09 September 2011

The New Normal

The Captain went to work today, despite the fact that there is "a credible, unconfirmed threat" that someone will try and blow up New York City.

Five had his first emotional meltdown of the school year, triggered by the fact that Four had a delayed opening at his flood-prone private school. In Five's illogical world, this meant he should also have a two hour delay.

I have a Flexeril hangover. Yesterday it felt like someone slept on my head and compressed my spine, so it seemed smart to take a muscle relaxant at bedtime. Except bedtime is after midnight. So I'm still loopy.

In other words, everything is normal. Or new-normal, as I call it.

Ten years ago, I was bouncing a three week-old baby when New York City was attacked. I'd just gotten the older boys off to school, when the Captain's sister called. She'd heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, and she wanted to know if the Captain was okay. I assured her he was at least forty blocks from World Trade, which in my mind guaranteed his safety. But I called him to check.

At the time, he worked in Herald Square, which is a few blocks away from the Empire State Building. It didn't even occur to me to be frightened for him, to consider the notion that someone might attack another landmark. My mother called after the Pentagon was struck, and I told her it must be a mistake, perhaps a pilot error. My brain still did not accept that it was deliberate. It had no template to follow, no imprint of terrorism, from which to draw this conclusion.

Because I was caring for an infant, I was not even watching the television when the Towers fell. My sister Erin called from Arizona to check on the Captain, and to ask about our friends June and Janet. She knew they were bankers, so she was worried they were downtown. She is the one who told me the Towers were gone. I made her repeat the words.

"What do you mean, gone?"

"Gone! Gone! They've collapsed!"

That's when my world paradigm shifted. But at the same time, I became defiant about maintaining some sense of normalcy. While I waited for my children's buses, I thought Fuck the terrorists. They're not going to stop my kids from going to school. They're not going to change the way I live.

And in most ways they have not. We have our normal routines, full of work, school, and family. Laundry must get washed, homework must get done, and  in-between there are sports, plays, and friends. Our lives are busy. This is the way my brain course-corrects for the fact that when I see a jet in the sky, I remember September 11, 2001. Every time. When I hear the whir of helicopter blades out my kitchen window, I think there is a tragedy unfolding. I do not consider it might be heavy traffic on Route 80.

The brain is a supple and forgiving instrument. It helps me suffocate my new world fears under a pile of daily minutia. It provides a dose of selective amnesia, forcing me to live in the here and now. Without it, I could not kiss my husband good-bye in the morning, and send him off to face a "credible threat."

I don't know that we will ever fully recover from that day ten years ago. The Captain flies to Chicago next week, which automatically prompts some anxiety. I am grateful for my new-normal life, but I wonder if it will ever feel just normal again.


  1. When I met Sean he was headed for Kosovo; the toughest thing we had going at the time. We got to know each other through emails and letters. He was supposed to get out of the army in a couple of years. He came home from the deployment and we made vague plans to meet up again (he was at Ft Bragg I was in Illinois).

    Then September 11th came along. Ft Bragg went on lockdown and he so he was far away from his family when he heard the news. At the end of that day he had decided he would be in the army longer than he originally planned. So our new normal became not "if" deployments but "when" deployments. And for our two kids, normal is having Daddy go to work for a year and only seeing one of their uncles in photographs.

    Normal is overrated anyway.

  2. Great post, Megan. I see planes often enough that I don't think of 9/11 every time, but when they're flying at that certain angle, the one we saw over and over again on TV as the second plane ploughed into the South Tower, I get chills every time and it comes back.

  3. I address this in a post I have scheduled for Sunday, but I have to say, it's times like this that I'm grateful I live in the middle of the woods.

  4. The Captain9.9.11

    Sarah - we are all grateful to people like Sean who protect us every single day. And grateful to people like you who provide him the love and support to do what he does. As I exited Penn Station in NY today a man in front of me thanked every single National Guard personnel and Police Officer for their service. Believe me when I tell you he said a lot of thank you's. I actually felt less of myself as I did not do the same. It's the men and women like Sean who give me the courage and confidence everyday to leave my house, kiss the Lone Woman goodbye, and know I'll be home that night to kiss her again. Tell him The Captain and all of us are forever in his debt. Respectfully,

  5. @Sarah: What the Captain said.

    @Barb: I think the intense media coverage is what seared it into my brain. Now, that's how my brain identifies planes.

    @Delia: I think, subconsciously, it might have something to do with my desire to move to the middle of nowhere.

    @The Captain: And we appreciate that you go to New York everyday for us.

  6. Anonymous10.9.11

    I've never been farther east than Salt Lake City (and that was not my choice, I won't be going back). The changes this event made for us over here were minor, nothing on a day to day level, but more of a subtle undertone of awareness.
    The media folks call the images we all have seared into our brains this generation's version of "Where were you when JFK was shot." It's true, I can tell you exactly how I heard about it and what we were all doing (I was asleep, duh).

    Here's to our new normal, for all of us to enjoy it, with loved ones close to hand, or at least on their way home.


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