On this, the 12th anniversary of 9-11, I’ve been sitting here for quite a while trying to decide what to write. What could I possibly say that hasn’t already been said, and much more eloquently than I ever could? How could I – a humble little nothing who didn’t know any of them and was safe at home in Indiana at the time – honor those people who lost their lives? I’ve decided to honor them by telling the only 9-11 story I can tell – my story. I’ve been cautioned about telling my story. I’ve been told that it would not do honor, that’s it’s inappropriate, that it’s taboo. You see, there’s a stigma attached to my story. It seems I’m always fighting this damn stigma.
But, it’s truth. It’s my truth, no matter how messy or uncomfortable it makes others feel when they hear it. And in my mind, I’ve silently…quietly, always very quietly… honored those people on countless days since 9-11-2001. Not just on 9-11 anniversaries. On my wedding day, on the day of my son’s birth, on the day my daughter started preschool, on those Christmas mornings when I looked around at my beautiful family and thanked…God? Sometimes. But I also pay tribute to the victims of 9-11. Why? Because they saved my life.
When I woke up on September 11th, 2001, I was prepared to die. Well, not totally prepared, I still had a few loose ends to tie up. I didn’t plan on dying that day, but soon. I was grief stricken beyond words over the suicide of my fiance, Dan. I was irrational, I was suicidal. There is a fairly broad scale on the range of suicide ideation. From just thinking about it occasionally, all the way up to having a plan and the means to carry it out. I had a careful and meticulous plan which involved researching and choosing the most lethal, yet easiest form of death, increasing the limits on my insurance policy (I even called the insurance company and verified that it would be paid out if I committed suicide. I think I made that guy a little nervous), updating my will and setting up a Children’s trust fund so that my daughter would eventually get the money, paying off my car so my parents could have it, writing everyone who would care a thoughtful “goodbye” letter. I found that there are lots of things to do before you kill yourself. On 9-11-2001, I still had a few more letters to write and one more payment to make on my car.
Nothing could get through to me. Not my daughter, who was three at the time. Not my mother, who told me over and over that it was time to move on, not my new friend in grief, Mark, who told me he no longer wanted to die, but to live. I was already dead inside, and nothing else mattered except the pain of losing Dan, and the hope that I would be with him again after death.
That morning, my daughter and I were together in my apartment in Indianapolis. She wanted me to turn off the “boring ole news” so she could watch her cartoons. Just as I was about to change the channel, a shaky video feed came on the screen. Smoke was pouring out of one of the trade towers. I paused to see what was going on. My daughter, seeing the look of interest on my face began whining and put on that pouty little face of hers.
“Mama, you promised I could watch my shows!” she said, stamping one of her feet.
“Hold on a second baby,” I replied, “look at that building. I think a plane crashed into it.”
That got her attention. I had just been on a plane the day before.
I had returned from a trip to visit my new friend and suicide partner, Mark. His fiance died around the same time mine did and we had forged a suicide pact together. Only, Mark had told me he changed his mind. He told me he didn’t want to die anymore, he wanted to live. And he tried to convince me to live, too. When I returned to Indy on September 10th, I was only sad that I would be dying alone after all.
As my daughter studied the images on the screen, I could see the little gears going in her mind.
“Are there people in there, Mama? They gonna be okay in there?”
I wasn’t so sure, but in an effort to comfort her I said, “I’m sure the firemen are in there right now helping them escape. They’ll be fine, sweetie.”
My daughter saw it first. I didn’t even know what it was, but children often see things that we don’t.
“Ooh, another plane!” she said, pointing to the TV.
I squinted and leaned forward just as the shot broke away to another shot farther away. The plane streaked into view again. I had just enough time to wonder if that was normal, before it tore into the second tower and a giant orange fireball shot out and crawled up the building.
I gasped and put my hands up to my mouth.
“What is it, Mama?” my daughter asked. She was looking back at me, her finger still pointing to the TV screen.
“I think that plane just crashed into the building,” I said, shaking my head in disbelief.
