11 September 2006

I Remember

I was at the doctor's office in Centreville, Virginia. We talked about my 6 months of gastrointestinal symptoms. At one point, he was called out of the exam room, and when he came back in, the conversation went on without a hitch. Later I wondered if he knew then. Finally, he said, "well, I think you may have irritable bowel syndrome, but let me do one more blood test. It's a long shot, but a few of my IBS patients have actually had celiac disease."

Blood draw over, I got in my car and turned on the radio. WMAL 1630 AM. The usual talk show was not on. It was a feed from CBS. Planes had hit the World Trade Center.

It was chilling. I drove to the ATM nearby. I had plans to go to a furniture store about 25 minutes away. We were looking for a couch for our new house, which was still being built. In the meantime, we were living with Jon's parents.

Then the national feed was interrupted by the local guy. The radio station was getting phone calls from people driving on the highway past the Pentagon. They put one of them on. The man said that he had seen a plane hit the Pentagon.

I felt frozen inside. What was happening? And what should I do? I tried to call Jon on my cell. He was working at Ft. Belvior, a military base in Alexandria. Was he okay? The call didn't go through.

The national feed was back on, with the Pentagon story as well. I was waiting at a traffic light on Rt. 29. The news folks were saying that there could be 10,000 people in the World Trade Center.

Then, the towers fell. My tears came. All I could think was "all those people! all those people!" I looked around at the people in the cars next to me. Had they heard? I didn't see anyone in obvious distress.

My cell rang. It was Jon. "Where are you?" he asked. I babbled something about where I was and that I couldn't decide to go on to the furniture store or not. "Go home," he said. When I kept talking, he became more forceful. "Just go home now." So I did. Later, Jon told me why he was so insistent: my car had military stickers on the windshield. At that point, who knew what target would be next?

Jon's dad was working from home that day. I had an editing project I needed to work on, too. But neither of us worked. We sat in their family room watching the news. Jon's mom was working in Georgetown. She called and said she didn't know when she'd be home because of the traffic. Jon also didn't know when he'd be home. The base was shut down for security. No one in or out. Jon's dad called his mother in Wisconsin. I tried to call my parents but kept getting fast busy signals. Either I or they got through eventually.

As it turned out, both Jon and his mom made it home by late afternoon. I don't remember what happened the rest of the day. I think the TV was on the whole day and into the evening. I remember watching Congress sing "God Bless America" on the steps. A part of me thought it was just for show, but it was still moving. I wish they would remember now the solidarity they showed then.

Two days later, I saw my counselor for perhaps the second or third time. I had started with her because of my lingering depression from the loss of our first baby in an early miscarriage. I told her that my loss didn't seem so awful right now. That I felt self-indulgent even being sad about it, when such a terrible thing had just happened. She said that everyone she had seen in the past few days had said the same thing. But a loss is a loss, she said, and it's all right to feel sad about it, even if you don't think it's as bad as someone else's.

A week later, my doctor called. My blood test for celiac disease was positive. I could confirm it with an endoscopy, but why not just go on a gluten-free diet and see if it worked?

Three months later, I discovered I was pregnant.

My daughter is now four years old. September 11 will be to her like the moon landing is to me. History. Something that happened before she was born.

It will seem remote to her, something she reads about in a school book.

But I will remember. And I will pray--as perhaps my grandparents prayed during World War II--that her generation will never experience such darkness, such evil. But I know that it probably will.

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