesters from the MassPike. I watched on live TV as federal agents searched the Westin Copley Place, mere blocks from my work, as the real life sirens raced down our street 3 stories below.

In the months that followed, I worked closely with a local Critical Incident Stress Management team to counsel the youth at my work. We received funds from FEMA and MEMA, and it boggled my mind that I had anything to do with those agencies. I don't remember much about those sessions; I know that one of our youth was terrified of a biological attack, especially given her job in the Hancock Tower, and that another of our youth hadn't heard from friends who lived on the streets in lower Manhattan. He was frantic with worry.

I learned later that Petunia's friend's mother was killed in the attack, and so was the sister of an acquaintance of mine. For Petunia and me, however, life went on. We were set to be married on October 7, 2001, and several people who'd planned to attend decided to stay home, out of safety concerns. Our florist told us she'd try to get the exact roses we'd requested, but gently reminded us that delivery planes were delayed and cancelled very frequently. We went away for our honeymoon in Aruba following the wedding, and Petunia sneaked peeks at the news of anthrax attacks in the U.S. while I was in the shower.

Those were dark days, lightened now by lapses in memory. I don't really want to remember that time, but I don't want to forget it completely, either.

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