I was busy at work, having begun my shift at 8 a.m. that morning, serving customers, putting away stock, preparing displays when a woman came in and told me a plane had crashed into one of the towers. We lamented about how horrible that was, what a tragic accident…then went on our own ways. Working in a grocery store in the seafood department, I had much to do that morning…I thought it was just like any other day. Customers calmly strolled the aisles picking up items and distributing them in their wobbly carts, children stretched tiny arms out from the seat in the carts, trying in vain to grasp colorfully boxed treats while their mothers scolded and turned their carts away from temptations and into the meat section. The manager stopped by to study my display and smile a “Good morning”. Yes, it WAS a good morning, indeed, everything was moving right along quite nicely and soon it would be time for me to take a break in the clear, cool morning a morning that was just as normal and mundane as any other…or was it?
Shortly after I’d received news about a plane crash in New York City, another customer shared the news also, elaborating that: “They think another plane crashed into the tower!” She’d just heard on her car radio before stopping by to buy some halibut for dinner. While I wrapped her order and slapped a price tag on the package, we talked and tsked, tsked about how awful the news was, what a bizarre coincidence; two planes in one morning?? Somebody, I thought, must have gotten their wires crossed, this kind of accident just doesn’t happen. As the woman walked away from my counter, I watched her go thinking that she must have been mistaken and misunderstood the news announcement thinking the one crash was followed by a second: “Same plane” I figured, but turned back to my work a little unsettled.
If this was going on, why were people calmly walking around the store? Why were others coming through the automatic doors with pleasant smiles on their faces? Why hadn’t we heard anything announced over the P.A. system? Surely if there was something more sinister going on, SOMEone would tell us….wouldn’t they??
I welcomed my relief, leaving my post to stand outside in the sunny, fresh fall morning where I smoked a cigarette and smiled at patrons going by. Wow, what a georgous morning! Fall is one of my favorite seasons, all crisp, clean and the fragrant earth all ready to close up shop and go to sleep for the winter, only to stretch, yawn and release it’s infant treasures in the spring. How blessed we were to live in such a beautiful country!
Back at my post, i continued working, customers came and went without any further word, I even inquired about any news, but most hadn’t heard anything about it, then I noticed a friend of mine marching up an aisle toward my counter and when I noticed the grim look on her face and the ruffled look of her clothing, the smile faded from my lips. without thinking, she almost walked right into my department beyond the counter so I moved towards her and it was then that I realized how pale she was, not to mention the black smudges around her eyes. ‘Oh, God!’ I thought, ‘Something has happened to one of the kids!’
No, it wasn’t her children, it was someone elses children, someones son’s and daughters, someone’s mom, someone’s brother, someone’s father, uncle, aunt and sister!
I went numb with shock as she related the mornings events to me: “I’ve been watching it all morning on T.V.” she cried, panicked and hyperventilating, “people are jumping….JUMPING out of the buildings, the towers are collapsing….WHY IS EVERYBODY WALKING AROUND LIKE NOTHING HAPPENED??!!” She broke down, sobbing, choking on each labored breath and I hugged her, absently saying “I don’t know, I don’t know.” I glanced around the store…she was right, there were the customers, still calmly pushing carts and squeezing grapefruits while my friend sobbed and shook in my arms. Everything had slowed down as if somewhere, someone pushed a ‘slow’ button on some giant television controller…I heard a baby wail and a man laugh…everything was normal.
My friend begged me to leave the store, she didn’t want to be alone, was I going on break soon? I calmed her down, giving her something to wipe her face, while I appologized for having already gone on break, but my lunch hour would be coming up soon, could she wait? As I went back to customers, she remained close, leaning against a wall waiting for me and looking like she was the loneliest, most lost soul in the world.
That lunch hour was spent on her couch in her living room watching CNN replay the horror over and over again while she relayed the news she’d heard earlier. I listened, but her words sounded as if they were coming down a long tube towards me, as I tried to make sense of the images I was seeing. By this time, the towers had both fallen and panicked screams, wails of firetrucks and ash-covered victims stepped out of the thick smoke and into the dim light of New York streets. I looked as if there was a huge cloud over the city, blackening out Septembers warm sun…the same sun that was now streaming through our windows. While I watched, horrified and shocked, tears streamed down my face, I wasn’t so hungry anymore and I wondered about my husband, son and daughter…were they safe right now? Had some idiot driver maybe crashed into our vehicle or run over one of my children while they went about their day? (my daughter lived a distance away). Or was there other planes, right this moment, headed for Toronto and all the family and friends who lived there?
We sat in her living room, crying and feeling sick to our stomachs and feeling vulnerable. ‘This’, I thought, ‘is almost what it must have felt like for my parents and grandparents who’d lived through WWII.’ I knew the enormity of the two wasn’t the same…but the horror was…it was as if a war had been waged on a very small scale but with massive destruction.
I went through the motions for the rest of my shift, eager to get away and safely home with my family that evening, fumbling with the lock when I arrived, and kicking off my shoes as I located the controller which would make the T.V. burst to life.
There my husband, son and I sat watching in disbelief, horror, shock and sympathy long into the night. When everyone else had gone to bed, I watched…not out of gruesome facination but out of shock…I was still trying to make sense of it in my mind. I felt frightened and vulnerable, but mostly I felt like a mother, a lover, a sister, a friend and a daughter…just like many of the women in and out of those buildings. I cried and cried for all the pain this news was bringing…and would bring…to families. I cried for all of the times I heard people make durrogatory comments about ‘Americans’. I cried because I couldn’t take one of my American sisters in my arms and tell her how sorry I was. Ultimately, I cried because people could be so damn selfish and uncaring most of the time…our world was SO small and, damn it, it didn’t matter if we were separated by borders or distinguished by our different accents…we were all humans who deserved the right to live, love and laugh no matter where we happened to be born. This…THIS sickening event, should not have to be borne by anyone. At this time in our history…had we not suffered enough to understand how vital it is to accept each other and patiently embrace differences without hatred and violence?
My final tears were for tomorrow…what things would our children have to experience before they understood behind every comforting, fall sun…there is a shadow that falls across their faces?