Eleven years ago, on an eerily beautiful morning.
I was 21 years old, a college student, on my way to work a lunch shift. By the time I got to the restaurant, my co-workers were glued to the TV in the bar area. My manager was crying.
We opened for the restaurant for lunch. Looking back, it was absurd. Office buildings in the area had already started to close, and a group of three office workers came in for lunch. They sat on the patio outside, laughing and chatting. They ordered a pitcher of margaritas. Even though none of us fully understood what was going on out there in the world, something about the group’s casual joviality bothered the entire restaurant staff. The owner came in to the restaurant. He went outside and looked at the group on the patio. He turned around, walked to the manager and said: “Tell them we are closing early.”
The manager went over and gently spoke to the group: “We just wanted to let you know, we are planning to close early. There’s no rush.”
As the manager walked away, a member of the group said: “It takes a national disaster for us to all get together for lunch, and now they are closing early.”
I think about those three people sometimes. I wonder what they say when they find themselves in a “Where were you on 9/11?” conversation.
Maybe they are honest: “We got drunk and laughed our asses off.”
I mean, maybe it is as good as any other answer. I sometimes feel the “where were you?” aspect of this day can be empty and vain. Why does it matter? I was safe, in a suburb of Philadelphia. The worst thing that happened to me that day was that I sat in some extra traffic. My cell phone did not work for a few hours.
Then I remember: we didn’t know we were safe. We didn’t know we were safe.
My sister was living overseas at the time. It took her over eight hours to get through to us on the phone because the landlines were jammed. I sat on the balcony at my parents’ house, describing the beautiful sky to her, which by that time was beginning to turn to dusk. I realized how calm it was. No planes.
“It feels like something is just going to drop out of the clouds at any moment,” I said.
Today is Tuesday, September 11th. This morning, the sun streamed through the curtains. I put my daughter’s hair into pigtails for the first time. It is long enough to do that now. I guided her arms through the sleeves of a cardigan. It’s starting to get chilly in the mornings.