There are some days and moments that become suspended in time. Like so many people, today is certainly one of those days for me. Grief is a funny thing, and even eighteen years later, it can still show up to visit. In a room full of writers this morning, I had chills listening to a fellow New Yorker share her words about this day. By the time I drove home, I was crying in the car remembering this day all those years ago.
Though I’ve never quite admitted it, today is what brought me to Charlotte, NC, the place I’ve lived since 2002. I’ve heard it said that for those of us living in New York on 9/11/2001, there are those who considered leaving, and those of us who left. On this day, eighteen years ago…I knew I would be one of the ones to leave.
If you ask what I most vividly recall about this day all those years ago, I remember the sky. And I remember the silence.
New York in the fall is stunningly beautiful. Unlike the south (where it’s currently still 9,000 degrees outside) the summer heat has broken, and there’s a crispness to the air that’s almost electric. The sky that morning was a quintessentially New York autumn sky, so vividly blue it almost hurt to look at it. That sky of course became a backdrop to unimaginable horror.
The silence would descend later. Both in the sky itself where the absence of airplanes was jarring. And in the stunned silence among people who simply couldn’t find words to articulate what we were experiencing.
Living on Long Island at the time, I was maybe twenty miles outside of the city, so not close enough to personally witness what was happening. Which made it even more surreal to watch images on the news. I had been inside the World Trade Center Towers, and they were an anchor of the city skyline every time I drove back and forth to my parents’ house north of the city. How could they be gone? And what kind of world am I living in that something like this could happen?
I remember driving from college back to my apartment along the gold coast of Long Island, thinking it couldn’t possibly be true. I hadn’t seen any images yet, and the day was just so idyllic, such horror didn’t seem possible.
On a crystal clear September morning, not only had the world and my city been irrevocably changed, my personal choices were impacted as well. I had never imagined living anywhere other than New York, and I loved where I was living on Long Island.
But this day all those years ago brought me the invitation to consider moving away, and at some level, I knew that I would. I can’t say that I ever felt unsafe in the following days and months, though driving in front of an armored military vehicle one morning was interesting.
I just sensed that there was a chance to make a different decision for myself than anything I’d ever considered before. I was graduating from college that December, and there was really nothing holding me where I was. I could choose to jump into something totally new.
There wasn’t anything specific about Charlotte, but it was the only place I seriously considered. My reasoning was that I didn’t like Florida, wouldn’t go anywhere near Washington D.C., and wanted to stay on the east coast. After two weekend visits here with my then boyfriend, now ex-husband, I moved to Charlotte, NC in March of 2002. The ex chose to go with me, and we arrived here with no jobs, knowing no one but each other.
Nearly eighteen years later, I do love this city, and I am so in love with my life here…especially since my marital status changed to joyfully divorced. But as much as I love it here, this day does remind me of where I grew up. And for me, there’s an aspect of grief that’s much more personal than the events of that morning. Today is the day that I knew I’d leave the area I loved so much.
I’ve had people suggest that I’m now a Charlotte native, which always makes me laugh. No matter how long I live here, I’ll always be a New Yorker. Growing up in that area certainly influenced the person I am today, and although it’s now from a distance, I still do love New York.
Copyright©2019 by Diane McDermott, All Rights Reserved, “A Day Suspended in Time”
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