I woke up with a start.
As far as I could tell, it was the middle of the night. I sat there, still and quiet in the dark room, trying to get my bearings. What woke me up? It wasn’t unusual for me to be jolted awake in the middle of the night. Since Grandpa died I had been having nightmares several times a week—- horrible, emotionally draining dreams that I did my best to forget as soon as I woke up. During the final few weeks of his life Grandma and I had taken to sleeping in the same room. We both had our reasons, but basically it boiled down to the fact that we needed each other. Death isn’t pretty, and knowing someone was in the house with you made it a lot easier.
I listened to her soft, rhythmic snores for a moment, glancing over at her. No, no, everything looked normal there.
Why was I awake? And why couldn’t I shake that something is wrong feeling?
I strained my ears, but I couldn’t hear anything out of the ordinary in the house. Besides, between the German Shepherd in the yard and the cockatiel in the hall, somebody would be hard pressed to break into our house unnoticed.
I held my breath, listening.
Nothing. The house sounded peacefully normal. I gave a shrug and rolled over in my bed, burying my head beneath my pillow as I sought sleep.
No such luck. Instead of feeling sleepy, the anxious feeling grew worse, twisting my stomach. Something wasn’t right. Something was really, really not right.
I sat up in bed quietly and glanced at the clock. I don’t remember exactly what time it was – somewhere between 2 and 3 in the morning.
Witching Hour. I hated that term. Suppressing a shiver I lay back in bed, pulling the blankets up around my shoulder tightly. I stared quietly at Grandma and tried to let her soft breathing lull me back to sleep, but it was no use. I was too anxious— no, not anxious – fearful? Filled with foreboding?
I contemplated calling my mom and stepdad to pray with me. I knew they wouldn’t mind, but still, I felt a little silly.
Hi. No, everything’s fine. No, I’m not hurt. No, I don’t need you to come get me. Can you pray with me? I’m nervous. No, there’s nothing wrong. No, there’s nothing going on in my life. No, I didn’t have a nightmare, and no, I am not upset about Grandpa. I just feel like something’s wrong. It’s not an anxiety attack. No, it’s not—
Yeah. I probably should have called, but I just didn’t feel like dealing with trying to explain my feeling. Besides, I was comfortable in my bed and didn’t want to get out. Of course, that didn’t mean I couldn’t pray on my own. I buried my head beneath the pillow, closed my eyes, and prayed until I fell asleep.
I slept late the next morning. My morning class didn’t begin until late morning, and after my little middle of the night wakeup session I wasn’t feeling too perky.
I lay in bed, bonelessly, enjoying the morning, when I sensed the bedroom door opening. Propping myself up on my elbow, I smiled at my Grandma. “Good morning.”
“We’re at war.”
“Wait. What?” Her words made no sense to me.
“Somebody bombed us this morning – we’re at war.” She spoke to me gravely, and without a lot of fanfare. This was the voice of experience, sad experience – a woman who had lived through The Great Depression, World War II, The Korean War, Vietnam, and countless other battles.
I stood up quickly, peppering her with questions as she lead me to the living room, and ultimately the television set.
The Twin Towers.
Someone flew two planes into them.
Is everyone okay?
No, of course they’re not. The buildings collapsed.
Why didn’t you wake me?
I didn’t know it was going to happen. I tuned in right after the confusion following the first plane, and then when everything else went down, I wasn’t sure you wanted to see it.
I sat there numbly beside her, staring at the images. It seemed surreal – too much for my brain to handle.
For once, even the news stations seemed subdued. There was no point in trying for sensationalism – it was awful enough without any gimmicks. The worst part was not knowing —- how many? How many died? How many were still trapped? Why? Was this the end of the attack, or just the beginning?
The uncertainty that had gripped me just hours before returned, settling in my stomach as I sat beside my grandmother, silently watching. Mushroom clouds of ash, grey, numb faces….. I closed my eyes as they showed the footage of the jumpers.
I could handle the rest, but the sight of the twisting, falling bodies, choosing flight over fire…..
One rabid young reporter – cloaked in the same colorless uniform as dust as everyone else – stationed himself at the foot of one of the towers.
