Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Best 9/11 Yet, and How I Got There

It's an odd thing to say, that I just had my best 9/11 to date, but that's what it was, thanks to the two new beautiful, joyful children in my life. 

If you know me, you know I was living and working in Manhattan on 9/11/01. I didn't know anybody who died, so nothing heartbreaking happened to me that day, but I can say that, so far, it's the scariest day of my life. 

Working as an editorial assistant at SoHo Publishing Company (in a building that had magnificently close views of the twin towers), I had just arrived at work and was speaking with a coworker about the mayoral primary elections when we heard a loud noise and the building shook. Anybody who has spent a good bit of time in NY knows that there are a lot of loud noises in the city. Things rumble. We did notice the noise and kind of jumped, but then we chalked it up to trucks and a loading dock. You learn to not be surprised by much when you live in NY.  We knew within seconds, however, thanks to the almost immediate and endless barrage of sirens, that something was terribly wrong. (Eerily, just before the sirens, our graphic designer quipped that someone should check the trade center.) I heard my editor suddenly say, "Something's wrong. Something's really wrong." Around the same time, someone checked the window and saw the hole and smoke in the first tower. Seconds later, another coworker arrived, breathless, telling us about the plane that had flown right over her head. We all crowded around the window with the trade center view and watched. We assumed the plane had crashed due to error. I called my mother, who was due to leave Memphis for England within hours, to tell her what I had seen. She thought I was joking and asked me to stop. (She stopped after turning on the TV.) As we stood around watching and wondering what was going on, we witnessed the second hit and explosion, gasping in shock. Our brains couldn't catch up with what was going on. Word soon came to us that it was terror. (Of course it was--why else would two planes crash into the tallest and most iconic buildings in Manhattan? Again, when you are watching things like this, your brain has a difficult time making sense of them). We wondered what to do. Should we go into the basement? We were only a ten minute walk from the towers. I called family again from the office to reassure them I was ok. I had not charged my cell phone the night before. I had also taken my prescription of airplane Xanax (for my fear of flying) out of my purse the night before. Man, did I wish I had it at that point. (I kept it in my purse for years afterwards just as a security blanket of sorts.) As I was on the phone, I heard screams, and quickly learned the first tower had collapsed. A few coworkers and I raced to the ATM across the street just in case (second tower collapsed while we were in there, I believe), and then walked downtown, against the tide, to a coworker's apartment in Chinatown. Everyone was advised to go above Canal Street, not below, but we did it anyway because it was the closest. We walked into a crowd of people covered completely in ash. Upon arriving at my coworker's apartment, I was able to use someone else's phone to reassure my parents that I was still ok. We drank beer at 10 am. Several. We were terrified and were trying to calm down. Finally able to see TV, we heard reports that there were more unaccounted planes that may have been hijacked. We feared they too would be used as missiles. Around the same time, we heard planes overhead (I literally thought I was having a heart attack when hearing that), but learned they were fighter jets. Thank GOD. That truly was the most terrifying moment. Soon I found I could escape Manhattan by going with a friend to a another family's house in Connecticut. We boarded a train in Central Station, which we also feared would be hit, and silentlyrode out of the chaos and into small town New England. Four days later, I returned to and attempted to stay in Manhattan, but I just couldn't do it. I might have made it four hours. Since I couldn't get a plane or car, my parakeets and I caught a jam-packed, 27-hour Amtrak train to South Bend, IN, where my parents picked me up. We drove back to Memphis immediately, 9 hours. I went back to NY a couple weeks later and tried to work, but I was still terrified. I moved back home to Memphis in November. I found work at a magazine business in Memphis for three years. Over time, I became severely unhappy at that company, so I took a long leave. I worked at a gourmet cheese/wine/sandwich shop in Maine for close to a year. It was just the time I needed. I learned about varieties of wines and cheeses from the wonderfully kind owners, sampled dishes I'd never tasted by the amazing chefs behind the counter, stocked the shelves with the most beautiful baguettes and rustic Italian loaves. I thought about what I wanted to do, I took solo drives up and down the craggy Maine coast and its beautifully hilly inland. I knew I didn't want the magazine business unless it was in NY, and I just couldn't go back. After a while, when I decided it was time to move home and face reality, my mother suggested teaching so that I could do the one thing I loved most--travel. I would have summers to do that. After earning my masters, I got a job at an inner-city school that soon gained a large African refugee population. Becoming close with the kids and their families over the years is what led me to adopt from Africa. I tried to adopt from their country, Burundi, but that's currently impossible. I ended up with Burundi's neighbor, Congo, and now I have these two incredible, incredible children to love on. 9/11/01 was a horrific day in millions of ways, but it changed my life in some amazing ways. I wouldn't have what I have now if it weren't for that awful day. 

So, back to the best 9/11 to date: Usually 9/11 is a very sad day for me. I think about all the families of missing people who held signs up of their loved ones--signs that looked just like LOST DOG posters. Thousands of them plastered everywhere in downtown Manhattan, where I lived and worked. Each 9/11, I have watched the anniversary memorials, the news reports, and the documentaries. They upset me, but I couldn't seem to turn away. 

Today, as I was preparing my daughter's beloved chai and buttered toast, I flipped on MSNBC to find they were airing the news footage exactly as it aired on 9/11/01. I had never seen it before (very little TV access that day and many channels were out), so I started watching. Sadness overcame me. I thought to myself, "I should turn this off and go into the den with the kids. Lay down on their palette and watch a movie with them. Cheer myself up." And then a funny thing happened--I actually did it and we had such a fun, happy day. I turned the TV off and actually lived a happy day on 9/11. We visited with African friends and my mother, had lunch with one of the kids' godmothers, and spent hours in Toys R Us browsing through the toy section. (All we ended up with was a $3 puzzle for Kina and a $15 push toy for Benjamin Godson.) I watched my kids learn to ride scooters in Toys R Us. Kina even rode a bike (with training wheels) for the first time there. We played with toys without buying them. It was a blast and a good lesson for them in "we can't buy everything we want"--something we are working on and something that is hard for two kids who used to have very little. We ran errands, and I got to watch my son fall asleep in a shopping cart for the third time...quite adorably too. And then we came home, ate dinner, watched a movie on our palette of blankets. I ended my day by singing them to sleep. And for the first time since 2001, I had a happy 9/11. 

Here are some pictures and videos from our day. 

Our palette. We love to snuggle here.

At my aunt's restaurant, Mortimer's, with Shekina's godmother Ashley. 

Riding a tiger at Toys R Us. 

Both kids fell asleep in the cart at Target!

Most adorable video award goes to Benjamin Godson Bolton, who couldn't stay awake in the cart no matter how hard he tried:

Miss Kina, learning to ride a scooter. I hope to tire her out with one of these really soon on the streets of High Point Terrace.

Tonight I'll say a prayer for all those who lost loved ones on this day and who will likely never have peace on this day...and then I'll try to turn my thoughts elsewhere. It's important, if you can, to try to live and be happy, right? We wouldn't be doing the 9/11 victims justice if we didn't try our best to do that. 

Anna, who is feeling very grateful for happiness and for the joy adoption has brought to her

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