In remembrance of 9/11, I wanted to share a column I wrote for The Lawrence Journal-World four years ago. Sending love and light to all those remembering their lost loved ones today.
We knew all about being low to the ground, actually underground, because the Subway Stamp Shop was in the subway arcade, trains rumbling the walls. I spent Saturdays and summer days in the arcade. Over a chocolate malt I studied its enchanting candy stand, the off-track betting station, shoe shop, barber, jewelry shop and a tiny diner with mosaics of Greek temples.
Our shop was the size of a postal stamp with enough room for a desk where I drew primitive abstract art that my chain-smoking grandfather hung on the walls among stamps from Antigua and Argentina. Maybe because I spent so much time underground in a tight space, I became preadapted to love Kansas where space isn’t an issue.
Above ground, I wandered the city alone, never mind that I was only 8 years old. Over time, I climbed out from beneath the towers after lunching in the concourse and rushed past them as a teenager looking for cool clothes. Later, I passed them with my husband in search of the world’s best Greek restaurant. Like other large buildings, the twin towers made their own weather. I used to marvel at how trash would fly in the wind currents, never imaging that when the towers fell, there would be millions of similar flying papers. The towers were my North Star, always showing me how to make my way back home or out into the world.
When the first plane hit, I thought: crazy pilot, small plane, a fluke. When the second plane hit, I called my father who, eight years earlier, had moved the store and my stepfamily to Pennsylvania for more room and tax breaks. Then I called my mother to track down my brother, who still worked in the city.
My brother’s office was six blocks from the towers, and we couldn’t reach him. Over the next hour, my family heated up the phone lines until my brother found a way to send an e-mail. His story, like many others, included face masks, people covered in gray dust and a determinedly fast walk to get home.
On the one-year anniversary of 9/11, I was on the phone again with family. My father was telling me he had pancreatic cancer. He would be gone in four months. Everything changed for this nation a year before, and in 2002, everything changed for me.
Now when I think of the small underground store where I grew up, I realize many of its inhabitants are dead. What blocked out big portions of the sky above ground is gone, too. When I visited the site last year, I found only a large fence. I longed to peer over the top, but instead I walked along the perimeter, the size of the Trade Center’s absence somehow bigger than its presence.