The World Trade Center was burning and I was eating ice cream, the chocolate kind with a cherry on top. I couldn’t watch CNN report an airplane splitting a building in half and people jumping out windows from towering infernos to their deaths, so I took the dog out for a flying saucer. Milo, my then five year old wheaten terrier, and I got into the 2000 grey four door Hyundai that sat in the driveway with just a drop of gas in it and drove down the block to a Carvel in Plainview on Long Island. We passed the supermarket, they were selling late season peaches like it was a fire sale.
I was an almost forty year old housewife going through a milf life crisis. Having just lost 20 pounds, I took part in the high maintenance mani pedi world, and got that grey hair dyed. My jeans came from the teen shop next to TCBY. Trying to get pre Bar and Bat Mitzvah children to appreciate who they were, for Payless shoe money I taught history to girls I shopped next to for the trendy shirts. As that warm September 11 morning unfolded, I never thought about Pearl Harbor, the 1993 attack on the Twin Towers slipped my mind and Oklahoma was not even a registered thought.
With music streaming out of the cassette player, Milo and I drove into the little strip mall. I stopped at the bank for a twenty out of the ATM. As we walked through the parking lot to get something to take the edge off of whatever we were suffering, I didn’t understand that I should have frayed nerves and no appetite. Sitting outside on the pavement, Milo finished his cup of vanilla soft serve and I devoured my low fat parfait with extra whipped cream. An elderly couple stopped and the woman said to the man, “Oh look at the dog, he’s so lucky not to know what’s going on.” I went back for more ice cream. Back in the car, listening to Dixie Chicks, I had no idea, either, what the heck was happening.
Growing up in Glendale, Queens, stories of World War 2 were, for me, folktales. The immigrants retelling of European starvation were like Hansel and Gretel stories to this then 35 pound brown haired pixie six year old. Visitors from Hawaii who revered my Army veteran stepfather for taking care of them as they fed him at luaus brought puka beads for me to wear. Later, my two year old son threw the necklace down the toilet. On 911, we sat in the Yeshiva office registering for the first day of ninth grade. The principal got a phone call saying a plane went into the World Trade Center. We felt panicky, but thought it was just an accident, a little plane. My son’s father and I left our child, the day after his 14th birthday, to start his first day of high school. A thirty minute drive from home, and the kid didn’t have a cell phone.
Later that day, I was almost arrested. I was picking up my child from school. There was no bus service. It took me three hours to get to him. The roads were blocked. Only emergency vehicles were allowed through. With firemen and EMT's racing through, the police told me that I wasn't allowed to drive any further, and that I should go home. I would not turn back and leave my son. One officer gave me directions via some back roads. When I got near the school, the area was cut off to all traffic. There was a hospital nearby. The injured were supposed to be brought there. No one ever made it. I was allowed through.
That night, I tried to buy my son school supplies. All the stores were closed.
Still eating chocolate ice cream on 9/11 and everyday. But know better, so much better... now... there are no more cherries and whipped cream. It ain't the same anymore.