This is a very difficult day for me. For the past nine years it has become increasingly more so. It is kind of hard to explain why but I think you probably know me well enough to understand to a point. I'm one of those people who absorb the energies of the people around me, take it in, mix it up and do my best to expel happiness in its place (no matter what their original state was).
Nine years ago I was inundated with so much overwhelming sadness and dark sky all at once that I couldn't transform it. I couldn’t mix it into something positive, or beautiful or radiant because there was too much sorrow coming across the wires. My entire body went limp and I felt spent every minute of every day, until the first plane made its way back into the sky again and a small glimmering of hope returned to a few.
The feeling left me very hollow and empty for weeks and I struggled greatly with how to cope with the losses of the world on that day.
I remember what I was wearing (a sleeveless black and white zebra print top in a light weight polyester and black Capri pants with a strappy open toe kitten heel sandal, because it was unseasonably warm, and I had bright red lipstick on, because I was trying to make a statement), who I was with (a co-worker that I shared an office with), who told me (another co-worker who casually sauntered down the hall and said ‘hey did you hear the World Trade Center exploded?’), how fast we discovered that it wasn’t the building in Boston but in NYC and just what it meant.
Boston.com was our first stop and there on the front page was a picture of one of the twin towers in Manhattan with a ring of fire surrounding it and dark black smoke rising out of the blue glass. The reflection of it made it seem that much worse and it honestly took me a full minute to process what I was even viewing.
I’m not a New Yorker. The image of those towers was not something I witnessed on a daily basis and frankly I don’t think I had seen them in front of me, standing tall, with my own eyes ever in my life. But as soon as I figured out what was on my screen my co-worker and I went tearing out of our office to start looking for answers.
Our tiny little space was located in a back corner of the second floor, far removed from most of the people in the know (read: everyone else in our company). The reason we fought to get the space was that we could control the heat. And we both liked to sweat instead of shiver so it was a perfect arrangement.
But on that morning the temperature was the last thing on our mind.
We made it downstairs only to discover another friend was sitting with a female co-worker who was frantically dialing her office phone and getting nothing but a busy signal. Both of her grown kids worked in the towers.
She thought maybe she would have better luck at home (3 blocks away) so the four of us piled into her car and sped over there. This entire scene probably took as long to unveil as it just took you to read so we immediately turned on the television once we arrived only to discover another plane had hit the second tower.
Our friend was dialing in her kitchen while the three of us sat in the living room watching the news. And then in a flash, life as we knew it in this country came to a screeching halt. A train wreck of epic proportions that even Peter Jackson couldn’t have scripted.
We watched the first tower fall.
We hugged each other. We cried.
And then, silent, save for our gasping sobs, we watched the second tower fall.
We sat, statue still, with slack jaws and frozen limbs draped over each other’s shoulders.
We found out our friend’s kids were fine.
I immediately thought of my cousins who lived in New York. Then I thought of Matt. He grew up there and had to be freaking out.
As someone who spent little time in that city I had no clue where anyone lived or worked. All I knew was I had to find out.
We raced back to the office where all anyone could really do was watch the television someone had rolled into the first floor conference room. By this time they had discovered that the planes originated from Boston and our city was on high alert.
Back in my office I began the frantic dialing spree, running into mostly busy signals but I finally managed to get through to Matt. Nothing to this day will ever be as comforting to me as the sound of his voice on the other end of the line at that moment. I knew he was in Boston, I knew we had plans that night after I got out of my part time job, I knew he was fine but all rationality dropped by the wayside on that morning.
He tried to contact the people he knew in or around the City and I managed to get my aunt on the line. My cousins were fine. Everyone we knew was fine.
I exhaled for the first time in an hour.
My co-worker and I went out front to have a cigarette and couldn’t even look at each other. All we could do was stare at the top of the John Hancock Tower, perfectly framed by the street our building was on, and pray it would still be standing at the end of the day.
So proximate to Boston, we tended to be in the flight path and traffic patterns of the bustling city. It was eerily quiet outside. Most cars were stopped and with no planes overhead it was like living on a rural farm somewhere, not a major metropolitan area.
Matt and I talked again and I told him there was no way I was going to my part time job that night (I quit very soon after this as I quickly reprioritized my life and what was really important). He said he would pick up some stuff at his sister’s place (where he was still living after moving back from Ohio) and would stay at my place that night. I told him I was going to demand it if he didn’t suggest it first.
As days went on most news channels featured not much else while new revelations about who the hijackers were, their links to terrorist organizations and how they got into our country in the first place began to materialize.
It was all too much for me. My soul was beginning to ache and I felt I may just lose it forever if I kept watching the coverage. So I stopped. Right then and there. In the midst of a tragedy I turned off my television, radio and boston.com subscription and tried to release it.
But it wouldn’t go. Not until a few days later when Matt and I had tickets to go see one of my all time favorite bands, Godsmack, in concert in Manchester, New Hampshire.
I was driving a beat up, falling apart (read: LOVE) Mercury Tracer in those days and she was on one of her last legs. But we made it up to NH with no problems and we were ready to display our hand made patriotism at the show as we made our own flags on our plain white Hanes T-shirts.
We parked in a random lot behind some apartment building and headed for the arena. But it turns out the show was outdoors. There must have been 5,000 people on that field and every single one of them was talking to, hugging or shaking the hand of a stranger.
About five minutes into the set 5,000 people collectively held their breath for about ten seconds as the first plane we had seen in days flew directly over where we were standing. No one was watching the stage, I don’t even remember if the band was playing at the time.
All I remember is the exhale.
Five thousand people had their heads tilted up toward the night sky and erupted into the loudest cheer I have ever been present to witness. We shared that moment together. One people with one common purpose -- to stand strong in our humanity and American spirit. And it was beautiful.