If you are old enough to remember, you can never forget what you were doing when you found out about the attack on our country. We aren’t used to bombs going off around us, or planes being hijacked in protest. We are not accustomed to areas we should avoid because there are IED’s that were planted . . . Or once upon a time, bouncing betties never went off. We aren’t used to seeing child death from drowning in an attempt to escape the violence in a place that was home or toddlers still with shock and covered in blood and dust. This is not our normal. When it happens, we remember. Details may get fuzzy. Who hurt us or why they felt they needed to will burn into memories that are never met with understanding. The indelible mark on us all is the way we felt because unless we’re lucky enough to heal properly, this will be how we feel about this situation for the rest of our lives.
I was on bedrest. It was a year and 9 days since I said “I do” and I was 34 weeks along with my firstborn. He wasn’t gaining weight and his amniotic fluid levels were low, so I was in bed with him. My husband was at work in Downtown L.A. as a security guard. I’ve been asked, and I’ll say it here, I married for love, not looks or money. I loved his company and our simple way of living. I lived for our late night Walmart dates of household shopping and our fishing trips in Big Bear Lake. I would’ve followed him into homelessness if it meant waking up with him every morning. I would’ve cared for his every physical need as long as he let me and I did until he stopped wanting me to. I couldn’t imagine the years before us being anything but happy, and the ways our lives blended and solidified looked nothing like what I imagined. I stopped dreaming and just took each day as it came.
The man I loved called me to ask if I had seen the news about a plane in a building. I turned on the news to a live feed and watched the second plane strike the second tower. It was several moments of confusion for me because I was watching it live and it didn’t occur to me that a plane flying into a building would be anything but an accident. I couldn’t understand how he could tell me to watch for something I was seeing live. I didn’t understand how someone could do that intentionally.
I remembered my short trip to New York in June 1997. I had a boyfriend that missed his grandmother and high school friends. I couldn’t take care of myself as I was living with my mom, but I managed to take us to New York. We crashed Jerry and Nora’s wedding (no clue who they were). We went to Roosevelt Field Mall (so much like every other mall). We went to Six Flags Great Adventure (which looked a lot like Six Flags Magic Mountain). We went to a restaurant owned by models (who barely eat and I don’t remember if it was good), and we walked through Manhattan. This is the only picture of me in New York I have. Now if your boyfriend (on the right and shorter than me) is walking with you but doesn’t want to walk with you that is a problem. He dumped me right after the trip. We’ll always have that trip to San Pedro because in that moment, there was love. You can search “San Pedro” in my blog and see where I thought about this boy enough to include in a few posts. The amazing thing about growth is that if I were to meet him for the first time today, what he taught me then wouldn’t get him a first date now. I miss that purse though. I need to go back to New York one day.
New York was beautiful with its humidity and fast pace on the streets. It was glittering lights and I would’ve loved to check out a play or visit the Statue of Liberty. We rubbed the Charging Bull on Broadway and Morris and I imagined what it would’ve been like to be there in the winter with slush around my feet. On the flight in, my boyfriend pointed out the twin towers and told me about the first attack in 1993 but I had no clue about the significance of the buildings until 4 years later when I was home and watching it.
I watched the news shift between New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania because none of us could understand why so much hate would take innocent lives. I worried about my husband who had a duty to the building he worked in. For weeks, we were still in complete panic that the next attack would hit closer to home, and he was in the heart of our financial district. In the weeks following, his responsibilities included logistics around building safety. He got an upgrade on his cameras and he made great use of them, zooming in on pretty ladies on the the street. I was in bed. Watching the news.
I couldn’t stop watching. I felt the fear begin to cripple me into worrying about my husband and what I would do without him. (Well, that question was answered and I’m doing fine.) I started to react to the situation in the way I saw my Dad reacting to life. He’s a war vet. He served in the Army and was there for the Tet Offensive in Viet Nam. He sees a war torn America every day. It’s a pair of glasses he can’t take off because PTSD won’t allow the present to be just the present.
