With the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and the events in Afghanistan, I wrote a post recently on my unfortunate indirectly personal connection to Middle-East terrorism - and I'll let you find it on your own rather than linking to it, because of the deeply personal nature of it ;)
So where was I, on September 11, 2001?
I was sitting in the waiting room of the later therapist, I mentioned, who at the time, worked for a local clinic. The Today show was on, and they broke in with footage of the first plane. At that point, we weren't sure if it was an accident or intentional, but suspected terrorism.
When I went into session, we discussed it, both scared out of our wits - but she also had this remarkable calming effect - not that everything was going to be okay, but that whatever it was, we would handle it.
At this point, I hadn't told her about my experience with a family member in South Florida yet, that would be a few weeks later - and my first thoughts were how I was going to handle explaining this to my daughter, anyway, so we spent the next 50 minutes talking about that.
They suspected if it was terrorism, there may be be more, but it wasn't confirmed yet, and we had no idea who was responsible.
One thing we both agreed on - if it was terrorism, this event was going to change America irrevocably - and we were right.
After the session, everyone was gathered around the TV, the second plane had hit, and we learned it was definitely terrorism.
So after the second plane confirmed it as terrorism, the first call I made was call the schools, to see what they were going to do and asked them not to tell the children what happened, let us as parents do that, please.
They said they were releasing the children in an hour and sending them home and would not explain why - they were letting the parents do that.
The second call I made was to my older sister, whose husband, a project manager of construction, was working on renovating O'Hare Airport in Chicago, literally working in a jet hangar.
Me: "K, have you seen the news?"
K: "No, I've been working, I've got a deadline. What's the problem?"
Me: "Okay, apparently now it's two commercial jets that have crashed into the World Trade Center. The buildings are on fire and are expected to collapse. They suspect there are more, headed towards other locations, and they don't know which airports these planes are coming from. Would you please contact M and ask him to come home from O'Hare for the day? Just for the day."
K: "Jesus, stop being so melodramatic! IF that even happened, which it likely didn't, it's probably an isolated event and won't affect us. In fact, IF that even happened, it was probably an accident, air-traffic-controller error or something. My GOD, you're so fucking selfish! You get me so upset!"
Me: "Oh - so it's about YOU and whether or not YOU are upset?"
"That's funny - I thought it wasn't about you OR me, but about possible terrorism - and the fact that your husband is currently working at Chicago's O' Hare Airport, one of the largest international airports in the country - literally renovating a jet hangar."
"But yeah, you're right, ya caught me - I personally did this, with all of that power that I have, I personally orchestrated crashing planes into the WTC - for the sole purpose of upsetting YOU."
"And it's not like the whole reason I'm calling you is not for myself, but because I'm worried about M or anything, right? But I'M being selfish, when all you're worried about is whether or not YOU are upset?"
"K, seriously, this isn't about you OR me - just turn on the TV - I'm just worried about M working at a hangar in O'Hare, because we don't know if there are more and which airports they're all coming from. Please just turn on the TV so you can see, I'm not making this up!"
"If I'm being dramatic, then so is the rest of the world, they've even grounded planes and shut down airports in Canada, even some in Europe, because they don't know the details on the planes yet!"
"But fine - call me whatever you need to - just promise me you'll get him away from that airport, just for today, okay? Just so we can be sure he's safe."
K: "Whatever. But you didn't have to call me and upset me about it."
Yeah, that's K, especially with me, hating me since the day I was born.
Because she says as an only child until I was born, I "took all the attention away from her."
Yeah - sorry I was born and was a newborn baby that needed to be fed and changed ???
Also, hate to tell her this, but our parents were so wrapped up in themselves that no one got proper and appropriate attention lol.
Lastly, she has not the slightest idea of who I am and never has, because she can't see me clearly, blinded by her own issues, often projecting them onto me - including being the biggest drama queen I've ever known, always starring her as the innocent victim (well, it's a tie between her and my mom.)
(As an aside, my younger sister can be, like I can be, but really not like those two - with us, it takes certain specific triggers.)
ANYWAY - point being, I'm pretty sure I wasn't alone that most people reacted "dramatically" to 9/11, considering that all planes were later grounded that day and airports were shut down (and for several days after), several thousand people died, and we're still talking about it 20 years later!
My third call was to my fiance, at the time, my first husband (not Mark).
We decided that when his son got home, he would bring him there, with my daughter, sit them down on the couch with us, with them in our laps and our arms around them, explaining what happened.
