Seven years ago today I was in my suburban Atlanta home. I had two daughters - the eldest was almost two years old and her sister was a six month old baby. We were playing a game when the phone rang.
It was my baby brother calling from his cell phone. He had been in his Manhattan apartment and said that it sounded like a huge jet had swooped past the building. Everything had rattled loudly and really startled him. He was on his short walk to work and said that he heard sirens and saw smoke but that the buildings were all so high he couldn't see what had happened.
I turned on the tv and saw the building on fire. I told him what they had said, "A small commuter jet hit the world trade center." He wondered out loud if his girlfriend had seen it as she worked two buildings away from the trade center. He arrived at the bank where he worked and said that he had to go on the elevator and would lose our connection so we said goodbye and hung up.
I was watching the Today Show live when the second plane hit. My mind began to race, "Why was the building on fire BEFORE the plane hit it????" I just couldn't understand. Then I heard Katie Couric say that this couldn't have been an accident and that we were obviously under attack.
I frantically tried to reach my brother - his cell phone, his office line - nothing could get through. I called my husband next and asked him to come home as I was terrified. He said that he was going to wait it out, maybe this isn't as bad as it seems. He changed his mind when the Pentagon was hit.
When the first building fell I felt as though I was losing my mind. It was so sudden. So fast. And so complete. I continued trying my brothers cell every minute until my phone went dead. I went upstairs and got another phone so I could continue my fruitless effort. It looked like the entire island was on fire and smoldering. My baby brother and his sweet girlfriend were in it. I felt so helpless. And hopeless.
The phone finally rang and it was my brother. He told me he was safe, for the moment, in his office. I screamed at him to get out of there. He worked in a bank and it was obvious that the financial district was under attack. He said in a very calm and quiet voice, "Bex. Where can I go? I live here."
He asked me to try calling his girlfriend and best friend who were both unaccounted for.
I found out later that as he watched the towers fall he decided that if his girlfriend survived that he would marry her. He loved her.
She is Russian and met my brother met while he worked and studied in Moscow. She was smart, beautiful and kind - he had obviously out shot his coverage. But she loved him anyway.
She was already in her high rise office building when the first plane hit. She and her colleagues were standing in a room with huge windows watching the building burn when the second plane crashed. She said that the heat of the explosion passed through her enormous office building and that it felt like putting your head in a very hot oven. At that point her building was evacuated. She and her co-workers went to the elevators and rode their way down. I still cannot believe that.
She stood at the base of her building waiting for the all-clear to return to work. Then bodies began falling from the sky. How inconceivably bad must have things been in that building for people to choose to plunge 100 stories to their death rather than face it? She stood there, helpless and horrified.
And then the building fell. Jolted into action, she began running in her high heels and short skirt. She ran until she hit the waters edge of the island where she stood - trapped. Suddenly, through the smoke, a boat appeared. She jumped onto it and was amazed when other people refused to get on it because it wasn't going to the part of New Jersey where they lived. The boat was going anywhere but here. That was perfect for her.
When she arrived in New Jersey she began just walking around. Her cell phone was useless - we now know that the cell towers were on top of the World Trade Center. She was ultimately taken in by a family of strangers where she used their computer to send an email to my brother that she was ok and off of the island. He called me repeatedly, relieved but desperately trying to find a way to meet her there.
He did find a way. They weren't allowed back into their apartment for a long time so they stayed outside of the city, waiting.
Almost two years later they were married in a palace in Moscow, Russia. It was the most beautiful wedding I've ever seen.
You know, it's funny. Time does heal wounds. There was a time where I thought I'd never laugh again. I thought life would never, ever be the same. But it is. I also thought that these events would solidify our country as one and it did - for a while. Now we're back to the bi-partisan bullshit that makes we want to scream.
But I haven't forgotten. Every time I get on a plane I think about what those terrifying last moments must have been like. I think about the widows. And the kids who lost parents. The parents who lost kids. It breaks my heart.
Every time I see a firetruck I am grateful. They make me feel protected. Every September 11th I bake something for my local fire house because I remember. We should all remember. I do not believe in much. This is especially true of religion and politics. But I believe in this country and the people who live here.
Are we screwing stuff up in the Middle East by our war in Iraq? I don't know. Maybe. But I am so grateful for the armed forces. Every time I see a someone in his or her uniform I feel overcome with gratitude. Thank you for volunteering. Thank you for serving. Thank you for all the things you do that we'll never know about it or understand.
As for the people who made this happen - fuck you. We are just fine. You might have knocked us down but you sure as hell didn't knock us out. We are living, prospering and preparing to meet you - on our terms.
PS This blog is usually a humor blog. I know that this post is not funny. But I'm submitting it to humor-blogs anyway because that's the place where most of traffic comes from and I want people to read this and remember. I want us all to remember.