Tuesday, September 10, 2002

One Year Ago

Just over a year ago I flew back East to pack up the rest of my belongings, ship my books west via Media Mail, and get ready for the temporary technical editor job awaiting me (due to start September 19). I came to California with a cat, a laptop, and a suitcase, but I still had hundreds of boxes of books, clothes, kitchen junk, financial records, and so much else left in somewhat leaky storage. Now I had to deal with it all.

At first I gave myself a week. I would fly out September 4 and return on the 11th. And since my brother-in-law had been bumped from a flight and was giving me his free pass, I had to fly United.

"Hey, I could fly through Boston! They have a flight that leaves just after 8AM."

No, it went through LA, and I didn't want to change planes again to get home. But I did make one set of reservations to fly home September 11; a week or so later I changed them to Friday, September 14. Lisa knew I would need a few extra days to finish packing. She was right.

I didn't know I would spend September 11 in utter shock, packing, listening to the towers collapse on the radio. I didn't know that I wouldn't be able to ship my many boxes of books Media Mail because the post offices all closed down. I didn't know I would spend those few extra days in the east desperately worried about my friends in New York — those who worked at Ground Zero or lived near enough to be vulnerable — and my friends at the Pentagon. Dreaming of rescuing one friend, a high-level financial fund manager, from her burning office at Ground Zero. Trying to find my husband, who had just left the job he'd had in Massachusetts and moved to the DC area. I didn't know I would have to wake Michele up on that Tuesday, calling from the east: We're under attack. They've flown two airplanes into the World Trade Center. I love you, but I don't know when I'll get home. Or how.

Every possible way to get back to California was blocked. The airlines shut down. Amtrak shut down. Greyhound shut down. I was trapped at my sister's house in upstate New York, not quite home, 3,000 miles from home.

I was able to leave on the first flight out from Ithaca. On the way to the airport I stopped and bought myself a used paperback: The Little Drummer Girl by John LeCarre. That book — a brilliant, multifaceted, profoundly humane look at the Arab/Israeli conflict, the techniques and motives of terrorists, and the use and construction of bombs — was my gesture of defiance and challenge. I read it most of the way home, in a plane so jammed I could barely breathe. I had read and reread the book before, but if there was ever a time to be willing to face it all, the humanity and desperation and fear of both sides, all sides, in that conflict, then that crowded Friday was the day.

I had my cross-stitch in my carryon bag, along with the book and a lot of other miscellaneous things. When I unpacked the cross-stitch bag, I found I was carrying an eight-inch pair of scissors.

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