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9/11 Changed My Life . . . Not How You Might Think

Ten years later, I have something to show for it

Every year, I'm asked to write something about 9/11 and how it has affected me. Usually, the end result comes out kind of down and morose. After all, it was a horrible day that turned the course history for our country and had a big impact on me, too.

I was in Manhattan on 9/11/2001. I knew people who lost family members in the towers. I wrote about it at the time, too.

But, today, I have a humor column. As I tried to figure out some kind of angle that won't leave everyone crying, I realized that this horrible event also affected my life in a positive way in the end. After ten years, I have something that I may not have had if that day had been just another day – my son.

My husband and I had been talking for awhile about having a third child that year. I was on the fence about it. I liked the idea of more kids in theory, but pragmatism made me think I would be overreaching. We lived in New Jersey at the time and it was expensive. We both had to work and my two pre-school daughters were in daycare. Everything seemed to be really hard to do.

On 9/11, I was part of a corporate marketing department preparing for a week-long conference at the Javitz Center. Our team had begun a morning meeting in a downstairs conference room to get organized for our second day of set-up, when someone came in and said that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

We all looked at each other and started to joke about bad eyesight and, gee, didn't he see that there was a huge building right there? Of course, at first we thought it was an accident and probably a small airplane, until they started showing video on TV. We ran into the lobby to watch the TV monitors that hung in every corner.

After the second plane hit, the Javitz Center manager corralled us into a meeting room and told us that FEMA was taking over the building and that we had to leave. We were stunned and scared and unceremoniously dumped out onto the street. We closed up our planning room, with steaming coffee mugs and half-eaten bagels still sitting on the work tables, leaving behind almost a million dollars worth of equipment, food, and paraphernalia in the showroom. We wandered out onto 11th Avenue, where we all tried in vain to make cell phone calls.

The odd part was that there, in the streets of New York City, we had no idea what was going on. The rest of the country was watching the news and aware of every moment as it happened, but we were without any electronic contact. Someone had a transistor radio and we crowded around it to try to understand what as happening.

When the fighter planes raced over our heads, that was my cue to make an exit. My sister lived on the upper west side and if this was a real threat to our lives, I mean, hey, I liked my co-workers, but I would rather be in danger with family than with them.

I began to walk north. I was one little drop in a flow of millions of people walking away. It was definitely biblical. It was also a series of New York moments after that.

Cell phones were useless, so I stopped at a pizza deli and talked the very italian looking guy behind the counter into letting me use his land-line telephone. I still remember every New York stereotyped detail about that guy – dark and handsome, a shadow of stubble on his chiseled chin, thick eyebrows, wearing a ribbed white tank top and a kitchen towel slung over his shoulder. He and the other people in the shop were all staring at the TV that was propped up in the corner. At first, he refused, talking fast at me with his very New York accent, saying that it was for business calls. Then, when I put on my doe eyes and said, “please” and that I needed to call my sister. He looked at my face and his whole body kind of slumped. He handed me the phone.

This was all before the towers actually fell.

I called my sister's apartment and she answered. That's another New York thing – you never know who will be where, when. She was home and sleeping late. I practically yelled at her to turn on the TV and that I was 60-something blocks away and I was walking toward her apartment.

Another New York moment presented itself within a few blocks. I saw a yellow taxi cab pull over right in front of me. If you know anything about taxi cab karma, this unlikely scene was akin to a miracle. Two tearful women hugged in the back seat and one of them got out. I ran to the open door and stuck my head in. “Are you OK?” I sympathetically asked the young woman inside. I talked my way into the cab.

At the end, the driver was willing to take me all the way to my sister's street. I gave him $40 for a $12 ride and actually said to him, “God bless you.” It always feels corny to say that to someone, but I really meant it.

Afterward, it became a joke among my family that only Garine could have actually gotten a cab on 9/11!

My sister and I, along with with millions of others, spent the next two days waiting and watching and trying to make phone calls. There were no cars on the streets, no transportation in or out of the city, no airplanes overhead. It was strangely quiet. There were a lot of talking heads and patriotic songs on the TV. It was two days later that the trains began to run again and I got home to my husband and kids.

The trains were full. There were a couple of men in our car who were covered with white soot, first responders finally taking a break, and telling us what they had seen at ground zero. The rest of us asked questions with wide eyes.

As the train came into my station, I saw my family on the platform through the car window. My two toddler daughters stood on top of a bench, clutching little American flags in their tiny hands.

I had been keeping it together up until that moment. That's when I cried. There is nothing like your own children to make you lose it.

The family planning discussions that my husband and I had been having all came crashing into my head. The events of 9/11 shoved me off the fence and firmly onto the side of expanding the family. It's hard to explain why, especially since the same event did the opposite for many of my friends who had been planning on having more children and decided not to.

In my way of thinking, I felt that I had more love to give and to spread around and that love was exactly the thing that we would need in the future. Of course, I didn't know then just how much we would need, but I think I'm doing my part as well as I can.

Ten years later, things are not horrible, but not great. My family went through a lot of ups and downs in the last decade. Politically and economically, America is in a big mess, but the wars are not on our streets.

There are moments that I do feel the overwhelm of having three kids and trying to make it in this post 9/11 world. The fact that I am one of the statistics of the underemployed doesn't help. That marketing job eventually disappeared and now that whole department is only two people.

Maybe I don't have all the things that I want, but the bottom line is that whenever I see my husband kicking a soccer ball with the kids, I know it's good. Whenever I see one of my daughters lean toward my son's ear to whisper something funny, I know, at least my little part of the world has some extra light. Whenever I need a hug, I get one.

Julie Tittle September 14, 2011 at 02:35 PM
You may not have set out to make us cry, but your reunion with you family at the train station did me in. I remember watching coverage that day and being horrified, but it wasn't until my husband made it home that day that I lost it and sobbed on his shoulder.

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