I had this growing life inside of me that would tap and kick and roll. I had him under my ribs, and resting against my heart and there was so much life inside of me. I had to step into the faith that there is more good than bad in the world. Instead of focusing on the many broken bodies carried out, I began to focus on the many helping hands that gave selflessly and the stories from the plane that ended up in a field after so many stepped bravely in spite of fear to keep that plane from hitting its target.
There was and is so much hate brewing in our country. Ignorance has cast anyone in a hijab as a vile creature of hate and bigotry has become entertainment and worse, a political vehicle. It’s disgusting. I had the absolute privilege of carrying twin girls for a family of arabs that also practice Islam. They showed me love and respect. The father of the twins I carried wouldn’t even enter my room without my husband in the room out of respect. I was floored by the value they place on their women. I don’t agree with all they do, and I’m not trying to proselytize their faith.
I can simplify it by looking at my family. I come from an international family. By birth, my heritage is African American and Thai. Through adoption and marriage, my family is also caucasian, Mexican, and Vietnamese. If you want to trace heritage, I’m Mexican, Italian, French, Sephardic Jew, Choctaw Indian and a slew of other things that dilute blood from a slave ship from Africa. I couldn’t begin to tell you what is on my mother’s side because I don’t know. My boys are Dutch, Irish and Jewish. We’re international. Each of us is responsible for our own choices and we are a mix of good people you would trust with your wallet and people you might not trust (I hear my Kid3 steals from other people’s houses when with his Dad but he doesn’t have that problem when with me).
I can break it down in terms of food. I love good food. My food baby is well fed and my palate is frequently pleased. Food joy can sound orgasmic. My international family means we have international foods at holiday gatherings. Christmas will include a turkey and ham, but my sister and I have made loads of tamales and champurrado to go with her sangria. What I’ve learned is that even if you come from Thailand and know how to cook Thai food, it might not taste good because not everyone can cook. Your Italian aunt’s spaghetti might be homemade but you might still prefer a jar of Barilla to her labor of love because she could burn water without supervision.
We can’t judge a group of people on the actions of a handful of people that probably could have used more hugs than they got when growing up. Bigotry and hate often look like fear. Fear, like stress and guilt are within you and if you let it cripple you into bigotry, that’s your own fault and can’t be blamed on beliefs you are too afraid to try to understand or challenge. Woman up, or man up, or tranny up. Get that handled so you can do epic shit and look past what you didn’t understand to be more than you see right now.
I didn’t know anyone that was in one of those buildings that day until a couple of months ago, and she amazes me with her zeal for life. She wasn’t in the building when it was hit, but she was in the building that day and in the city at the time of the attack. Her children and her work are her passions and there is so much room for intentional engagement when I do see her. I know a rescuer who was a fire fighter at the time and she’s still tough as nails and likely suffers from what that dust did to her lungs. Both of these women are inspirations to me for getting through that as closely as they were and living a life that isn’t a prison to that experience. They live. In all they do, they don’t allow their strength and courage to die. They are braver than anyone will ever give them credit for because it wasn’t born for recognition but for survival. It came in silence and is not something they put on but who they are. They are amazing and strong women in every sense of what being a woman means to me.
In 1994, September 11th was the day I was baptized. It was a day to declare my belief in the religion I was raised in.
In 2001, September 11 was the day our country felt hate. A war was started and my children don’t know what it means to live in peace. It was the starting point for many of us, and a mark in a long history for others. It is the most significant entry in my son’s history books that I can give a first hand experience of.
In 2012, September 11 was the day I made a trip to the hospital to visit 6 day old twins and marvel at the fact that they were still alive even though they were born at 29 weeks. It was the first time Baby A was allowed kangaroo care, and I held her against my chest so she could hear my heartbeat and borrow my warmth.
In 2015, September 11 was a day of hope for me. I had encouragement from my son’s principal because she saw me struggle through being a single mother and she knew what I needed to hear from her own walk through it. I wish her the best in her new school. My family had just surprised me with groceries because I needed the help to feed my kids after their Dad left me. That day showed me that I’m stronger than I thought I could be.
Today, it’s a day of peace. I get to hear happy sounds as my sons interact with each other and I steal hugs throughout the day. I’m sipping coffee and I’m writing where the only editor in my head sounds like my voice and not what someone else might say. Today, September 11 is a day of personal freedom.