We were on our last piece of furniture, just me and my twins. One newborn in each arm, and not expecting a war – acts of terror – on our home front.
I was already in survival mode, sleep-deprived and scared. And I was alone except for my babies, born almost two months early, Jack in my right arm and his twin sister, Chloe, in my left. Other than what I saw in front of me on the television, that is my most clear memory. They were all I could really focus on and that was because it was still life and death for my daughter.
There were movers coming and going from our house in Colorado, outside of Boulder where we had incredible, peaceful views and where I had amazing friends and support as a new mother. It was so hard to leave the best friends I’d ever had, three pregnant at the same time and going through the same emotions…saying goodbye in a hospital room because I was admitted early with toxemia.
This was not my exact view that morning, but pretty close. If I could paint, this is how I would express my memories of this view. These were the kind of vivid sunrises we had, with other amazing views out of the back of our house showing wild animals and horses roaming open fields, and hot air balloons drifting by. A stark contrast to what followed.
On that morning I was debating whether or not to make another emergency room visit to our our hospital because of my daughter’s health issues and we were keeping a close eye on my son because we were weaning him off of the oxygen tank and tubes in preparation for flying on the GPC corporate jet to Atlanta, where daddy was already working. I don’t even remember where he was that morning, on September 11, 2001, but he was not home with us. I felt so alone except for the movers.
The next vivid memory I have is of the guys who were finishing up our packing (I couldn’t do much because of the constant needs of preemie twins who had not been home long from a month-long stay in the NICU). They had come into the room and seen the billowing smoke from the Towers after hearing the outcries coming from the television. They all stood in shock around me, unable to speak. I’m not sure if the sounds were coming from me or from our television.
I felt like screaming because this could just not be true, what I was seeing before me. Tears were pouring down my face and I was muffling my sounds into a baby blanket because I could not traumatize my frail infants who were already so hyper-sensitive, and with Chloe in and out of the hospital multiple times per week. I did not yet know the term Failure to Thrive, just that it was touch and go with her. We were preparing to move to Georgia, and I was silently grieving the move on top of what we had just been through with our dramatic labor and delivery in Denver. I also wasn’t aware that I was suffering from severe postpartum depression. The fear, sleep-deprivation and grief over leaving my best friends were not things I had the luxury of thinking about at that point.
As I watched the second Tower get hit on live television, noting that the ever-calm and decisive Katie Couric sounded like she was trying herself not to falter while taking in the choking sobs of callers, I found another gear. I decided to let go of that gear today and give in to my tears that I’ve held back all of this time, for the last 15 years.
When you have no choice but to hold it together to protect your children, your own emotions and grief take a back seat. Until now I could not let myself watch any of the footage, read most posts or reports about the attack or feel what I felt that day. That is what happens when things just do not let it up. Not that it’s letting up now…I’m just stronger.
This post is updated – today is not September 11th as when I created the post in 2016. It is June 25th, my twins’ birthday. They are 16 today!
The only person I remember speaking to that day, and barely, is my neighbor Janette, who came over to drive us to a friend’s house where we were to stay overnight until the plane sent by Genuine Parts Company was to carry us, our nurse for the twins, our nanny and our dog Copper to Atlanta. Janette was amazing. She knew I just could not speak and we were both trying not to give in to the emotions caused by what we had seen and were beginning to learn of the terrorist attacks. I don’t know how I would have managed that day without her. It was hard enough that I was having to leave her and other wonderful friends from our neighborhood and Colorado. The support I felt from her, the strength I drew, the calm response to trauma…it was something I could only get from another mother who knew without being told that I was hanging on by a thread and for the sake of keeping these infants peaceful. Reaching for healthy.
At this point I was unsure about flying with preemies but had no choice as the Company would not wait any longer. Every little disturbance, internally or externally, experienced by my daughter would make her very ill and send me racing with her to the emergency room. I didn’t know what each day would hold for us. But I coordinated with packers and movers, following instructions because that was all I could manage.
It was only when my babies were sleeping that I could attempt to get through to their father to make sure he was ok. He was safe, thank God, but was busy as every other executive/manager was while they were doing damage control over the impact on their employees and businesses. Some of his office products / office furniture employees had been inside the Pentagon and only stepped outside for a break from meetings when it was hit by one of the planes under terrorist control. It was a miracle that they had gone outside when they did. News kept coming in like this about who was where, what they were experiencing, and about the mounting losses. It was almost impossible to look away from the images, the shocking live videos and reports streaming in. As you recall, there was virtually no good news to be found on any channel. Lots of heroism but way too much grief.
When I was finally able to get through to friends I had worked with in the financial district in NYC, the grief started to set in. The people I knew from Dean Witter (Morgan Stanley) had made it out, except for the guard who never left his post at the elevators at the top of that Tower to make sure that everyone got out, including people coming up the stairs and onto the floor where he held his post. He turned everyone around to get them out, while not thinking of himself. This man’s service and sacrifice is written about and posted at the memorial to 9/11 in the City of Atlanta. Yes, I fell apart when I came upon his story in Atlanta, not expecting to read what is posted there. For the month or so I spent working on those top floors there, he was always the first face I saw when heading for the trading desk of my department. And the last at the end of the day.
There is a documentary that depicts what it was like inside the buildings, using transcribed calls with the emergency service centers. From all I remember of my time in those buildings, it is accurate, and also chilling.
When someone you care about experiences something worse than your own grief, it gives you the chance to detach from your own thoughts and sadness. That is what happened when talking with my dear friend who worked in another building there, with another investment banking firm. I watched the same footage that she did, as one of her friends jumped from the smoldering building. We held our hands over our mouths, experiencing horror none of us could have ever fathomed before. There is still so much grief in our world, but none worse than for those families and children who witnessed that and lost their loved ones that way. On this day, this morning, 15+ years ago.
Time to allow this emotion to surface, and to move forward.
By God’s grace we are doing well, and we are together, my twins and our family. We get to join in with others spending time today to honor and support veterans, especially those wounded in service to our country and to the values we stand for.
Our Freedom and our ability to be together, to work and play together, are still at risk and being threatened in different ways each day. But we have each other and we have something in us that those terrorists and others who want to tear us down do not have.
Respect. Honor. Integrity. Courage. And Love.
Note: as I update and share this post, I am no longer allowed to be with my children due to the same terroristic acts which I study and report on. It is my turn to feel this pain, to bear down…and stand up. We are not done here.
Brad, if you make it this far please know there is a war at home which is not being fought as it needs to be, with the same resources and willpower with which we take on ISIS. This is where I’m supposed to be. When I rejected the CIA, almost out of college, I couldn’t fathom what the future would bring, but now I understand.