September 11, 2011

The sun was shining through the orange treetops that September Sunday morning as Audrey and I prepared Max for his daily walk.

Audrey was six (but almost seven, as she reminded us all) with brown hair, brown eyes, and a winning smile that was missing a tooth in front. We zipped up our hooded sweatshirts and headed out into the crisp air.

She could usually fill the entire walk with her prattling on about this whimsy and that, but today she was quieter. “Mama?”

“Yes Love?” I replied, bracing myself for what I knew was coming.

“Where were you when the planes hit the buildings?”

She looked at me with a serious face that a six-year-old (but almost seven) should never be allowed to have. I sighed, for I had tried my best to keep her away from the news for the past few days and apparently failed.

“Well, Audrey, I was at work at the newspaper, far away from New York and Washington.” I lied. Two hours away from either location wasn’t far enough that day, and although 10 years have passed, it still seems like yesterday.

“How did you know?” she continued.

“Like a lot of people, I heard it on the radio and then saw it on television. I watched it with a lot of people from work. We were all very sad.”

Max snuffled and did his business by a tree. Audrey slipped her hand into mine. I thought we were through.

“Were you scared?”

I wanted to tell her I was terrified. I wanted to tell her that I thought the world was going to end. I remembered the sounds of everybody at work calling their loved ones. I remembered the stress headaches I had for weeks afterward. Instead, I took another slow breath.

“I think we all were. The pictures of the buildings being on fire and falling down on television were scary. Have you seen them?”

She nodded solemnly and I hugged her.

“Damned television,” I thought to myself. “Running those pictures over and over…they had to be promoting a 9/11 special during her cartoon time.”

Max tugged us out of the hug, and we continued around the corner. Cowed by the silence, I felt the need to continue but was interrupted.

“What did you do?”

“We knew what we had to do…we had to stay at work to make sure that we could get as much news out to our readers as possible.”

Another half-truth. Very few people wanted to stay at work that day. The Circulation and Marketing departments saw the tragic events as a revenue-building opportuntity, and rushed to put out an afternoon edition about the horrors. Reporters started to track down the victims’ familes for what would lead to a lifetime of probing questions and interview requests. Non-essential workers were sent to street corners in our circ area to hawk the extra editions. And I fought back tears as Damon and I pushed news and photos live over the website for hours without a break.

Ten years later and I still remember the dead calm of the skies as every flight was grounded for two days. I still remember watching the planes when they did begin to fly again. Was that one flying erratically? Was it flying too low? I remember the days when you could meet your loved ones at the airplane gate. I remember being able to enter Disney’s Magic Kingdom without having your bags searched.

Audrey will never know those lost freedoms, as small as they may seem.

Most of all I remember the majesty of the World Trade Center. Two utilitarian buildings, simple in their rectangular design, piercing the eastern NYC skyline. Now replaced by an artsy-fartsy memorial complex. I remember when David and I used to stay across the street from the towers. I used to scoot over to the Krispy Kreme at 5 World Trade Center in the mornings to watch the donuts come off of the conveyor belt. On one NYC trip, I lay on my back on the concrete plaza between the towers to take their photos. The tops were shrouded in fog. I deleted the picture from my digital camera, knowing I’d get a better shot another day. That day never came.

But it’s 10 years past. And Audrey is here, looking up at me, sensing that I’m deep in thought. Small child with big worries. I smiled down at her to ease her mind. “What’s most important, Audrey, is that we remember that although many people were hurt and died that sad day, our country spent a lot of money and time to make sure our planes wouldn’t be stolen again by people who want to hurt others. ” She smiled back at me, reassured by my “honesty.”

Our house is now in sight, and Audrey and Max race for the door. This day, two young legs defeat four old ones. Her giggles cut through the crisp air, followed quickly by the sound of the door slamming behind her.

One year. Five years. Ten years. Time flies, but the horror of that day will never fade.

Naturally, some of the above is fictional and all of it was written in advance

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