September 11, 2001
Like most people I can remember the day of September 11, 2001 as if it were yesterday. I was attending one of my classes at Marist College during my sophomore year. I don’t remember what class it was or what my professor’s name was, I just remember that I hated the class and I thought my teacher was way too excited about a topic so unbearable. It was a three hour class and she always gave us a break half way through. After the break she came running back into our class. With a look of panic on her face she said, “I think you all should go back to your rooms, a plane just crashed into one of the twin towers and I don’t know what’s going on. It looks like it may have been a terrorist attack.” Now I am 19 years old so my first reaction was that I was happy to be getting out of this God awful class early and then my second thought was, “I hope not too many people were hurt.”
I spent the rest of the day like everyone else. I watched the news and listened to all the noise around the dorms. Some of the kids at my school had parents who worked in the towers and they were desperately trying to get in touch with them. I thought about my sister who was living in the city at the time and wondered where she was. I had no concerns about her being in harms way and later that day heard from my parents telling me that she was okay. I felt sad by what happened, but it didn’t really affect me. I felt so far removed from it, like I was watching a movie. I was sad for the tremendous loss, but I didn’t know anyone who died so I simply moved this tragedy to a part of my brain where I didn’t think about it. I bought an American flag like everyone else and stuck it out the window of my car and talked about how proud I was to be an American. I went on with my life while so many people in our country were suffering.
It was a Sunday night and Nicole and I were driving back to school after a weekend visit home. Since 9/11 Nicole’s mother was extremely worried about her daughter being safe, as I am sure so many other parents were. Nicole had to call her mom as soon as we got over the Throgs Neck Bridge to let her know we were safe. We would laugh and joke about her mother being neurotic. On this particular night we crossed the bridge and Nicole called her mother and had the quick conversation that came to be routine at this point in our trip, “Hi mom, we crossed the bridge…..yes we are good….yes I’ll be safe….I love you too, bye.” The sun was setting as we continued north and we began talking about 9/11.
Nicole was looking at the sky and commented on how still and quiet the night had suddenly seemed to her since the tragic events of 9/11. I agreed not really sure if I did feel the same way while Nicole continued looking out the window and said, “It just feels so strange since 9/11, like we’re not safe anymore.” Her last comment would come to haunt me for years. It was an eerie foreshadowing of the exact feeling I would have every night following Nicole’s death. I never felt safe again and I would hear Nicole saying this over and over in my head.
When my panic attacks began following Nicole’s death it was as if the reality of what took place on 9/11 came into focus and I realized for the first time what happened. For the first time I felt the loss of what happened and I didn’t just feel it as an outsider, I felt it as if it had happened to me. I was so overwhelmed with grief and yet I felt ridiculous for feeling this way. I didn’t know any of these people and yet here I was crying like a baby. I would watch all the specials on t.v. forcing myself to really pay attention. It was as if I was punishing myself, demanding my mind to acknowledge what happened and really feel the loss of the thousands of lives that were taken.
Let me explain where I’m trying to go here a little better. I have already shared my first panic attack (the one in the Airport Diner on May 18, 2002). Here is what really took place looking back. I was sitting in the diner when a plane flew overhead, the plane triggered something in my brain that connected me to 9/11. I felt unsafe and panicked that something bad was about to happen. For the first time in my life I felt vulnerable and I came to fully understand that I could die at any time. I realized the finality of death (for now) and that Nicole was really gone and I would never see her again. I realized that all of those people who died on 9/11 would never come back. All of these realizations hit me like a ton of bricks and they made me sad, really, really sad.
It wasn’t until 2013 that I put the 9/11 piece into my anxious puzzle. I had never talked about that day and how I felt until then. I never told anyone about my fear of planes and how I would lie in bed at night listening to them fly over my house, holding my breath, with my body tense, waiting. I would wait for the sound of a crash. I knew it would happen and I would just wait. I would wait while I was outside playing with my kids. I would wait for the sound anytime I heard a plane taking off or flying over head. I would wait as I watched the little planes sailing through the sky on a perfect summer day. I thought I was just crazy. I was embarrassed to talk about how 9/11 made me feel. Who was I to be so sad?
I have found that anxiety is like an onion. You can’t just peel away one layer and be free. You have to peel away all of the layers. I needed to acknowledge how 9/11 affected me in order to move on with my recovery. The day I finally opened up to Carol about this was a day I will never forget. Sitting on her couch I was sure that I was going to be taken away in an ambulance. I have never cried so hard in my life, but that is for another day and another story.
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