Fair warning: If you think 9/11 was an inside job and feel the need to tell everyone that posts a 9/11 memorial, don’t read any more of this post and don’t waste both our times pushing your political agenda in a reply that I’ll just delete as soon as I see it. This is not a political post, it’s an account of my personal experience with 9/11 and why I was affected all the way out here in Colorado. Okay? Here goes.
I used to have a job where I traveled. In the summer of 2001, I was on the bench, between assignments. Since my birthday is in the first week of September, Sarah and I were toying with the idea of taking a little vacation to New York City. See, if I didn’t get an assignment by Saturday, I knew I wasn’t traveling anywhere that week, and since my employer contacted me exclusively by phone and email, I figured I could be physically located pretty much anywhere in the nation during the week without causing any repercussions.
So all through August, we toyed with a NYC trip. Sarah could meet with her editor and her agent, and maybe I’d drop by the NYC regional office of the company I worked for and offer my services for the week. We’d stay in the Marriott World Trade Center, because I had a ton of Marriott points and a coworker who had been staying at the Marriott WTC showed me around the hotel once, and I really, really wanted to stay there. We’d see the sights we had missed the last time Sarah and I were in NYC, in June 2000 — especially the World Trade Center.
I remember a Saturday on that 2000 trip, Sarah and I running through the lobby of one of the towers — a shortcut to get back from Wall Street to the newly-opened Embassy Suites on the other bank of the island. (We got a room on only one week’s notice — unheard of for lower Manhattan — because the hotel had just opened in May — even the cab drivers didn’t knew it existed!) I stopped, overcome with a sudden desire to go up to the observation tower (I still don’t know why), and called out to her. “I always wanted to go up to the top. Let’s do it now.” She shook her head and said, “Not today.” Then she laughed and added, “Don’t worry; it’ll still be here the next time.”
I have a male friend who survived breast cancer a few years ago. Afterward, he started spending money less judiciously than he had in the past, mostly on his wife and kids. He told me it was like a wake-up call for him to get his priorities straight. I had a similar experience in October 2000, when my 41-year-old brother went down on his Harley. He was in a coma for several weeks before his body just quit on him. I vowed then to put my career second, my family first. And not to push off the things that I really wanted to do.
If my brother had already died by the time we took that trip in June 2000, I probably would have pushed more to go up to that observation tower. Sarah would never had said, “Not today.”
But she did, and we ran out the other side of the lobby. We did, however, go back to the mall under the towers and buy souvenirs for our kids, one of which was a little toy NYC taxi.
Anyway, back to August of 2001. I got a call in late August, for a job in Richmond, VA.
And our NYC trip, which we’d targeted for September 10-17, disappeared just like that.
I went to Richmond for a week, came home and flew back out on September 10, all the time wishing it had been our NYC trip instead. I won’t go into where I was when it happened, except to say that I was at work in Richmond and I didn’t get much done that day.
I called home a lot that week. Sarah was scared. After five years without incident, as more details of the terrorists came to light, some of our neighbors started questioning her.
“Where are you from again?”
“Where’s your accent from?”
“Are you Arab?”
“Where’s Portugal? Is that in the Middle East?”
It got the point Sarah couldn’t sleep at night. I remembered my vow after my brother’s death, and I told her I’d find a way home, somehow. I ended up driving my rental car home to Colorado, over two lonely days that I’d care not to repeat, ever. That decision cost me that job in Richmond, but I’d make the same decision again today, without a moment’s hesitation.
Family is more important. Always.
The next few months were hard for us, personally. I had recurring nightmares about walking though the mall under the WTC — only it was completely empty, like a tomb, my footsteps echoing eerily as I peered down the dark hallways, lit only by the blazing store signs. I’d wake up several times a night, drenched in sweat, my heart pounding. And Sarah was already awake every time.
She had her own nightmare going on as well. Her first novel was due out in November, 2001. It was coming out in hardcover, too, the same day as a NYT bestseller’s tenth book in a hugely popular series, which meant that to succeed, this unknown freshman author’s first novel needed to convince bookstores to stock her book as well as the bestseller’s, and convince readers to part with $26 instead of $6. Not an easy task. And after 9/11, readers were suddenly very protective of their wallets.
For the record, the novel did better than expected. Many novelist’s careers went belly-up during the following years, but Sarah’s wasn’t one of them. In fact, she’s got two series in different genres starting this November (check out her website at http://www.sarahahoyt.com for free excerpts), and a third series sold.
But we remember 9/11. And I don’t care what other people believe about the politics surrounding it or subsequent events. What matters is that we remember.
A few months ago, I asked my son if he knew what had happened to that toy NYC taxi we bought him under the WTC. He got it for me. It’s missing a couple tires and the stickers are starting to come off, but I don’t care. I put it on my work desk, in my bedroom, where I’ll see it every day.
Because I will not forget.