A plane just flew over. I watched it fly from somewhere behind my house, up, higher, over the house across the street and into the blue, smaller and smaller, until the twinkle of silver light, the sun's reflection, was gone.
We live not too far from the airport, so we see – and hear – a lot of planes flying over. Usually when they're taking off. They come in to land from a different direction. Traffic patterns and all. We are so accustomed to the sound of roaring, soaring engines that we barely think about it, except, maybe, on the phone, when we have to tell the person on the other end to wait a minute, a plane's flying over, we can't hear anything they're saying. Annoying planes, flying over when we're trying to talk. But other than that, they are just part of the sky, like the flock of starlings, or, rarely, a lone blue heron.
Seven years ago so many things were different. I sat in my cubicle at work. There were layoffs that day and I watched a few people in my department pack up their framed family photos and coffee mugs and potted plants, puzzled, stunned eyes blinking in brave faces. Where do I go next? they said silently, while out loud they said "Oh, I'm fine. Really."
And while that was going on, a plane crashed into a tower and everything going on in my office, people losing jobs, late deliveries, broken furniture, rush jobs and demanding customers – all of those things, monumental in their importance the day before – even minutes before – all of those bits and pieces of the office were shoved, hard, to their proper place in the grand scheme of things.
We barely accomplished anything that day. Everything stopped. We were glued to the news – to updates we read on our computers, to the radios on a few desks, to the miniature television sets a few people had, to phone calls from family members who were home and watching the horror unfold on their television screens.
We were frozen. It wasn't happening to us, right here, in this building. But it was happening to us, differently, but forcefully and powerfully and permanently. We knew people – colleagues, customers, friends – who were there, physically, and we were frozen at our desks, not knowing. Not knowing.
I dashed off panic-stricken, stupid emails to friends who lived and/or worked in the city. "Are you okay?" was my frantic, ridiculous question to them all. Okay? What does that mean now? Living and breathing is one thing. Okay is quite another. I meant "are you alive?" But that's kind of a strange thing to ask. And of course the answers did not come immediately. Power was out, phone lines were out, computers had gone dark. I look back and cringe at what a stupid, naive question that was. But then, I had no frame of reference. I didn't know what to ask. All this was new.
After work I went home, to the little tiny house Bill and I would soon be leaving. We were due to close on our new home, the one I am sitting in right now, some time the following week. Boxes were stacked high and we were poised for flight. Bill got home soon – or maybe he was there before I was. I honestly don't remember now. I do remember finally bursting into tears and hanging on to him while I cried.
We went out to eat. Sat in a little seafood place and half watched the news on tv in the bar behind our booth. We didn't talk a lot. And if we did, there was no other topic.
After that day, the skies were quiet for a while. So silent, like a great blanket lay upon us and muffled the ordinary sounds of our ordinary days. But of course, our days had ceased to be ordinary.
I found out that the people I'd been concerned about were, yes, alive. Okay? Well, no. Of course not. They were shell-shocked and raw and their eyes had seen, right there in front of them, the horrors that so many of us watched from our living rooms. They had breathed in the smoke and dust and death. "Okay" is rather meaningless in the face of all that.
When the planes started flying again, the noise was strange and scary. Like we hadn't seen these great silver birds before, and how noisy they are! and what do they mean? I remember ducking, ever so slightly, a new reflex, when the first planes began to fly overhead once again. It hurt to look at them. The sun played tricks on my eyes – at times the bright silver birds seemed to burst into flames. But no – that was just a trick of the light. Blink a few times, and it will be gone.
The strangest part was the continuing on of things. We went to work the next day. We had jobs, obligations, and buildings that were still standing. But it didn't seem…appropriate. So I watched and read everything, like so many of us did, and immersed myself in the aftermath. I cried. I wondered about the meaning of life. The why.
We closed on our house a week and a day later. It was bittersweet. So exciting – our own home, our own yard, our own two-car garage, and, yes, our own brand new 30 year mortgage. Shiny new hardwood floors and green faux-granite countertops. Brand new gas stove and side-by-side refrigerator. In black to match the built-in dishwasher that came with the house. A fireplace. Two bathrooms. A finished basement. Stark white walls. Old-style tile in one bathroom, a pre-fab tub in the other. Space. We rented a U-Haul and moved most of the furniture and boxes ourselves, gritting our teeth and muttering at each other in our efforts to move the larger items down a tiny, twisty staircase and out the door of that tiny first home. We got it up there, we have to be able to get it down. And then up the ramp and into the rented moving truck. I didn't know it at the time, but I was several weeks pregnant.
The following spring, I gave birth to a boy. Bill put in a raised garden bed, flowers we'd hastily planted the autum before sprouted up along the front walkways and bloomed. Pictures hung on walls and our home was no longer new. It was comfortable and cozy and warm. Just like home is supposed to be.
The first anniversay approached. We all stopped, and remembered, and cried again. Gaping wounds may close over, but the scars do not disappear, and the pain flares up, sometimes sharp, like a knife, and sometimes throbbing and quiet and persistent. It is never gone entirely. Anniversary is such a strange word, to me, to mark such a tragedy. Isn't there a better word? Something more accurate? Less…festive?
And here we are, now, seven years later. So much is different now, in my tiny little world. In addition to the son, I also have a daughter. I no longer sit at that cubicle. We have more gardens, more flowers. More pets. Microscopically less mortgage. We have lost family members. We have gained perspective. We cherish our loved ones a bit more, maybe. Hopefully. We let the small stuff slide. We rewrite the list of what matters to us. We go on, but, one way or another, we are all changed.
And planes continue to fly over our house.
They soar up, up into the blue sky and disappear in a twinkle of reflected sunlight.