Sunday, September 11, 2011
Ten years ago, I was at Ft. Hood Texas. It was an absolutely beautiful day, I remember that with great clarity. But it felt odd, no one was outside, the streets were empty, there was a heavy silence in the air, even on the bus I rode to work which is normally buzzing with morning gossip. I went to work and had to open the music store alone because no one else had come in yet, which was also really odd. An hour after opening, my boss walked in the door with a small portable TV. He looked at me after I greeted him with a cheery "Good morning!" and said "Oh.. you don't know yet..." and put the TV in front of me right as the second tower fell. "We're under attack. Someone attacked the Pentagon. And the twin towers, that's what you just watched." We're being attacked? What does that mean? We're under attack, I was really disoriented. I remember sitting down on a small step, and staying there most of the day. We had no customers, so that was just fine. My boss asked if I wanted to go home, I didn't want to, I didn't want to think about what it meant. My (now ex) husband was locked on base and me and my neighbor were locked off base away from our husbands. We bunkered down together in her apartment, ate dinner, and then came the hardest part of my day.
I had to face my second job. I was able to walk to the school, and with each step I thought about how I was going to talk to these children. What questions were they going to ask. Would I be able to answer them. I opened the door to the tutoring room where I had helped children with their homework before and after school. They needed a different kind of help today. I was greeted with tears. Children terrified that their military parents were in danger. Confused. Shaken by what to them seemed to be a very sudden and violent turn of events in their otherwise stable and routine lives. Although they were military children, the majority of them had lived at Ft. Hood or its surrounding areas for most of their memorable lives. All they had known was peace time.
And of course, the questions came. I handled them one by one and we got through them. Some of the questions were about changes in their personal lives, as children had learned that they would be very quickly going to stay with relatives, and they didn't know when or if they would be back. Some of the questions were about the individual people in the towers. What were they like, were they good people, why would someone kill them all if they were good people? Some of the questions were about what was happening on the base, the extra gaurds, the traffic, the security check points.
But to be honest, although it was hard to be open and blatantly honest (saying "I don't know" when I really didn't know, or "that frightens me a little too" when I really was scared about something, for example) not only helped the children, but it helped me to wrap my head around the events I had seen fall into place. It helped me cope with the images we were seeing day after day in the weeks following, as the rescue mission on ground zero began to turn into a recovery mission. It helped me cope when, for days I had no word from my husband. The kids continued to ask, and I continued to answer. Little by little, we dealt with it. We dealt with the deployments. We dealt with the news that was trickling in. We dealt with the feelings of helplessness as we watched images flash across the television screen and the repercussions of those images trickle into our living rooms as we said goodbye to our loved ones each morning, not knowing if they would be coming home for dinner or sent somewhere untold.
I often think about those kids today. I wonder where they are at. For many of them, the weeks following September 11th were the last weeks we saw each other. I wonder how they continued to cope, I pray for them and their parents who I know were deployed to dangerous areas. Sometimes I wish that I could see them all just for a few minutes, just long enough to ask "Are you okay now?" and give them a hug. Those children are adults now, or the youngest of the group are very close to becoming adults. I wonder how the experiences that we went through together have shaped their view of our country, of our world. I hope that they found compassion and strength, and learned to let go of the anger and fear.