Most of us remember where we were 12 years ago today. 9-11 became our generation’s JFK or MLK assassination, a day we can unfortunately recall the mundane details more vividly.
I remember driving my husband to the PATH train in the small town in north Jersey where we’d moved only the year before. My husband was doing freelance work in NYC and I was a stay-at-home mom with our then baby girl. When I think of 9-11, the first image that comes to mind is our baby girl in her blue flowered carrier, her brown eyes wide and her lips pursed in that serious, almost studious look that all babies seem to master unless they’re crying.
I remember getting a panicked call from a friend right after baby girl and I got back from the train station. “Is Joe ok?” he asked. This friend was prone to drama and I had no idea about the plane or the tower (it was just one of each at that point) but I turned the news on and any ease I’d felt drained away.
I finally reached my husband on his cell and found he’d been on the last train that pulled into the World Trade Center stop. He said the train sat and sat but the doors didn’t open and passengers went from curious to restless to angry. He said he smelled a pungent odor, which in retrospect might have been jet fuel, but of course no one had any idea what was happening above ground. Eventually an official announced that the train would be redirected to Newark due to “police activity” and everyone groaned. They didn’t know yet how lucky they were.
I remember driving along a highway with a parallel view of the new york city skyline and seeing smoke spill off of both towers. I remember watching a sea of people in smart looking suits and dresses pour out of the Newark train station and not feeling terribly worried how I would find my husband because he’s really tall. I remember asking him to drive home once we found each other because traffic was snarled everywhere.
Once we were safely home, we walked to the top of our hill and saw massive smoke and dust clouds in the city skyline. By that point, both towers had collapsed. A coworker of my husband’s found himself stranded nearby and came to our house to huddle around the television and only left when I asked if I could please drive him home. In those days, I was a nightly drinker, but I remember being alert and clear for the drive. In those days, I still used alcohol recreationally and never thought to down a shot to numb or quiet jangled nerves.
When I think back 12 years ago, I feel a sweet sort of tenderness for my old self. I was a new mom and had no idea how certain hardships would change our family and mold it into something almost unrecognizable. Really, I’m not talking tragedies but standard life-altering events which feel anything but standard when we’re in the thick of them. Afterwards we pick them up by the edges and examine and say “yes, I handled that one pretty okay, I did” or maybe we furrow our brow and set it back down to look at another time.
I get now why we say we must learn history so we don’t repeat it. Lately I’ve felt a certain complacency in sobriety that ripples through my subconscious and makes for weird drinking dreams and a certain craziness in my waking state. I haven’t entertained serious thoughts of drinking again because I know the effects would be disastrous, if not immediate. This is what is saving me right now, this absolute certainty that I can’t drink socially or casually or moderately. Not now, not in 20 years, not ever. Many things have changed over the last couple of years, but this solid truth I feel deep in the core is not one of them and I hope to god I never forget.