We all have memories. How could we forget? No way. But as the years have worn on, some of my vivid images of the day have given way to memories of memories, rituals of remembrance.
It happens every year: the calendar catches me a little off guard. Maybe it's an a meeting reminder, or it's a quick glance at the clock on my phone. And I see the date: September 11, whatever year. Sometimes, on a perfect blue-sky day in August or September, I'll be walking through a lot, or driving in my car and have a deja vu moment. I get confused. Is today the anniversary? It's not. But it's close.
And when it does come, I've noticed, in the last few years, the same—or very similar—mental cycle starts. First I notice the weather. Blue skies. Mild air. My kinda day. That's just what I was thinking when I walked the few blocks from New York Sports Club to the Conde Nast building, feeling fantastic after a morning workout. Today was much balmier. I note that.
Then I remember my reactions to what was happening before anyone was totally certain what was happening. Watching the second plane hit on the television in Meg's office, my first thought was, "what the hell is going on with air traffic control?" Terrorists weren't on my radar. This response still scares me. Am I that clueless, so slow to catch on in a crisis?
I think of how hard it was to find out if people were safe. The lines were all tied. Then I text my friend Todd, tell him that I'm glad he's alive. I do this every year.
I think of how lucky I am, not to have lost anyone I loved. I think of how much it must suck to be one of the people who did. I cry. I cry for those people. I cry because I'm not as grateful as I should be for the lucky life I have. I cry because on most days, I'm too busy trying to get shit done, or too distracted by the small stuff, to stop and appreciate how beautiful the sky is. To laugh. To have a real conversation. To call my mom, or K, the friend with whom I emailed back and forth about the Pentagon on fire on the morning of 9/11. We were inseparable in college and I still consider her one of my best friends but we rarely talk. But that's life? Or is it?
I stop crying. And I think of Molly. We'd met just two weeks before when I started my job at Self.
"I know you're just getting to know everyone here, and I know you live in Queens," she said. She hugged me. "I live on the Upper East Side. You're coming home with me." We evacuated minutes after that, and she and I walked side-by-side and, at times, hand-in-hand, from 42nd Street to her apartment. From a sidewalk outside a TV store, we watched the second tower fall. I stayed at her place until late in the evening when the subways opened and I felt safe enough to go home. (I think. This part is fuzzy.)
How do you become the person who—when the world seems to be crashing down all around you—thinks to go over to the new girl in the corner cubicle to make sure she's OK? I want to become that person. And every September 11, my memory of Molly's kindness that day inspires me to try harder.