Eleven years ago today I thought the world was ending.
At the time, I was working at a daycare center. It was on a university campus, and rather than being all in one building, each age group was in a separate little building. I worked in the toddler room. I spent the days chasing little ones around, singing songs, changing diapers, and preventing kids from being bitten by one little girl we dubbed “JAWS”. This particular day didn’t seem any different than any other. I came to work and everything seemed to be business as usual.
I left the building to walk across to the main office, probably to get dishes from the kitchen. A coworker came out of a nearby building and called to me across the parking lot “Did you hear about the planes?” That that got my attention. “WHAT planes?” I hollered back. “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center.” Huh? “Wow, that is a horrible accident.” She had a strange look on her face, “You might want to go turn on the radio in your building. It’s no accident.”
I went on my way to do whatever it was I was going to do, and returned to my building. I relayed the information to the other teacher, who immediately turned it on. At first I wasn’t convinced it was much of anything. I knew how the media sensationalizes stuff. I was wrong.
As it began to sink in just what was happening, a coworker almost completely lost her mind and had to be sent home. Some parents came to get their children and took them home, unsure of just what had happened would mean. Everything was weird, surreal. Even the toddlers seemed to understand that something was going on, they were oddly calm that day. The remaining teachers and I talked in hushed voices about what had happened, and the consequences of it. What would happen to our country? We had been attacked? Would we retaliate? Would there be nuclear war? How would we in Iowa be affected? Would there be more attacks on other places?
For whatever reason, I got off of work early that day. I can’t remember why. I do remember stopping at Kmart before heading home to pick up something we needed. The parking lot was virtually empty-for a moment I wondered if it was open. It was, but there was not a soul in there other than the service desk person and a cashier. They too talked in hushed voices. There was no laughter, no smiling. Everything was somber. I really wanted to talk to my husband. This was before we really had a cell phone. He worked at a factory and went to school-it wasn’t like I could really get a hold of him if I wanted to. But I wanted to, because as the day went on I began to wonder if this was our last day on earth.
I don’t really remember much else about that day beyond the morning. I do remember coming home and watching TV. I couldn’t stop watching the planes crash into the World Trade Center over and over, listening to people recount what had happened and analyze it and what might come of it. I remember feeling like it was a really bad dream. None of it seemed real. Would I even see tomorrow? Was the world ending?
In a way, it was, at least how we knew it.
As the week went on, as the months went on, even as that year came and went, fear ruled our lives. We worried about further attacks, not just with weapons, but with things like public transportation and ordinary things that we used everyday being turned into something to hurt and kill others with. It was unsettling trying to understand how someone could hate our people and our country so much that they would be willing to die.
Yet for us life went on. We got out of bed in the morning, we went to work, went to school, went to sleep at night. In that space where the towers once stood was a metaphor for how we as a country felt in our heart.
My life has changed considerably from that day. Instead of spending long days in a room full of young children I spend all day with my own. I no longer live in the same house or drive the same car. As I rub the crunchy, sticky remnants of my daughter’s ring pop off of the bottom of my foot, I set out to try to record my memories of that day that we all wish had never happened. I think it is very important that we never forget what happened that day. I have to remember that even when I am having a bad day, that the people that died, the people that were injured, the people that lost family and friends, the people that were there and had to experience all that happened there that day-it could be far, far worse.