Tears for the Twin Towers
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
I’ve only seen my father cry once.
It was a quiet, almost secret response – one I wasn’t supposed to see. I was 10 years old, not entirely sure what was going on, despite the late hour and constant flow of news, and I had left the room only for a moment to grab a teddy bear; the TV broadcast was starting to make me feel sad and I needed something to hold onto.
I tiptoed back into my living room, and I know my father must’ve seen me – I was completely in his line of vision – but his eyes were locked on the screen. His gaze didn’t falter as the stream of information quietly filled our small living room.
And then I saw the tears.
I’ve never told my father about this moment nor have I told him that it’s one of my most vivid memories – it remains unspoken, as if it were a moment I had violated.
My father – strong, stoic and rugged – was not a man who cried. He was the one I was afraid of if I did something wrong or who held it together when our female-dominant household got too emotional.
He wasn’t a man who cried, I thought. Yet I saw him cry for his country.
That day was September 11, 2001. A day that changed American life as we know it.
I woke up that morning and got ready to go to school, as I always did. Fifth grade was nothing exciting, and I can’t tell you anything else about that year. I remember sitting in class – math class, to be exact – when one of the sixth grade teachers poked her head into the classroom and told Ms. Haderer to turn on the TV.
She stopped teaching, and we watched. Silently, we watched the towers fall without really understanding what was going on – not just the students, but the adults, too.
I remember the newscasters talking about how it was an attack on us as Americans, an attack on our government, and we didn’t know what “they” would target next.
Who were they? Why were they doing this to us? What did we do to them? Isn’t America supposed to be the safest country in the world? What happens now?
I saw the world as any 10-year-old should: a happy place where war didn’t exist, at least not within my little world, and I thought I was a radical sticking it to the man when I mouthed the words to the Our Father instead of actually reciting the prayer. Surely no one wanted to attack my family or me – I lived in Buffalo, an irrelevant city on the other side of New York State.
New York City is an 8-hour train ride away – far enough away to feel like you’ve left the state when you visit, but close enough to make it a weekend getaway destination. Yet on September 11, it seemed as if the Twin Towers had fallen in my backyard.
My mother works for the VA Hospital – a government job – and I remember the newscasters talking about how all government facilities were now terrorist targets.
My 10-year-old brain was quick to decide my mother’s building was next.
Once the towers had fallen and it seemed like the damage was done, we turned off the TV, said a few prayers for those suffering and tried to concentrate on our studies.
Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling my mother’s building would be hit next – the towers had fallen, a plane had slammed into the side of the Pentagon, and passengers tried to take a plane back from hijackers before crashing into a field in Pennsylvania. Three attacks, three different places, and I thought Buffalo was the only probable next victim.
I went home from school, relieved and overjoyed that my family was safe (after trying to devise a plan to contact my mother, but it was before cell phones were a wide-spread thing), but I still didn’t understand what had happened. I just knew it hurt. A lot.
And it still does.
I know someday I will be telling my kids and my kids’ kids about 9/11, and everyone I know has a story far more moving and personal than the history books will write. It’s been 11 years, but it seems just like yesterday.
I will remember how itchy my uniform skirt was, how the TV in the classroom was so ancient and we could barely see, how we gathered in silence and expected our teachers to give us all the answers to the unending list of questions in our heads.
I will remember my father’s tears. Tears shed because of patriotism, because of fear, because American life had changed forever and even the toughest men now had heavy hearts. A quiet secret I will forever keep. Tears I hope to never see again.
Always remember. Never forget.