Thursday, September 11, 2008

Recovery – I wonder….

I wonder how long it takes to recover from a broken heart? Not the kind where you break up with your spouse or significant other – the kind where you suffer a devastating loss.

I live in a friendly, stable, middle-class neighborhood. People who move here have a tendency to stay for a long time. We get to know each other but don’t intrude in each other’s lives. We watch out for each other when any of us are gone on vacation or when we see strangers in the neighborhood. We share gardening tips, talk about things going on in our lives and sometimes discuss the world situation. Occasionally we gossip about each other and we have gone through good times and bad together.

New York and Washington D.C. are far away from our comfortable little environment. On the morning of September 11, 2001, my alarm rang at 6 a.m. Pacific time. A song was playing and I was in a fog headed for the shower. Ten minutes later there was no more music and the normally light-hearted DJ’s were somber. It was obvious something serious happened, so I turned on the TV and saw the smoke and flames coming from the north tower of the WTC. No one was sure what happened, but the term “tragic accident” was used when -WHAM - at 6:03 a.m. Pacific time I witnessed a plane fly into the south tower.

I’m not often stunned, but I had to sit down because of the shock. I watched for a few minutes then rushed to dry my hair and get ready for work trying not to miss any coverage. The talk changed from tragic accident, but there were no real theories yet on what happened. The scenes from New York looked surreal.

Shortly after 6:37 a.m. the news the Pentagon had been hit was broadcast. Hijacking and terrorists were words used with increasing frequency. While we sat waiting for pictures from the Pentagon, at 6:59 a.m. the north tower collapsed. The scene on TV was utter chaos and it was apparent that even the newscasters were in shock.

Pictures came in from the Pentagon with smoke and flames, then the replay of the north tower collapse, then the news that Flight 92 crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside at 7:06 a.m. and just 22 minutes later at 7:28 a.m. the south tower collapsed in a huge cloud of dust.

I watched for another 10 minutes then left for work, not caring about running late. I listened to the radio all the way in and noticed the solemn looks on the faces of other drivers. People at work were shaken and we all had the news streaming on our computers. It was impossible to talk or think about anything else. We had jobs to do, but our hearts weren’t there. We ate lunch in the conference room with the TV and as soon as work was over, went home to turn on our TV’s.

I pulled into my garage then went over to my mailbox to grab the mail. I was in a hurry to get inside and watch the news, but my next door neighbor yelled at me. I didn’t want to talk and was a little irritated, but she insisted and what she said stopped me in my tracks.

My neighbors – a couple in their late 70’s at the time – their son might have been in the Pentagon.

No one was sure yet. There hadn’t been any confirmation, but his wife said he went into work that morning. He was only 30 days away from retiring from a long career in the Army and wasn’t supposed to be in his office that day, but he was trying to finish up some paperwork. He was a dedicated officer, a good and only son, had 3 children and a stable marriage. I met him a few times and he was a very nice person.

His office was directly in the path of Flight 77.

We spent that evening and most of the next day waiting to find out if he was in the Pentagon when Flight 77 hit.

He was there.

They never found him.

There was nothing left to find.

It was a sad time for all of us and though we were on the other side of the country, it made the whole tragedy very personal and real for us.

I took a pie because that’s how I was raised. When something tragic happened to someone, you took food. Olga told me later she was glad to have it because they had so much company. The flowers arrived, and arrived, and arrived and arrived. The official Army vehicles came and went several times. Friends and relatives paid their respects and gradually things got back to normal.

On the first anniversary of the tragedy, I took some flowers and a card to let them know I was thinking of them. They showed me a wonderful portrait someone had painted of him after his death. They were so proud of him. We all were.

September 11th is always a sad day in this neighborhood.

Today it’s even sadder. Last November Olga died. She never really recovered from his death. In June, Lee died too. He was an ornery old cuss, but he needed Olga so he went to find her.

The house is sold and soon new neighbors will settle in.

Olga and Lee never recovered from their devastating loss.

I wonder if they ever would have had they lived longer.


Trée said...

AW, I'm almost moved beyond words or at least any words that would make any sense. I don't know any of the individuals in your post, but, for whatever reason, this story hits me harder than I know how to explain. Maybe because I have an only son, maybe because my last grandparent will slip away any day now. Thank you for sharing. Thoughts and prayers on this tragic day.

Erica Orloff said...

Hi Anti-wife:
No, I don't believe anyone recovers. I think people pick up some pieces--not all of them--and put together some semblance of a life. They move on. Maybe at first because they have other kids or some reason to have to actually wake up in the morning. Maybe they don't. Then maybe a year or two goes buy and they don't feel guilty when they laugh, or if a day goees by when they didn't cry. But no, I think the heart has a memory and THAT kind of loss is never recovered from. It's a life but a shadow life afterwards, never quite the same, any happiness always tinged with grief. I think grief is the strangest of all emotions, the roots so deep, they hit you out of nowhere sometimes.


Mary Witzl said...

I can't imagine how anyone could recover from something like that. I think life can go on, but you cannot fully recover.

We were travelling through Wales in August 2001. At one place we visited, I talked to a woman whose oldest daughter was interning for a year in Manhattan, at the WTC. The woman's youngest daughter had gone to join her in New York. I remember telling the woman that I knew someone who lived near the WTC who said that the neighborhood had gotten a lot safer. One month later, I remembered that conversation and was haunted by it. With all my heart I hope that both of those girls were not at the WTC that day. But so many people's children were.

Polly Kahl said...

I turned on the TV right after the first hit, and then I saw the second hit live. Then the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania, where I live. It felt to me like the world was coming to an end. I even called my hubby at work and told him to come home and was tempted to pick the kids up from school so we could all be together if it was truly the end. The shock of it all seemed like it would last forever. Then later, when we went into the city to see the big hole where the towers used to be, to pay our respects, the sight was mind boggling. Just beyond imagination.

It's not natural for children to die before parents. We all know we're going to lose our parents. But who expects to lose their kids? Even if the parent is in their eighties and the kids are in their sixties, it's just not the natural order of things.

Robin said...

Anti, before I read your post I had completely forgotten it was 9/11, and what that has meant since that fateful day. It feels exactly like forgetting the death of someone you loved. Guilt and relief that it won't hurt forever. I'm so sorry for your neighbors. How awful.

ORION said...

This is really what it's all about...when we really get it. Not when we hear about the magnitude of the devastation, but when we are told specific details of a particular loss.
Thank you for your post.

Bernita said...

The ripples from that terrible day go on and on.