Monday, September 10, 2007

Six Years Ago

When the first plane hit the World Trade Center, I was eating an omelet with cheese and salsa in a restaurant on the east side of Kalamazoo.

I was recovering from being sick for several months, and my boyfriend at the time--let's just call him Clay, because that's his name and I don't give a fuck about protecting the innocent--was just starting a week of vacation. We'd gone to help his business partner out for a couple of hours that morning by making sure he had enough stock to get him through the week, and we stopped for breakfast at that restaurant that I can never remember the name of. It's open 24 hours and it's across the street from Denny's in Kalamazoo and it's got a green sign. That's all I can remember about it, except that I was there six years ago tomorrow, eating an omelet with cheese and salsa, when it started.

We were sitting in a booth, and one booth next to us was a man with a laptop and a cell phone and a newspaper. The waitress seemed to know him; she kept coming out and chatting with him. And then.

And. Then.

It wasn't a case of all hell breaking loose, like it would have if we'd lived here in D.C. at that point. The waitress mentioned to the man at the next booth that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center buildings.

I thought: Cessna.

Isn't it funny how you always remember where you were when something happened? For my Gran, it was World War II. My mother's 28th birthday was ruined by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Would you believe that I remember the day that Ronald Reagan was shot? I was watching Woody Woodpecker in my grandfather's big recliner in their living room when the news broke in. I was maybe five.

I barely registered what that waitress said. Clay and I had an ongoiong battle over the car radio. I would usually rather not have listened to it at all than tolerate his truly abyssmal taste in music, but he thought that in his car, he should have the final word. On the drive home, he was struggling to find a radio station, and I was tuning out what I was hearing, reading the newspaper. Finally, he said, "I think the plane and World Trade Center thing might be a big deal. They keep saying things about terrorists."

"Terrorists attacked the World Trade Center years ago," I said. "That's like lightning striking twice."

By the time we got home and turned on the television, the second plane had hit. The Pentagon had been attacked. There was talk about the fourth flight going down in Pennsylvania, although confusion was the order of the day at this point and nobody really seemed to know what had happened.

Here's what I remember: I felt helpless. I felt sick. I wanted to call everybody I knew to make sure they were safe. I couldn't think of what else to do, so I went to church--some church downtown, maybe Presbyterian? They were having an interfaith prayer service. It was such a bright, sunny day. Everybody looked distraught: the clerks in the grocery store, people just driving along in their cars. There was less traffic on the streets. The internet stopped working.

Late in the afternoon, Clay and I took stock and realized that our friend Mick had called us Sunday night from Boston, telling us he planned to be back in L.A. on Tuesday afternoon. Mick and Clay had grown up together, and, ironically, Mick had gotten to be friends in college with my older half-brother, Tim. All we could think about were the flights out of Logan, and that Mick wasn't answering his cell phone. We were calling his mother, his sister, his other friends: Had they talked to him today?

No, they hadn't. Nobody had. He wasn't answering his cell phone. It wasn't until almost midnight that the phone finally rang. He had been scheduled to take the flight that hit the second building, but he'd overslept, missed his flight, accidentally packed his phone in his checked baggage, and by the time everything had happened, all the flights had been cancelled and he couldn't get his luggage back. He couldn't leave the airport.

In the next few days, I would go fishing with my parents, just to be able to be away from a television, and we would all notice how empty the sky looked without any jet trails. On Friday night, I would go to the bar with my friend Tara, who would find out the next morning that she was 16 weeks pregnant by her ex-boyfriend, who had given her large doses of sedatives and raped her while she was passed out. I would continue to cope with my spanking-new diagnosis of a chronic illness about which I was no longer feeling very good about saying "Why me?"

In the next year, I would get the worst job I ever had, one that would make me drink every night just so that I could face the thought of getting out of bed the next morning and going back. I would break up with Clay as it became increasingly clear that we were incompatible and had nothing to say to each other about anything, and life was just too fucking short. In an attempt to not starve to death as a temp in the floudering economy of that post-9/11 year, I would get a great job with a pharmaceutical company, which I would lose in the first round of cuts when the company I worked for was swallowed by a much larger pharmaceutical company whose name rhymes with Kaiser, and I would agree, reluctantly, to pick up some shifts for a friend of a friend, who was opening a restaurant and since I'd been to a restaurant, that made me qualified to manage one. Of course. The assistant manager of that restaurant was a know-it-all, condescending, loud, short, and a lousy speller. We did not see eye-to-eye, to say the least, particularly after I told him that despite the stupid service industry job, I was actually a very smart woman; what was his excuse?

I married him less than two years later. He is still a know-it-all, loud, short, and a lousy speller, and also the kindest, most generous, most loving man I know. Six years later, Tara--remember her? The one who got pregnant?--is due with her second child, this one a daughter. (ed. Tara's daughter Kaitlyn was born on the morning of September 11th. Everything really just seems to come around, doesn't it?) She lives in California and is married to a peach of a guy who adopted her son. The guy who got her pregnant? In prison. Mick, who missed his flight into the side of the World Trade Center: quit his job, left L.A., and got a job in technology in Portland, where he still lives and works. And Clay, my ex-boyfriend? He sells porn in Michigan. That is the punchline to this story, although to be fair, he sold porn in Michigan then too, owns half the business, and works very little and makes a lot of money--and he gets pretty much all the porn he wants for free, so good for him.

Tomorrow morning, I am going to get up early and make myself a Mexican omelet and white toast, exactly what I was eating when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I do it every year. I realize that it's a weird way to commemorate a terrible day, but I do it because it was the end of what I think of as the terrible end of my old life, and the beginning of something new for me. Everything changed after September 11th, 2001, including me. This is how I remember.


Kimberly said...

I never thought of it like that, but your life really did change a lot in six years. Mine, not so much. Tomorrow morning I will ride with the same person to the same job as six years ago. Boy, now I really feel like I'm running in place. We do have a new car though. Does that count for something?

Heather said...

I think it's a great way to remember how much you've changed.

6 years is a long time, and then it's not that long. But lots of changes happen don't they?