“This is Generic News Station One, reporting live from the base of what used to be the south tower. Behind me you can see the decimation, the..” he trailed off, looking over his shoulder as two firefighters stumbled from the wreckage. “Here! Here we have two heroic firefighters, just emerging from what appears to be a dangerous trip in the unstable wreckage, risking life and limb in an attempt to pull people to safety. Tell us – what is it like down there?”
The older firefighter stared at the reporter, then simply left.
The reporter didn’t miss a beat, simply shifting his microphone to the second, colorless, grey-cloaked firefighter.
There was a pause, then:
“You don’t want to know.”
The young firefighter shook his head, sending up a cloud of dust, voice distant. Emotionless. Haunted.
The reporter pressed on. “Our viewers back home are praying for you and your fellow emergency service personnel…. they are watching, desperate to know…. what is it like down there? Is it chaotic? Are they evacuating, or going back in? Were you able to rescue anyone? How did you escape? Tell us – what is it like?”
Leave him alone, I thought, hating the reporter, his questions, and all news media. Savages. Wolves. Crows, pecking at the eyes of a fawn. I hated that reporter, yet I held my breath, waiting for the answer.
The fireman ignored the camera, which was inching closer, zooming tightly on his grey face and bleak, bleak, seen-too-much eyes.
He stared at the reporter in silence – an uncomfortably long silence, made doubly so by the fact that it was a national news station.
“You. Don’t. Want. To. Know.” He brushed past the reporter, leaving him shaken. The reporter stared after him for a quiet moment, before regrouping and facing the camera again.
The way he said it – the look in that firefighter’s eyes – it said more to me than any images I’ve seen. It still haunts me.
I remember struggling with the decision about whether or not I should go to class. I’d had a busy day planned that day – school in the morning, followed by driving out to help Thom Cain with his horses. A late lunch with my grandma, and homework.
But now there was—-this. Death. Uncertainty. Fear. Horror. How was I supposed to go to class when something like this was going on?
Slowly, the fear and sorrow began to evolve. The longer I thought about the more I realized that something about the whole thing made me mad.
And not a little bit mad.
A LOT mad.
How dare they? What a waste. What an absolute, disgusting waste of human life…and for what? War is bad enough, but this? What was I supposed to learn from this? I mean, they must have an agenda, right? Who they heck were “they” anyways? How was this supposed to make me aware of their cause? Was it supposed to make me feel like they had something worth listening to?
It pissed me off.
Screw them. Screw them and their planes. I wasn’t going to spend the rest of the day hiding in my house, glued to the news media. Unlike the people in those towers, and on those airplanes, I still had my life, and I intended to keep living it.
And I damned well didn’t intend to live it in fear.
So I went to school.
And I drove over to Thom’s house. And I saddled up one of his stallions and rode it, despite the fact that I’d never ridden a stallion before.
I convinced my Grandma to go with me to Bakersfield for lunch. I had no appetite, but I ate anyways. My lips were thin with anger, my chin was jutting stubbornly, my stomach was nervously complaining, but I ate that damn lunch.
We listened to the radio the entire way and the entire drive back.
We didn’t exactly laugh and have a good time.
But we went. I was bound and determined to fill that day with memories other than carnage, and horror, and sadness.
And you know what?
The stallion was sweet, and the ride was thrilling.
The lunch was delicious.
My classes were informative.
Maybe I don’t remember all the details of each event, but I did something other than mourn on 9/11. I lived my life, in honor of those who had no life left to live, and in silent protest against the day.
I was twenty years old on 9/11.
It’s been ten years.
Grandma’s dead now. I sold my old Ford Ranger. I am no longer living in the valley. I have a husband. Two beautiful boys. A career. A savings account.
Life did go on, one tiny step at a time.
But you know what? If I close my eyes, I’m right back there on that faded white couch, worn leather creaking as Grandma and I lean forward, staring quietly at the outdated television
It’s the first time we’ve had a terrorist attack on our own soil, Becky. You watch. This will change things. Before, this sort of stuff has always been somewhere else. Now it’s here. They hit us at home. We can’t go back. This is going to change this land.
I nod, averting my eyes too late as they show another clip of one of the jumpers.
I wish I hadn’t gone back to sleep. I wish I had stayed up in those pre-dawn hours, and prayed. No, it probably wouldn’t have changed anything, but still.
I wish I had stayed awake and prayed.