Tuesday. Primary day in New York, which meant I was hoofing door to door, trying to get a targeted list of voters to the polls. I was making pretty good time, too, when I became gradually aware of sirens, first one, then more, until the entire city sounded like it needed help. One by one, people started slowing down, looking around at each other as if one of us had the answer to the chaos. It was Howard Stern who finally filled us in, drifting quietly through an open window, and we collectively looked up at the sky.
I have never told this story. My husband knows that each year on 9/11 I shut down, avoiding work, the news, social media; he has no idea why it hurts, why I’m so “emotional.” I left New York not long afterwards, the campaign trail sending me to the Midwest. I’ve returned several times to visit but still have not been able to bring myself to Ground Zero. There are still times when I pause upon hearing an aircraft, en route to a nearby landing strip, begin to slow for descent. And after all this time, I still look to the sky when I smell smoke.
It was T, in all his toddler glory, who made me pause, forced me to focus, to remember. We’ve been learning about the Star-Spangled Banner this week, which coincides with the festivities surrounding the bicentennial of the War of 1812. He cannot get enough of that song – we went through dozens of versions of it, listening and singing along, learning the lyrics line by line. “Try that one! What’s this one?” It was inevitable that we would come across footage from September 11th. I knew as soon as he picked the next clip what it would contain and I hesitated – it would have been so easy to tell him that one didn’t work, or distract him long enough to choose another. But I have never lied to him, and it was time for me to let go.
“We can watch this one, baby, but it may make me cry. I don’t want that to scare you.” “Okay, Mommy.” So we watched together, with Alan Jackson playing in the background. “Why is that building on fire?” “A plane ran into the side of it.” “What is that dog doing?” “He’s helping the police find people who were hurt.” “Why is that fireman so dirty?” “He worked really hard, it was very smokey and dirty.” “Who are those guys?”
“Heroes, baby. That’s what heroes look like.”