Seven years ago I'd just come out of my first trimester of pregnancy. I wasn't nauseated anymore, and the depression was manageable.
It was Primary Day, and I was scheduled to go out and flier for my candidate at the subway stop near my apartment. My husband called right before I left to ask if the news was saying anything about some kind of crash or explosion at the World Trade Center. I flipped to New York 1 (all-NYC news TV station) and they were just starting to show it and had no idea what it was. I told him they didn't know yet. Then I called my mom in Ohio to tell her something strange had happened, but it was probably nothing and we were fine, and she might not even hear about it on the news. I headed out to flier.
After about 15 minutes, people started coming out of the subway, crying. Then people started coming out of the subway dusty and grimy and crying. I kept asking what happened but all people could say was "plane crash," "explosions," "terrorists."
It was so confusing. I had no idea what to do. My first instinct was to go vote in the primary before the polls closed because of whatever this was. I decided not to, but just to go home and wait it out. I watched the whole thing unfold on TV, and heard sirens blaring from all sides as emergency vehicles rushed past me heading downtown. I got another call from my then-husband, who said they'd all rushed into someone's office to try to see what had happened, when they saw the second plane coming in. They stood there and watched in horror as it slowly circled and crashed into the second tower eight blocks away from them. Then they all ran down 29 flights of stairs and started running away from the site. He was calling from a barber shop about halfway home.
The rest of the day unfolded like a slow, grinding blur. By the end of the day the caustic, thick smoke had reached my apartment. It smelled like burning metal, and like something else. A few days later I was talking to a friend who'd grown up in another country, and she said it was the smell of the crematorium in her town, the smell of burning flesh.
That smoke stayed with us for six weeks. Through the initial days of fear and hope in which people covered the city with "Missing" posters of their loved ones. I couldn't decide which ones were more heartrending--the ones that were hastily slapped together, as if getting them out quickly would mean their brother or husband or cousin would be found. Or the ones that were done precisely and professionally, as if doing everything perfectly would increase the chances that their mother or college roommate would return to them. One day as I was walking across Union Square I caught one of the posters out of the corner of my eye and recognized a woman I'd worked with five years previously. She was so much fun. Generous, hilarious, and free. She'd have 600 friends on Facebook, if she'd lived to see Facebook.
I think we're mostly over it. I didn't seize up on Monday, like I have been every year when the weather's the same as it was that day. And I haven't cried yet today. But I did get irrationally angry when I saw that it's been named "Patriot Day" by the people who make the calendars. It seems so reductive, Patriot Day. There's so much more to it than that, and it's all still going on, here and in DC and everywhere someone was lost, and in the places and with the people who caused it to happen. What happened on 9/11/01 was just one tentacle of something sad and hopeless that's still there, even as we live our lives in hope around it.