Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11/For The Record

My experience of September 11, 2001, as I remember it:

We were staying that week in Ocean City, New Jersey, in a blue rental beach house in the 3400 block of Central Ave.  "We" consisted of Andy &Michele and our then-"enormous" brood of 5 kids - Sarah (10), Scott (8), Brian (5), Conor (3), and Clare, (3 months), as well as my mother, who was still well enough to travel with us.

Beach houses come with standard cable TV, sometimes one in every room. Since we had taken the plunge and canceled cable in the fall of 1998, the only chances the kids had to flip channels and melt their brains were when they visited grandparents or during our beach vacation.  Consequently, the television(s) were on nonstop (it was their vacation too, after all) and Andy and I did our level best to ignore them, turn them off, or pry the kids away from them.

That particular Tuesday morning Andy had taken the older kids down to the beach by 8:00 a.m. to fly kites, while I stayed behind to care for the baby and the younger ones.  When I finally made my way to the living room just before 9:00 a.m., the television was on AGAIN with my mother glued to the set.  The first plane had crashed into the tower about ten minutes prior.

Now you have to understand, my mother is one of those who couldn't miss "her shows" - every morning news program, Rosie, Oprah, the evening news, the daily number, every single Philllies game and Tiger Woods match, and "Wheel."  I hated it.  You couldn't talk to her or even get between her and the television when her programs were on.  Heaven forbid she miss the daily number.  What was the answer to that puzzle?  Did they win the trip to Hawaii?  Incessant boring golf matches. Aargh!  Spending a week living with it day and night was wearing on my nerves.  So when she called me over to watch the coverage, my reaction was, "Yeah, yeah, whatever.  A plane crashed into a building."  It was unarguably a tragedy for all those involved, but there are lots of sad things in this world.  Why should I watch one more?  I headed down to the beach to watch the kites.

Scott received an awesome blue biplane kite for his birthday that year, and it was a perfect day for flying - brilliantly blue skies dotted with puffy clouds, a brisk ocean breeze, an empty beach drenched with warm golden sunshine.  The only hitch was that his kite only came with about a hundred feet of string.  I volunteered to pop over to the boardwalk kite shop to get a longer spool.

In the kite shop, all the televisions were also on the same channels, and by then the second plane had struck.  I bought a 500 foot spool of string while keeping one eye on the screens, as we were all starting to piece together the information and realize that this wasn't just a bizarre coincidence.  The sun-drenched morning seemed to grow darker as a knot of fear twisted up in the pit of my stomach.  Everything wasn't right with the world.  It occurred to me for the first time that this life I was living, this peace and relaxation and safety I enjoyed and took for granted, was nothing more than a fragile facade that could be shattered at someone's whim.  We were vulnerable.  I was scared.

I took the kite string back to the beach and helped Scott tie it on while I related everything I knew so far to Andy and the kids.  Scott was really anxious to get the biplane kite going high, so we stayed on the beach for a while, but the anxiety and fear of the unknown was growing all the while.  Scott got the biplane going so high and so fast that it wasn't long before  he approached the end of the spool   It was with dismay that we abruptly learned that the kite string wasn't secured to the spool, as we had assumed it would be.  We all stood, open-mouthed, as the string paid out completely and the biplane went sailing, tethered no more, out above the wide-open Atlantic.  We watched until there wasn't even a speck left in the sky.

The rest of the day, nay, the rest of the week was surreal.  On the normally bustling boardwalk, small knots of people were clustered motionless around television screens, staring in disbelief as the story unfolded.  People were more subdued and polite to each other.  Andy and strongly felt that we needed to be at the special Mass that was hastily scheduled that first day.  Churches everywhere were packed.  I would never have suspected before that day that so many people would flock to worship and pray together in the wake of such a tragedy.

I felt so guilty to be on vacation, to be able to enjoy such glorious weather.  I felt vulnerable and unsafe.  It felt wrong to laugh or smile or even talk.  I kept glancing north up the coastline, as if I'd be able to see the smoke from 130 miles away.  I didn't want to let the children out of my sight.  I wept, watching each more shocking video that surfaced, showing the horrors faced and the desperation of some of the victims.  I wept at each poster and flyer made for the missing persons, and prayed for the families who were waiting for news, begging God to let them be restored to each other.  And I was, and still am, proud, so fiercely proud, of the bravery, the tenacity, the resourcefulness and the determination of all those people who were affected by the attacks or involved in the rescue and restoration efforts.


  1. Classic! So classic, it would have made good fiction. Lamenting the Mom's light viewing, and going off to fly a kite. Feeling insecure, yet not enough to hold the string as well as the spool. Air space shut down across the USA, and you send up a kite. Mark Twain himself would give a thumbs up to this blog entry! Te salutamus. :)

  2. Possibly the only kite in America to attract the attention of an F-16.