I watched the horror unfold on TV, like most of you, a spectacular bright morning in New York exploding into real-time red and orange and yellow terror. My sister Tonette, who lives in Phoenix and rises at the crack of dawn, called me that morning to ask if I’d heard about the plane that crashed into the World Trade Center.
“It’s like when Dad was a kid,” I said, or she said. Our father was probably 14 when an airplane hit the Empire State Building, and he pedaled like mad from the Lower East Side, uptown to see what was happening.
Of course, 9/11 was nothing like that.
I turned on the TV, to see what Tonette was talking about, and saw the second plane hit the building. Stayed glued to the tube most of the day as the story unfolded, morphing from accident to multi-pronged attack to total collapse.
I was already experiencing a foxhole kind of anxiety, a well-honed paranoia that stretched back a month. The pot of coffee just sat there, full and untouched.
Our son Joey had been born five weeks earlier, three months ahead of his expected arrival, looking very much like a special effect, a human raisin the size of my hand. He would spend almost three months in the hospital. In fact, the day after the terrorist attacks some sick-minded bastard called a bomb threat into the neonatal intensive care unit. We all knew it was a prank, but still. There were nurses wearing yellow kangaroo pouches so they could carry multiple babies down the escape routes. Fortunately, it never came to that.
So, 9/11 always will represent a bad time for my family and I, a day of increased anxiety when we thought our emotions were already being pulled apart — our thoughts always with those innocent people, those wives and husbands, fathers, daughters, mothers and sons, wiped out, because they showed up for work that morning; with their surviving families and friends; with the selfless, uncommon, underpaid heroes, who rushed into the collapsing tonnage.
But mostly, I’ll remember that day and that time for what was happening closer to home: Joey, unaware of the world beyond his incubator, and our daily trips to the hospital, and the days and nights we spent there. I’ll think of how our family’s lives were forever changed, of everything Joey represented and represents – uncertainty and hope, sadness and joy, possibility and unconditional love and changing priorities.
When the terrorists – those useless wastes of pulsing mass – struck, the whole country seemed to come together in its grief. But since then, we’ve bounced apart, like the second half of the Big Bang. We became less like a nation of engaged, concerned citizens, and more like a nation of superficial socialite consumers, running the ideological gamut from left to right, waving little American flags made in China, a herd that doesn’t know it is a herd.
Later that day, after the towers had fallen, crushing the hope of so many, I drove to the hospital to spend the night with my son. As usual, I drove with a shred of hope that this might be the night I could hold him, my heart pounding with fear and tenderness.
Never forget? Do I have a choice?