Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ten Years Later

“Your country’s blowing up.”

Ten years ago, on a run of the mill Tuesday afternoon, the man who would become my father-in-law called me with this message. 

Back then, I was working as a carer, long shifts with odd hours.  As luck would have it, I was off that day.  When the phone rang, I was killing time on the Playstation, navigating my way through an especially tricky bit of Crash Bandicoot. 

No greeting.  No preamble.  Just “Are you watching this?”  I think I said something like “Watching what?” and he said “Turn on your TV.  Your country’s blowing up.” 

I had moved to Ireland from my native Pennsylvania two years earlier, and it occurred to me that this might be one of those jokes I don’t get.  I’m still not sure what you’re supposed to say in this situation, but I settled for something involving “thanks” before saying good bye and hanging up.

The game was still on pause, and I almost went back in.  It took me ages to get that far, and I hadn’t reached a save point yet.  Instead, I left the game on pause and changed the channel.

I flicked to the news and was met by a tight view of smoke billowing from a huge hole in the side of the World Trade Center.  Commentators were saying something about rescues and emergency services.

I was underwhelmed.  Not that it wasn’t a big deal, just oversold.  A burning skyscraper, even a famous one, hardly lives up to “Your country’s blowing up.”  Even when they switched cameras and I got my first clear view of the other tower burning as well, I nearly switched back to the game.  This looked like just another overhyped infotainment spectacle from a nation that turned a slow drive in a white Ford Bronco into an international media event. 

I was going for the remote, had my thumb on the button, when the South Tower collapsed into a plume of smoke and dust, and all thoughts of sensationalism fled.  Details began to seep in. 

Airplanes did this.  Someone had commandeered airliners and turned them into missiles, and in true supervillain fashion, turned them on New York.  The Pentagon too.

And this just in, another flight crashed in Pennsylvania, my home state.  Not sure where yet.  Stay tuned.

“Your country’s blowing up.”

The next hour is a blur, all shock and confusion, filled with worst case scenarios and second guessing. 

My then-fiancé took a few minutes to call me from work, to see if I’d heard and to let me know she was going to be late.  She was with one of those big multinationals at the time, and she spent the day tracking down and accounting for every employee travelling that day. 

A small, selfish, petty piece of me resented her and her job that afternoon.  While I played the helpless spectator in front of my television, she was busy.  She was useful, and she was distracted. 

Mostly though, I just wanted her. 

I was somewhere 3,000 miles east of Back Home, and for the first time since moving, I felt alone.  Truly alone.  My friends, my family, they were all on the other side of the Atlantic, and the person who I most wanted to be with, the person who made coming here worthwhile, was unavailable. 

I ended up at her parents' front door, timid and small and asking if I could hang out there.  After work, my not-yet-wife joined us and we all sat together in front of the TV.  We watched the very same news recycling over and over in the absence of new insights and developments. 

I didn’t remember to switch off Crash Bandicoot until morning.

After ten years, ten years of fear and anger and confusion and controversy, after all this time, I’m still in mourning.  For the 3,000 dead, yes, but for so much more.  Ten years ago, the place I called Home disappeared under a wave of dominoes set in motion by four passenger airplanes. 

“Your country’s blowing up.”

He was right.  My country did blow up that day, and it kept burning in the months and years that followed.  In its place is a foreign land, with strange ways and customs.   The fact that it so closely resembles the place I knew makes me even sadder.  Familiarity makes it hard to overlook the scars, hard to ignore the shell shock. 

I haven’t crossed the Atlantic in over a decade.  I’ve never submitted to a pat down, never had to take off my shoes so that my fellow passengers could feel safe.  I suppose I’ll go some day, but not soon, and not to stay. 

Home means something else now.  Something closer in attitude, if not longitude, to the Home I remember, and miss, and love.