Ten years ago, my husband and I found out we were going to have our first baby. We were thrilled, excited and nervous. I, especially, had mixed feelings about becoming a parent. I knew I wanted to have a family. I knew I wanted to create what I had never had growing up – a family with one mom and one dad in one, stable home. It doesn’t sound that romantic, but for me it was a fantasy that I was making come true. However, I was worried about my ability to parent. To avoid the rejection I’d experienced in my youth, I became skilled at detaching myself quickly from other people, feelings, and situations. I wanted to give my husband a family, but I worried I didn’t have what it would take to be truly, deeply concerned for the welfare and well being of a child. I didn’t want to create children who resented me because I could not love them as fully as they deserved to be loved. I wasn’t totally convinced I could be a good mother.
That was August of 2001. Three weeks later, on September 11, the world changed forever, and so did I.
I was driving into Chicago from my home of Gary, IN (30 miles southeast). I was modeling at a trade show for printing presses. Yes, it was just as exciting as it sounds. I had been driving in silence for some reason for most of my trip, but as I crossed into the city limits I turned on the radio to Mancow Muller’s morning show, just in time to hear him say, “This is not an accident, ladies and gentleman. Mark my words, you will forever remember where you were on this day”. He was talking about the passenger jet that had just crashed into the World Trade Center. As Mancow rehashed the details, I dismissed his warnings as on overreaction – shock jock talk from the Chicago personality who was famous for his conspiracy theories. Then the second plane hit. Mancow told me, and the abject terror in his voice made me begin to scan the Chicago skyline in search of wayward planes ready to fly into the Sears Tower or the center of downtown. “We are under attack, folks. America is under attack” . I’ve been a fan of Mancow for a long time. He has a big mouth and he tells a lot of stories. I was scared, but I still wasn’t sure how serious the whole situation really was.
I pulled into the convention center lot and headed straight for the bar of the attached hotel. I needed to find a TV screen. It was packed. Strangers stood shoulder to shoulder as they watched the horror unfold before their eyes. Some people were crying. I saw the burning towers, and suddenly realized the debris falling from windows nearly 100 stories high was not actually debris, but people. I wept too. A man whom I had seen at the trade show the day before caught my eye. He knew I was pregnant and he made room at his booth for me to sit. We watched in stunned silence together. We tried to make sense of the rumors that there were more planes in the air, missiles loaded with people and fuel, ready to kill. We saw the Pentagon burning. Then the first tower fell – oh, who among us could ever forget that image? I screamed out loud and turned to my companion “Are there people in there?” I cried. He looked at me sympathetically. It was such a foolish question, but he seemed to understand that I just couldn’t process what was happening. He nodded. By that point I’d had all I could take. I was watching people, Americans, die before my very eyes and there was not a damn thing I could do to help. I hugged my still flat tummy and prayed, “Lord, I’m so scared. I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t understand what’s going on. But please, I just need to see this baby.”
September 11, 2001 – that was the first time I felt like a mother. I suddenly, shockingly understood what it felt like to be a parent; to have no other concern above protecting the life of my child; to have no other desire then to kiss and smell and hold the life that love had created; to be so desperate to shield my child from harm that I would do anything, ANYTHING to see my baby.
As American authorities slowly began to stabilize the crisis, many of us went back to work. The trade show was an international event, and for the buyers and marketers this was a terrible tragedy, but not an international one. I chose to stay and earn my day’s wage, but I stayed as close to the televisions as I could all day. My drive home that evening was lonely. It was the tail end of the typical rush hour but the famously congested Dan Ryan Expressway was nearly empty. I sailed home, and thankfully so. I needed to see my husband. I raced in the door and straight into his waiting arms. He hugged me tightly and told me he was so glad I was finally home. We were together, and that made things seem a little more tolerable for the moment. I thought about all the people all over America who were greeting each other the exact same way. Most of us were in no immediate danger and yet we all shared the same fear that day. It wasn’t just New York City and the capitol that had been attacked – America had been attacked, and we were all Americans; and we were all scared. Suddenly, in just hours, there was no need more pressing then the need to hold who we loved – tightly.
It seems unreal that it was ten years ago. For me, the pain and the fear are still so very real. My tears have not yet dried. I weep, still.
Mancow was right. We will all remember where we were on that horrifying morning. For many Americans, 9/11 represents the day when we were all briefly united on one accord, with one common concern and common cause. For others, 9/11 represents the day when America became more than just an idea to take for granted. For others still, it is the day when the people they loved most in the world left for work, but never returned home. For every American alive that day, it means something.
As for me, I’ll remember 9/11 as the day my whole world shifted. That is the day I experienced my first maternal pangs, the ones I had worried I would never possess. Among the wreckage and carnage and utter horror, this mother’s heart was finally born. And I will never forget that. I will never forget.