By that time, a plane had hit the pentagon, and we also learned there was another plane yet unaccounted for.
For some reason, I remember saying, "Somebody fought back. That plane isn't going to hit its target."
My fiance said, "How do you know?"
I said, "I don't know that, for a fact, I'm just hoping. Just because it hasn't hit its target yet, like the others, and they have no idea where it is or why, only that it hasn't hit anything. That's just what I'm hoping, is they figured out what was going on somehow and fought back? If so, those people are heroes, my God, the bravery, knowing they were likely going to die either way."
Of course, that ended up being United Flight 93, and we know now that Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, and Tom Burnett told dispatch operators they had a plan to rush the hijackers in the cockpit, using a food cart.
Then Todd Beamer told the dispatcher, Lisa Jefferson, that one of the hijacker had a bomb vest on.
The next sounds recorded were the sound of the food cart ramming the cockpit, several sounds of fighting and yelling, with one hijacker yelling in Arabic in pain, the sound of crashing glass, suggesting they were able to breach the cockpit, and then several utterances between the Arabic pilot and Americans, suggesting they were struggling for control of the yoke, ending with "Pull it up! Pull it up!"
But it was too late, they were already in a dive, landing in an empty field in Stoneyfield, Pennsylvania.
The plane was believed to be headed for the White House.
At the time, my daughter was 7 and my former stepson was 6.
So the first thing we did was hug them like there was no tomorrow when we saw them, smile and smother them with love, and then sit them down on our laps.
My fiance (again, not Mark) had already said, "You talk. I'm too shook up. Plus I'm fucking pissed, at whoever did this, and I don't think I can hide it, and we're trying to keep them calm."
So we said a prayer first for wisdom and the right words to say, before they came home, and then I said:
"Okay, everybody comfortable? Okay. So you're going to see some things all over the TV, because every channel is showing it, even kids channels have interrupted their regular programming - some very scary things. I wish I could tell you they weren't real, like a movie, but this one is real - BUT - I want you to understand that although it looks like a movie, it's not a movie, it's real. A lot of people in New York City and Washington D.C. have been hurt and killed - BUT - I also want you to also know that you're safe - the schools sent you home - you're safe with us."
"Here's what happened so far. Some planes crashed into the World Trade Center and they're on fire and collapsing. Those are some very tall skyscrapers in New York City, with thousands of people in them. A plane also crashed into the pentagon, which is where all our military leaders work and military decisions are made. There's also another plane that they just found in a field, which they think was headed towards the White House, where the President lives."
"You're going to see a lot of this all over the TV and at school, people will be talking about it, so let's talk about it as a family now, and then we'll turn the TV on, for a limited time - we're going to put a time limit on it, and watch WITH you - in case you have any questions. Just know that whatever you see, you're safe, you're home, you're okay, and we're here if you need us, okay? "
"I also want you to know, however you're feeling is okay - scared, mad, sad - it's all normal and okay - you have every right to those feelings."
"So let's talk about those feelings, it's important to talk about them with us and each other. Just use your words rather than show us, okay?"
Then I explained what happened and asked if they had any questions, telling them there is much we still don't know.
Their questions were:
Kids: "Who did this? Why?"
Me: "We don't know yet, just some very bad people. There are more good people in the world than bad people, but there are some bad people, too, so it's important to be careful.
"Now - having said that - you're going to hear a lot of people accusing lots of other people, and lots of people blaming things like the country they were from, even their skin color or maybe even their faith - but lots of people say a lot of things - we don't believe things just because people say so, in this family - we don't listen to gossip, we wait for facts and proof, okay?
"But what I want you to know is, countries are big, they have a lot of people, and like I said, there are more good people than bad. Religions are big, they have a lot of people, and there are more good people than bad in them, too. Groups of people with dark skin are big, they have a lot of people, and there are more good people than bad in them, too."
"Every group of people in the world has a lot of good people and a few bad ones - so we don't blame an entire group of people for what a few people choose to do - especially because of the country they're from or the color of their skin or who they pray to, okay?"
Kids: "Okay. How far away is New York and D.C.? Are those bad people coming here?
Me: "We don't think so. We're in Kentucky, there's nothing they'd really want, here, and no one they want to hurt as much as big buildings in big cities, especially our nation's government buildings, so you're pretty safe because we are hundreds of miles away"
"But keep in mind, just because it didn't happen to us and WE'RE safe doesn't mean everyone was or that we shouldn't care about what happened and be respectful. Also, this happens a lot in other countries, it's just the first time it's happened in multiple locations here in continental America in our lifetime, so remember how lucky we usually are, too."
