September 11 started early for me. I had been home sick the day before and I had some copies I wanted to make on special paper (I was that kind of teacher nerd), so I got up early and went to Kinko's before heading to school. I was wearing the new khaki pants and black sweater I had bough two days before. Just before the kids started coming to the classrooms, a fourth grade teacher came in and said, "I just realized that those of you who get here early (I was that kind of teacher nerd) probably haven't heard. Someone flew a plane into the World Trade Center." My response? "How bad of a pilot do you have to be to fly your plane into a building?" Terrorism never crossed my mind, though it quickly became apparent that I was, unfortunately, horribly wrong.
I remember getting news in bits and pieces while my kids were in gym and on the computer. A couple of kids in my class ended up going home within the hour, pulled by worried parents. By lunch, coworkers were asking if I thought Jay would be called up for some kind of duty, and though I was pretty sure that wasn't going to happen since he was still in school and still not on active duty, I wasn't sure how long he would be safe from something like that. After school I stopped to get gas and the pumps were empty. I picked up dinner and watched TV for the rest of the evening. Though we didn't know anyone in the buildings, we had friends who worked in the city and we were glad to hear they were safe.
Obviously, everyone has been affected in some way or another by the events of that day, but one of the earliest moments of clarity came when talking with the dad of one of my students during the fall conference times a few weeks later. This man had lived in New York City for most of his life and still had many family and friends there. As we were chatting, I mentioned that I was tired because I had made a two hour drive each way to have dinner with Jay the night before (he was away on a rotation for a month) and that I would have taken the day off and stayed with him if it hadn't been for conferences. "You should have stayed," he said. "I've been to eleven funerals in the last two weeks. There isn't anything you needed to tell any of us that had to be said tonight. You could have called us later. You should have stayed."
Our lives were already going to change when Jay went on active duty in June 2002, and having no prior military experience before that, I can't tell you how the military experience was much different, but it's really different from civilian life. Having a pimply faced kid in BDUs dispensing your birth control is just weird. Just a month after moving to Omaha, we watched fireworks on the first 4th of July since the attacks. If you've never seen fireworks in a military town, you're missing out, and that year was extreme.
The entire seven years of our Air Force life, deployments were always there, from staff we weren't familiar with to people we knew to good friends. From the beginning, I knew Jay was going to have to go somewhere, and I'm thankful that as far as deployments go, his was an easy one. It's never easy to leave your family, though, and I'm so glad that he was able to go at a time when we could tell Jack that Daddy was going to go take care of people far away and that was all the explanation he needed.
So here we are ten years later and we're back in the same town, but this time with two kids and a house. We've made it through a deployment and Osama Bin Laden is dead. The hassles of this new way of life are pretty routine. Slowly, Jack is learning about what happened. Perhaps it will be fuzzy for him for a long time, as it often seems to be with events that happened around the time you were born. (Does anyone my age really know what was going on in the 70s? I could tell you a lot about the 1770s and a fair amount about the 1870s, but the clearest information I have about the 1970s is that we all wore bad clothes and Jimmy Carter was pathetic.) I'm glad that we don't watch much TV, because I know he isn't ready to see the wall to wall coverage that's sure to be on. In another 10 years, perhaps it will be easier for all of us to digest, maybe just a little more.