Intersections – September One One
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I didn’t go to work. I had a doctor’s appointment. I had plans to stop at my sister’s house and see my little nieces. They were four and two. They were babies when our world changed. I never made it to the doctor that day.
There was news of some kind of accident in New York involving a plane. I was in my car driving. Even on my day off, I started my day early. My first thought was, “I hope everybody is okay.” They weren’t. None of us would be.
I got to my sister’s house, and we turned on the news. If I had been at work I wouldn’t have seen it. Another plane in the air heading into the city. It was something that wasn’t an accident. Our parents were at work. Our husbands were at work. Our sister and her husband lived in New Jersey. They were so close to New York. Our hope turned to worry.
The news only made it worse. False reports. False casualty tolls. They didn’t know the truth of what was happening so they replayed the terror. They showed live footage of terrible things.
“Is that man falling?” my niece asked. She was four. My sister and I realized we’d spent hours watching the news. We weren’t sitting. We stood in front of the TV. Mesmerized. The two girls stood with us.
Normally, my nieces watched shows like “Barney” and “The Big Comfy Couch” and “Teletubbies.” We changed the channel. I sat down. We made phone calls. I remembered really enjoying “Barney” that day. It was a show we made fun of for being insipid, but if I had to choose between the world being on fire or a world of make believe, I’d choose the purple dinosaur every time.
My aunt had been on a flight from New York that got diverted to Atlanta. My husband went to pick her up from the nightmare of stranded passengers that spilled out of the airport.
At some point, I thought the day would last forever. It seemed like it would never end. Eventually the sun went down on September 11, 2001. I saw my mom and dad. My husband arrived with my aunt. We all looked haunted. Our eyes were dilated with fear and sadness. My heart ached in my chest. And we were the safe ones. That’s how we felt. How did the others feel? We couldn’t imagine the pain. It was in the air across the country.
That night, I stood at my window facing downtown Atlanta. We lived near Peachtree and 25th Street, but the streets were empty. The highway was clear. I’d never realized how full the sky had been with airplanes and traffic helicopters until there were none. There were stars visible over the city. They were usually hidden. I was afraid, sad, and angry in that order.
Even the trains were quiet that night. We were next to Amtrak and the freight lines. Nothing moved. I’ve lived my entire life in close proximity to a train. The beat of my heart is in the turning of the wheels. The whistle a reminder to breathe. That night there was silence. It was painful.
Whatever the future that was supposed to be would never happen. The new future would be one of fear. Fear is the thing that keeps us alive. I get that. But fear is the thing that keeps us from living. Fear eventually turns into hate. This is what I don’t understand.
I decided to turn off the news. No TV or radio or newspapers. I decided to write a book. I was a romance novel. I decided to get back on airplanes as soon as I could. Maybe we can all remember the first flight we took after 9/11. We looked at the other passengers. It reminded me a “Twilight Zone” episode called The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. We were the monsters for finding an enemy in everyone we saw.
I remember the plane lifting off and the miracle of flying. We will all die one day. That’s not what we fear. That’s what I learned on September 11. We don’t fear dying. We fear how.
“Intersections,” the book, is a collection of columns from Decaturish.com and beyond. It is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.