A very serious look came over my daughter’s face as she turned back to the TV and slowly lowered her hand. We watched together in silence for a few moments before she turned to me again and asked, “You was on a plane like that yes’erday?”
She raised her hand, and again pointed at the TV. “I’m glad you wasn’t on ‘dat plane,” she responded.
Looking at my daughter, pointing with one hand to the destruction I could see blazing behind her, the other stretched out beside her, fingers splayed wide with anxiety, I had a vision. It was so real and so vivid that it felt like I was there. I was transported to a moment I had with her in the hospital a couple days after she was born. She had been in the intensive care unit because she had breathing difficulties when she was born. I couldn’t hold her or feed her, I could only watch her on the other side of a glass box.
I was transported back to the first time I really got to hold my daughter. I was sitting alone with her in a room attached to the NICU. I was rocking her, and she was hiccuping. Often when I was pregnant with her she would hiccup and I would imagine what it would be like to hold her. I looked down at her tiny little head, her pink scalp visible under the downy soft wisps of her hair. She had this incredible smell. The newborn baby smell. It’s an intoxicating, life affirming smell. The smell of life. I breathed it in, and in that one moment, my whole life became crystal clear. This tiny little hiccuping bundle in my arms was the reason I was alive. I realized in that moment that she was the reason for my existence, and I would never let her go.
I blinked, and then I saw her before me. Eyes full of fear and confusion. It was a clarifying moment for me. A moment that others might not be able to understand unless they’ve experienced a moment like that for themselves. I went over to her and hugged her and said, “Baby, I’m glad I wasn’t on that plane too.”
I wasn’t “cured” of suicide, or my grief at that moment. Everything wasn’t magically all fixed. But that was the starting point. An electrifying jolt to my senses. And as that horrifying day progressed, I FELT more and more. I hadn’t felt anything but grief for so long. Now, I felt anxiety…terror…anger…sadness for someone other than myself. I even felt pride when I heard about the heroics of the passengers on flight 93. And I began to feel like part of a community again, part of a family. A family of Americans, united in grief over such a loss.
The most galvanizing moments for me were the moments when some of the people were forced to jump from the towers. Before, I had envied people who were dying. I would have thought them lucky. Now, I realized how much I had taken my own life for granted when I saw those who were forced against their will to do just what I had wanted to do. I had wanted to throw my life away, while theirs was being ripped away from them. Instead of wanting to join them, I wanted to reach out and catch them.
No, I wasn’t cured of my grief. I still had thoughts of suicide from time to time. But 9-11-2001, as I watched the suffering of so many, was my turning point. That day, I decided to live. I called my friend, Mark. Down the road, we would be married and have a son. Many, many times since then I have marveled at the seemingly cruel irony. If Dan had not died, my son, Daniel, would not have lived. And it’s quite possible that he would not have lived if 9-11 had not occurred. It’s possible that I would have still changed my mind about suicide without 9-11. But Dan DID die, and 9-11 DID happen. I only take comfort for both those losses in the fact that some good came from them. I am sure my story is not unique. I’m sure there are many, many other people with stories, while maybe not exactly like mine, similar enough that they, like me, silently honor all those who lost their lives on 9-11. Thanking them for saving their life in some way on that day 12 years ago. Every year on September 11th I listen to the names read aloud. But I think of them many times throughout the rest of the year.
Thank you. I honor you.
What do you think? Do you have any memories or thoughts you would like to share on this 12th anniversary of 9-11-2001?
- The 9/11 anniversary (danayost.wordpress.com)
- 9/11/01 (frenchr.wordpress.com)
- Carroll: Remembering the shock of 9/11 (denverpost.com)
- Where Was God on 9/11? (jeffrossblog.com)
- W. Spfld honors 9/11 victim (wwlp.com)
- 9/11 survivor to speak at memorial (wishtv.com)
- On 9/11, We Remember (janmundo.wordpress.com)
- Do YOU Remember Where You Were On 9/11? (b96.cbslocal.com)
- 9/11 Remembrance (deborahcommunicates.wordpress.com)
- Decaturish remembers 9/11 (decaturish.com)