I call my brother and yell at him.
“WHERE IS DAD?!?!”
Groggy and innocent to the unfolding horror, he replies, annoyed. “Here. In bed. Like all of us. Sheesh. Why?”
I stand in the hallway of the courthouse, not really sure why I felt such dread. What I overheard couldn’t be real, right?
“I don’t know. I’m just walking into work and heard some stuff about planes flying into buildings. I know he’s supposed to fly out to Iceland this week.”
“Nope, we’re all SLEEPING. I’m sure it’s fine. Bye.”
I could not give you a play-by-play of the rest of the morning at the Milwaukee County Board. Ten years later, I can tell you its probably the last time there where no one bickered or soapboxed. Everyone from janitors to aides to elected officials huddled around a tiny TV in the break room, watching the terror, dazed in utter unbelief.
It will be interesting to spend my first anniversary of the event on the West Coast. A place where people woke up to a world changed forever, their innocence stripped as they slumbered. They’ll never know what a beautiful day it was from Minneapolis to Milwaukee to Cleveland to New York. How clear the sky. One of those days where hope dances on each beam of sunshine. Sunshine clouded slowly by each rumor, and then even 1,000 miles away from the smoke and chaos, plunged into darkness.
When the plane hits the Pentagon, I almost vomit. So many family friends working for the military. Surely the probability I know someone, gulp, killed, just increased. I say killed, because no one knew it was murder yet. No one was pointing fingers. Hating. This was a monster. Ten years later, we should realize it STILL was a monster. Not an entire population of people.
I call home again. Two hours behind me. Three hours behind the events. I think I called once in between the initial one and then one that finally got everyone up. But details are lost to the decade.
“Do we know anyone who works in the Pentagon?!?”
“Why? What does it matter? Jesus, Meghan, It’s 6:30 in the morning! Why do you keep calling?!?” My mother whines. (I identify, I inherited the “hate waking up” gene.)
“Turn on the TV!”
“Just turn on the FUCKING TELEVISION MOM! I can’t explain.”
My dad comes on the line to break up the fight, as always.
“Meggy, what’s up?” he calmly asks.
I think I just sob quietly. “Turn on the TV, okay?”
I hear a click and gasps. I think some “Oh noes.”
“Who works in the Pentagon that we know?” I ask again.
“I gotta go. I gotta go.” Dad sounds panicked, not calm. I think about all the families I grew up with, now living in DC. My stomach knotted thinking Mom or Dad are going to say a name I knew.
“Our offices are on the top floors of the World Trade Center. I gotta go.”
I did not know the implications of this. I still do not know the total effect it had on my father. My dad does not like to talk about emotions, feelings. Former military. I know he, for a spell after, perhaps now still (but I wouldn’t understand why), began voting Republican. I know we got into more arguments about tolerance and diversity in the years following than maybe would have happened in the time of innocence prior.
During the past decade, I’ve only had people close to me taken too soon by substance abuse, cancer, heart disease. Those demons are just as real, but don’t have faces. Maybe because I wasn’t directly affected by the attacks I project my anger onto Religious Fanaticism as an abstract. Fanaticism, not of just one group, but of the frightening beliefs of any group of any faith who violates the very tenets of that faith by harming others. I project my anger onto evil men and women who take advantage of the uneducated and oppressed to spread their agenda of fear and intolerance. I try and forgive their followers, knowing they often do not know what they do.
After I hang up from my parents I call the person I have been trying to pry myself away from. I am in the midst of a break up with the love of my life. He has brothers in both New York and DC. His family’s been mine for the past three years. I have to check in. Everyone is okay. The funny thing is, 10 years later, I can’t remember if we saw each other that day. Out of college, he lived on the opposite side of town. If we did, it wasn’t until much later that evening. It would have been painful. Perhaps that is why it is now repressed.
I spend the rest of the morning on lockdown in the courthouse. Eventually I’m allowed to leave and briefly head back to my apartment, watching the coverage on the tiny TV in my roommate’s bedroom. Classes are canceled. The only class I have that afternoon is Public Relations campaigns. Our capstone project, assigned the week prior, is to do a community relations campaign for the FBI. I think the focus may be changing.
My second job forces me to suspend my grieving, processing. I work at The Marquette Tribune, and even though I’m not going to be a journalist when I grow up, I have to pitch in. I don’t remember what stories I help with. I feel like the rest of the day is spent as a robot. Our staff had dealt with the 2000 elections and the death of our university’s legendary basketball coach, but this? Like journalists all over the country, we try to figure it out.
The days that follow are a blur. I don’t remember if I go to church that day, or soon after. I try to give blood, but the tech can’t find a vein. He stabs me three times before I selfishly give up.
In the next few months, my post-collegiate plans, had I any, are thrown out the window. Moving to Chicago, moving back to the West Coast, moving to DC…2001 fades in 2002. I stay put. The terrorists have succeeded in keeping me in Milwaukee.
Years begin to pass.
I begin to get a global perspective in March 2003. My friend and I travel to Rome and are bombarded by rainbow PACE flags. Peace. We are about to go to war. Aren’t we already at war? Nobody’s really clear how Iraq suddenly came into the picture. We see Pope John Paul II on Ash Wednesday. He instructs us to pray for peace.
The world does not find peace, but I begin to find an inner peace. The years pass and my life has its ups and downs. I lose friends and make new ones. I begin to have a sense of self. I endure disappointments and heartaches. I find some success by building understanding in my community. I try and listen to different perspectives so we can all find a common ground. It’s challenging, frustrating, but when small achievements happen it’s worth all of the work.
In November 2008, I feel a renewed hope. I am at Grant Park on Election Night. I feel I’m finally a part of “good” history. Optimism I haven’t felt for seven years. Hugging strangers out of joy and not comfort. I begin to make major changes in my life. I exit a failing relationship with a wonderful person, because it’s best for us both. I travel to India, expand my global perspective. I change my lifestyle to become as physically active as I am community active, realizing that it is not selfish to keep myself healthy. I reflect and discover that I can no longer live in the midwest for me to continue my path of growth.
I move to California. I become more afraid of earthquakes than terrorism.
May 1, 2011. I am quite stupidly falling in love on a sunset hike. I get a text that Bin Laden is dead. All seems completely right with the world. The moment is fleeting, but appreciated. Even with months of personal heartbreak that followed and the world feeling hopeless with political infighting, with people dying en masse in countries most Americans couldn’t identify on a map, I am content knowing there was a brief moment on that day where peace happened.
It’s September 11 again. I wake up surprisingly early and start writing. I go to church, because it feels like I should. I am not overly moved, but I appreciate the readings about forgiveness. Before I left I opined on Facebook that we cannot find peace without tolerance. No terrorist has ever shook this belief, one instilled in me as a youth, long before planes flew into buildings, long before my generation knew war. A belief older than many religions, and all too often overshadowed by violence. I’m not sure how I will spend the rest of my day, my month, my year or my life. In 10 years, will I write another reflection? Will I still be perpetually single? Calling my parents in times of distress? No one can tell the future, but we can all work peacefully and with our global family to continue to ensure there is one.