I know I’ve talked in the past about feeling old, but let’s face it; I’m only 35. I was born in June of 1978.
I wasn’t around when Kennedy was shot (Nov 22, 1963), or the day that Elvis died (Aug 16, 1977), and I was just sheltered enough to have found out about the Challenger Shuttle’s explosion (Jan 28, 1986) on Punky Brewster, when they had “a very special episode.”
These events exist in our nation’s collective subconscious. They united us. My mother can tell you where she was for any of these three events.
For me, it was Sept 11, 2001.
I was working my first real job, in Lewiston, ME at St. Mary’s Hospital. Beth was teaching in Kennebunk (her first real gig, too). I had just stepped out of a private treatment room and into the shared gym space, which was oddly empty for that time of morning. As my patient left, I wandered over to the radio, which appeared to be playing news radio. We usually listed to classic rock in the gym. As I got closer, and the words being spoken began to sink into my mind, I stopped in my tracks. Was this real? Could this sort of thing really be happening?
I ran to the front to see if anyone else had heard. They were all next door, in the Sleep Studies clinic, where they had a television. Everyone else was crowded around the set in stunned disbelief. We saw the second plane hit without initially realizing it was live – we thought it was a replay. Obviously, our PT schedules were out the window. Most of our patients had cancelled for the day by then. Would we be called into action? We were just a rag-tag bunch of PTs and OTs, but we worked as ancillary staff in a hospital. We could certainly move patients and wheel gurneys if need be. How widespread would this be? Were we safe in Lewiston, ME? Beth was, as mentioned before, an hour and a half south, but both of our families were still two and a half hours north. How could I get her and get north if the interstate was blocked?
We had been married only three months, and didn’t have an emergency “end of times” plan for evacuation. We do now. If we’re separated when the zombie apocalypse begins, we each know where to head to meet the other. I can thank September 11th for that. Needless to say, I didn’t get called into action in Lewiston. Beth says a school administrator stopped by her room, told her there had been a terrorist attack, and she was not to mention it to the kids yet, and DON’T TURN ON YOUR TV for any reason! No other information.
In the days that followed, participated in the national ‘remembrance day’, sitting on the curb outside of our apartment, holding our candles, meeting the people we’d lived next to for years. The sense of community and shared anguish and disbelief was tangible. In Biddeford, where we lived at the time, anonymity was the rule, not the exception. As we watched the televised concerts for New York and America, we cried along with the families of the fallen heroes. It’s all anyone talked about for weeks. We donated to the Red Cross, we bought the CDs from the concerts; and we gave up some civil liberties in the name of safety. If I do the math correctly, we also took our first steps towards parenthood in those first few post-11 weeks. There was just such a primal need to hold everything (and everyone, for that matter) as close as possible.
I don’t remember ever being as scared not only for myself, but for my loved ones scattered all over the state. We were barely married and didn’t even have kids yet. Now, after twelve years together and a brood of children, still nothing makes me feel more content than knowing my babies are tucked into their beds, safe and sound upstairs, while the Mrs. and I snuggle on the couch and watch TV. I know I can’t hold that tightly forever, so I appreciate it now.