The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Thursday, July 07, 2005

An unwanted memory

Julia woke up fairly early this morning and Paul and I were both trying to catch a few more minutes of sleep when she came into our room. She asked if she could turn the television on and Paul wordlessly handed her the remote control before rolling over and burying his head in the pillow. A minute later, he was sitting straight up and squinting at the television as news of the London transportation bombings came into focus.

We don't have family in London, but Paul, who travels there for work at least a half dozen times a year, has many friends there. One of the areas hit in today's attack is very close to his company's London office, and he's in that station often, even plans to be there again several weeks from now, in fact. He watched the news closely for a bit, then hopped online to IM some British friends and make sure everyone was OK. As I helped Julia to switch the channel to children's programming, I was reminded of the day nearly 4 years ago that we were the ones whom everyone was checking in on.

I was a little late to work on the morning of September 11, due to a delayed commuter train which ironically probably ended up saving the lives of some of the passengers who muttered irritably alongside me as we finally entered New York's Penn Station just after 9am. I caught a train across town and then stopped to pick up some breakfast at a cafe in the basement of my building as I came up from the subway stop directly underneath my office. As I waited for my bagel, I heard people talking about a plane, still believed to be a small aircraft, that had apparently hit the World Trade Center. People were gathered at a large projection television, scrambling for a look at early news reports, but I didn't stop to look. I had my own television set in my own office just upstairs, and since my office was just down the hall from the news division's PR staff, I knew I had a better chance of getting the full scoop up there. I grabbed my bagel, paid the cashier and hurried upstairs.

That glimpse I had gotten of the TV screen downstairs turned out to be the most coverage I would see for many hours. When I reached the lobby, chaos surrounded me. The second plane had just hit and it was suddenly clear that this was no accident. There was fear that 30 Rockefeller Center, one of the tallest buildings in midtown, would be the next building under attack. Dick Ebersol, the President of NBC Sports at the time, was standing at my elevator bank instructing all but essential personnel to evacuate the building. I took one look at my pregnant belly and decided that I was far from essential.

Outside the building, I wondered what to do next. I clearly wasn't turning around and heading back to New Jersey, nor was I able to take refuge in my office. All around me, people were trying to reach friends and family on their cell phones with no success; the cell lines in the city were essentially useless. I grabbed a friend I found wandering equally aimlessly, and together we walked over to Paul's building, which was only a few blocks away. He wasn't answering his phone, but I managed to convince the security guards to let us upstairs (a foolish decision on their parts given what was going on that day, but one that I was nonetheless grateful for). We sat in his office and waited for him for the next hour, completely cut off from the news we so craved. The phone lines were jammed, the Internet was equally jammed and there were no televisions or radios in the office. There was nothing to do but sit and wonder, wait and worry.

Paul finally came back to his office, relieved to find me there but full of work he still needed to do as his team scrambled to protect financial data essential to the bank's operations. I was terrified to leave him and frankly had nowhere to go. And so I sat for nearly six hours, watching him work and gently rubbing my belly as the baby inside of me twisted and kicked, no doubt agitated by my own distress. Bits and pieces of news trickled in -- we knew when the towers fell, casualty reports would occasionally be updated -- just enough to hint at the enormity of what had happened that morning. What kind of a world was I bringing a child into, I wondered as I sat there. And would anything ever be the same again?

We slept at our friends' home in the city that night, unwilling to navigate an 8+ hour commute home if we didn't' have to. All night, I dreamt of collapsing buildings and the eerie silence of a city that is always filled with noise. The next day, taking the train back to New Jersey, I cried as we past station after station filled with cars that had never been claimed the previous day. Over the next week, I spent countless hours logging our network's coverage of the 9/11 aftermath; not at all the kind of thing that was in my usual job description, but it was what needed to be done and thus was what I did. I commuted to and from work past thousands and thousands of handmade "missing" signs and the faces of those we soon knew to be permanently lost fascinated me even as they haunted me. A month later, my terror was renewed as anthrax was found a few floors away from where I worked. "They're coming for me next," I thought as I waited in line with thousands of other NBC employees to be swabbed for exposure to the deadly disease. Throughout it all, Julia swam inside of me as I wondered again and again what it would be like for her to grow up as an American in the aftermath of what our country had just experienced.

Life does eventually return to normal, even when your reality is irrevocably altered by events like those of September 11. While the world is certainly a scarier place that we realized before that day, the intensity of my fear has naturally lessened in the ensuing years. I rarely think of my children's safety in the global sense that I worried about it in late September of 2001; I'm far more likely to fear losing them in a terrible accident or abduction than in a terrorist attack. But when things like today's bombing happen, those emotions come flooding back along with the memories. Julia was curiously silent as we watched the news this morning. "Do you understand what they're talking about?" I asked her after a few minutes. She refused to answer me and I decided not to push the issue any further. Whatever she absorbed of today's news is reality and there's no way I'll be able to shield her from it forever. But whatever went over her head, I'm grateful for. She'll have time enough to know that the world is a scary place. And once she fully grasps that fact, she'll never be able to completely forget it.


At 8:56 PM, Blogger Kristy said...

One of my clearest memories from that day was standing in front of a television, holding *my* very pregnant belly, and watching the second tower fall. I broke down in tears, as much for the people I knew were realizing their deaths at that very moment, as for the child inside me who would never know a world with the twin towers and all they represented.

A couple of years later, my husband's aunt sent us, innocently enough, a book called "The Man Who Walked Between the Towers." It's a stunning book. I could hardly get through it -- I audibly choked at the end as I read it to my daughter and thought of that moment once again.

At 10:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne said...

I was pregnant on September 11th, too. I felt grief-stricken over the attacksand over the idea of bringing a child into such a newly (for Americans, at least) scary world.

Like you, Rebecca, that fear had abated somewhat, and I am glad that my children are far too young to understand what's going on now.

Thanks for such a thoughtful post.


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