September 11, 2001, was a beautiful day in New England. People forget that. I put on a bathing suit and went out on the deck of my parents house in Quincy, Massachusetts to soak up the last of the summer sun. Unconsciously, I was sharing the blue skies and scattered clouds with the people of New York City, the last beautiful morning before the worst day of their lives. When my mother slid the deck’s sliding glass door open and muttered “they just flew a plane into the World Trade Center. We’re at war,” I thought “Wait, what? With who? What’s happening?” But my stunned mother just helplessly shuffled away, leaving me in the dark.
I got dressed and joined the collective, sitting myself down in front of a TV for hours. I watched a plane crash repeatedly into the first tower with my hand hovering over my mouth in disbelief. One of the first people I saw interviewed that day was a kid fresh out of college and clearly in his first job. He was thrilled to be interviewed, and towering over the reporter, he smiled into the camera and proclaimed that it wasn’t that bad, people were getting out pretty quick. I think about him all the time and wonder what happened to him that day.
Watching the blue skies of New York being repeatedly sliced in half by an airplane crashing into tower number one, I remembered back to another summer day when I was 19 and living with my cousin in Brooklyn. I went to the World Trade Center to have lunch with a friend. I was lost and walked around one of those buildings feeling like I had just walked from one side of Manhattan to the other. I was hot and exhausted. Those buildings were huge, solid, gray, and unshakeable. I looked up and couldn’t see the top from where I stood at the bottom. Never in a million years did I think I would see them billowing smoke and crumbling from the sky into a heap of rubble and dust.
And then I thought about my relationship. In traumatic situations you immediately think of the people you love. You reach out and make sure they’re ok. But my shitty relationship, with a sociopath who lit up the world with his gaslighting, would fade in and out of my consciousness all day. I felt obligated to call him but didn’t, and he didn’t call me. As the morning went on, tower number two got hit right in front of our eyes. This time we all saw it. It happened on live TV while we were watching tower number one fall apart. It interrupted the questions being asked of loved ones and co-workers in front of TVs all across America, “Did you see that? What was that? Was that a body, or part of the building? Was that a person?” A day that felt like it couldn’t get worse, just doubled in horror.
And still, I had no desire to talk to my shitty boyfriend. Two years with this guy, fighting, making up, being cheated on, the constant lying, and now, while I watched the most horrific event that would happen in my lifetime (knock on wood), I realized that I had no desire to spend another minute with this person. This misery had led me to clarity.
The day unfolded. The towers collapsed. United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked with the intent to crash into the Pentagon. Hearing of what had happened in New York, the passengers and crew overtook the hijackers, some were able to call their families to say I love you and goodbye. The people on that flight would go down in history as heroes, just as they had gone down in the third plane crash that day. The sun set. Our tears dried. Our horror was numbed.
At some point, the boyfriend and I decided to meet for dinner. The world had changed. My perspective had shifted. I went from trying to make this relationship work to not caring if I ever saw him again. People were spending the night wondering if their husbands, wives, or children had survived the day, and I was pushing food around on a plate wondering if this relationship would survive the night.
A pickup truck drove by with two huge American flags fluttering behind it while the driver honked his horn and every single person on the road honked back. I felt like we were all on the same team, united during this time of crisis. I felt like I could go to bed that night without locking the doors to my house or car because there was no way that a fellow American would do anything to hurt me. We’d all been hurt enough. I felt connected to every person in the United States of America, every single person, except the one I was sitting across from.