Friday, September 11, 2009

Memory Lane

Every year I do not memorialize what happened on this day.  But I just finished reading several things that have brought up a lot of recollections of not so long ago.

My job at the time was all about vocational assessments.  Want a job, but not sure what you're good at?  Want a better job, but need more skills?  I could administer the assessments, evaluate the results and make recommendations that might even get you to your goals.  It was a great job.  I loved it.

Eight years ago I was getting ready for work in the morning, when I heard the news on the radio.  I don't remember the words.  I do remember understanding that the second plane was on purpose.

I wanted a little bit to turn on the television.  I'm not one to gawk at car accidents, so the urge wasn't that great.  Plus, one time I did turn on the TV only to find myself glued to a shoot-out with a group of heavily armed bank robbers in L.A.  The memory of watching people die and other people being terrorized quelled any desire to find out what CNN or the local news people would be saying.  And Corey was only eight years old.  He couldn't watch that.

***Oddly enough, whenever I do think about that day, Corey has always been five.  He must have become even smaller and more vulnerable because maybe that's how I felt, too.

My mind raced as I tried to figure out what to tell Corey.  I had to go to work.  I was expected to test about a dozen people.  Missing the day might mean burning sick time for me, but for them it could mean waiting until the next open test date... and then waiting to start school.  Corey had to go to school.  Kids would be saying things.

I debated calling Tom.  He still lived outside Chicago, where he was a student/employee at Northwestern.  He and I were in the midst of what I'd call a cranky period.  We were trying our best to make this long distance relationship work, but it wasn't working like it did in the beginning.  We'd been arguing rather a lot, and were in the midst of yet another row.  Part of me wanted to have him soothe my own fears.  Part of me wanted advice on how to help Corey through.  That second part was really looking for a way to make up for pushing us into another argument, I think.

I called and he was more interested in helping a girl in his office at first while we were talking, but back then we did tend to be a bit tit-for-tat.  So glad we are (mostly) not like that anymore.  All the same, that phone call is usually one of the first things I think of as I try to avoid imagining the horror experienced by the people in the planes and in the buildings.  We did end the call in a more unified manner.  I've since heard stories of the ignited passions and newfound or suddenly dropped loves caused by that day.  So many passionate stories, but ours was just another very common struggle to stay together.  Rather mediocre.  I've always felt a little gypped.

***Yes, I understand the bigger picture here.  All the same, that's not what this is about.

After we got off the phone, I talked with Corey.  I explained that something bad had happened with some planes crashing in New York.  We didn't know for sure what happened or why.  He was going to hear things at school from the other kids.  Some of it might be true, but a lot of it probably wouldn't be.  Anything that he wasn't sure of or that made him afraid should be run by me.

The drive to work was 26 miles of mostly open roads.  Every one of my clients (I always considered them testees, but that's probably a story for another day) showed up that day.  I wasn't sure if anybody didn't know what had happened, and I didn't want to stress them if they didn't.  What I wanted to be was calm, reassuring... I'm not entirely sure that's how I came off with my, "I'm sure we don't have to worry about anything happening here since we're in San-Freaking-Bernardino" speech, but whatever.  I'm never quite as smooth as I want to be.

They all stayed, worked hard.  If I recall correctly (who knows?), they all did well.  Once we were done, I was out of there.  Mid-afternoon and I recall being in one of five cars on the 215 freeway.  As most of us merged onto the 10, everybody gave way more of a cushion than you'd normally see even at  2:30 in the morning.  The sense was that we were all upset, but... and this next part is from someone who is not a fan of big-mouthed, small-brained patriotism... we were all Americans and we were going to get through this together.  Even if this was just the evening commute.

When I picked Corey up, I learned that he'd been told that L.A. was "next."  I pointed out that the person saying that couldn't possibly know it and added somewhat feebly that we weren't that close to Los Angeles.  I tried not to recall those late night, teenaged drives to my friends in Hollywood.  I could make it in 31 minutes.

The TV stayed off that night, too.  I didn't see the photos of people wedged up between those vertical outer walls for nearly six months.  I will still never forget them.

What were they thinking? 

What is it like to be in that sort of position and not live.  I mean, we hear all the time stories of facing down death and surviving.  Some of them must have expected as they pressed their hands and feet outward to remain attached to the building that a helicopter... King Kong... a magic carpet... something was going to save them.

How long were they aware of the descent?

When I look at the photos or videos of the giant grayish-white cloud clawing its way through Manhattan, I wonder how much of it was just alive a minute or two ago?

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