Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001 when you learned that America was under attack? It's the day that changed my life forever, and I know it changed all of us. But it's been twelve years, and time does heal all wounds.
But many of us are scarred.
I woke up to the sound of a radio playing upstairs. I had fallen asleep on the couch the night before, exhausted from unpacking stuff in our new house. The painters had come early, and they were working on the kitchen when I came up to greet them.
"Hey, did you hear?" the painter with the long hair asked me.
I had to rub the sleep from my eyes. "Hear about what?"
"A plane hit one of the Twin Towers."
My mind had to process that for several moments. Of course I knew what the Twin Towers are. I'm from New York after all. But I still hadn't comprehended what the painter had said. "Seriously?"
"It's all over the news."
The only television I had was in the basement, so I went back down there and turned it on. I saw video images of the smoke billowing out of the North Tower. And then I saw another explosion. Were they replaying the plane accident? To my horror, the South Tower had been struck.
In fiction, the term "heart sank" is overused. But damn. That's what my heart did. I felt it drop to my stomach. I must have screamed something fierce, because both painters ran downstairs. We all watched the scene unfold. None of us could move. None of us could even talk.
Half an hour later, a third plane struck the Pentagon.
The doorbell rang, and an old neighbor who does home improvement was there for an appointment. I ran up and answered it, and I could tell he had been listening to the news on his car radio. His eyes were red and still wet. I let him in, and we both practically ran downstairs to the television.
Maybe thirty minutes later, a fourth plane struck a field in Pennsylvania.
We all stood there dumbfounded for awhile before heading back upstairs. The painters continued their work with the radio on, and I spent the next few days in a complete stupor. I worked for a company that provided telephone and computer conferencing, and it was just crazy. My company provided free conferences to businesses in NY to help connect employees to loved ones and help them account for missing people.
I flew out to New York six months later, and we visited what was left of the World Trade Center. The smell stung your eyes. It was so sharp and acrid, you wondered how the hell the clean up crews could stand it even with those masks on. Driving down I-95 in a cab to Newark after my business trip, I looked across the bay at the Manhattan skyline, and it looked so strange without those Towers.
I later learned that a family I had grown up with lost their oldest son, Richard Salinardi. The family had moved from New York to here in St. Louis, and I played tennis with their youngest son. Richard was a general manager for Aramark, and he and another employee let others get on the express elevator on the 78th floor. The last thing those people heard from Richard was him laughing and joking, and his employees got to the first floor safely.
It's been twelve years, but it still hurts today. There's all kinds of irony during this twelfth anniversary of 9-11 that now we're on the verge of military strikes in Syria. I won't get political on here, but I will say that we are still living the nightmare in the aftermath of those attacks.
Nearly 3000 people died, and who knows how many have gotten sick or worse just from breathing in the poisonous air for months afterwards. Take into account the deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq following the attacks, and your brain is just starting to wrap itself around the long term impact of that terrible day.
I will be on a plane this September 11th, and it will mark the third time I have done so on this anniversary. People are a little more anxious, but more importantly, they are also more reverent. The TV screens at the gates will be televising the memorials, and we will remember.
It will take us back to twelve years ago.