"Also, we have lots of soldiers, police, firemen, EMTs, doctors and nurses going up there to help. So you may go to school with some of the kids of these people, who have a family member or friend that were in New York or Washington DC and the places they hit, or are one of the police, firefighters, EMT, or soldiers called in to help and they may get hurt and die, too, so we need to remember that - be kind to other people and be careful what you say, because their family or friends could be hurt or even die there, okay?"
"Also remember these are some very brave soldiers, police, firefighters, EMT, doctors, and nurses doing everything they can to make sure we're safe now, getting control of it and help people heal, so thank your soldiers, police, firefighters, EMTs, doctors and nurses, okay?"
Kids: "So are YOU guys scared?"
Me: "I was scared, at first - but we're home safe, and the more information I get, I feel better - education is always the key to feeling better, the more you know. Plus the good people are getting control."
"Now I'm just sad - very, very sad for all of those people, for how much MORE scared THEY must be and for those that were hurt and died - but I'm also also very, very proud of all of the heroes working hard to take care of us. See, you can feel lots of things at the same time and that's okay and normal, too."
J (My Ex-Husband): "Yeah, I was scared. But now I'm just mad. I don't know who I'm mad at, I'm just mad at the bad people who did this and want to do something about it."
Me: "So see? We may feel the same about it or differently and that's okay, you're allowed. You have the right to feel however you want to - let's just talk about it, not show us by slamming doors or yelling at each other."
"It's more important than ever that we appreciate each other and focus on love, okay? Because that's what bad people want. It's okay to be scared, but the bad people want us to STAY scared, all the time, and forget to appreciate and love each other - so it's more important than ever that we keep remembering to appreciate and love each other, and keep going, regardless of what happens, because if we don't, that's how the bad people really win."
Then we turned on the TV and the images were everywhere, holding them tight and waiting for questions, until their questions had subsided for the moment.
I don't talk about my daughter much, here, for security reasons after prior events online - and she unfortunately doesn't remember a lot from when she was little - but she does remember that day and nearly verbatim what I said, confirming that I handled that one well, she felt very safe but also very empathetic to what happened.
Thanks be to God and a good therapist I ran it by first :)
Speaking of that therapist, she returned her now private practice to Lexington a few years ago, and I went to see her. As I said, I was not only sitting in her office when 9/11 happened, but she was the first person I told the full story of what happened with that family member in South Florida. She was also there when a lot of other things happened in my family and knew the truth (because my mother also attended the same clinic she used to be a therapist in - she wasn't her therapist, but she knew of her, and she also knew my daughter and supported how I mothered her versus my family, I consulted her every step of the way.)
Thus, she cried with me, for everything that had happened since, horrified to what had happened since and who was in control now, verifying for me, in my self-doubt, that the family was extremely dysfunctional and toxic, I was the scapegoat, and they had resisted the healthy techniques I had begun to employ in my own life and was teaching my daughter, as well as beginning to stand up to them in more healthy ways.
Since she returned her private practice to Lexington, I began seeing her again full-time, and she has this amazing calming effect on me, I can't explain it.
I guess because this is a person whom I've known for 22 years, who knows everything there is to know about me and gets me.
She's extremely intelligent, an intellectual, but also a Christian - a liberal/Democrat Christian, like me. She has this balance of science and spirituality that just - works - and she knows I was telling the truth, the entire time, about everything :)
In fact, though I've had therapists since her, I can't explain it but - I'm just doing the best I've ever done in my life returning to her, when she returned back in town.
Of course, it helps that I've had a lot of time to heal, completely removed from my family, and a wonderful, supportive loving husband, and a few good friends, but she gets me. That is not to say we always agree or that she doesn't ever confront me, but she has the gentlest way of doing it, mostly in the form of, "Okay, let's talk about that. I understand why you want to confront this, but let's talk about the backlash, and the toll it will mostly take on you, if you do" - like a role-playing thing in advance, in a way.
Mostly, I just felt like I got it all out - I felt safe enough to re-experience the pain, the grief, the anger, the shame, without judgment or misinterpretation, in a safe place.
It's interesting thinking about 9/11 today and being in her office - because at the moment, she's away with her daughter, after the girth of her very first grandchild last week :)
That's life, isn't it? That we remember these things, but that also life goes on regardless ...