My body felt September 11 approaching, even before my mind became aware of it.
This morning, September 11, I woke up and could feel the nerves edging along my skin. The feeling only intensified as I watched snippets of remembrances on TV.
Why, you might ask, would I put myself through watching something more when my heart was already hurting?
To bear witness, quite simply. It’s my tribute to those who died on that day, 17 years ago. If they could bear to go through what they went through, I can bear to watch it and honor them.
This day of remembrance is a day that hits so hard, personally. Nobody I know died that day, but Chuck and I were living in south Jersey, just a little over an hour away from NYC. He was working at McGuire AFB and, as I watched the news, it seemed as if the base might be another target. Nobody was allowed on or off the base and no phone calls, so I couldn’t reach him.
He finally walked in the door around midnight.
My sense of safety in the world, since Chuck died, is gone.
We would speak of that day, often, in the years afterwards, especially when we were flying somewhere to visit family, or when he flew on business.
Chuck was adamant that if terrorists were to take over a flight he was on, he needed me to know that he would fight back. Of course you would, I’d tell him. And if I’m on the flight with you, I’d be right beside you.
He was at my side, and I was at his, through thick and thin. He’d been a safety officer while active duty, and would go over What If scenarios with me regularly. As in…if this bad thing were to happen to you, how would you react? How would you get out of that bad situation? Put a plan in place in your mind. Plant it there, so that you react out of muscle memory, rather than freezing and not responding. Learn how to save your own life. Or, at least, give it your best shot.
I felt so safe with Chuck at my side. Yes, I still go over scenarios in my mind, training my muscle memory. Yes, I keep a go bag at the ready, in case of…I don’t know…all the unexpected shit that can happen in life.
I was as prepared as I could be for his death 5 years ago. Because my career was hospice, death was a familiar topic at our dinner table and anywhere else. We didn’t shy away from it. We’d spoken about our wishes long before his first cancer, and I’d written it all down in a notebook. You know, what kind of service, life insurance, imagined scenarios for me.
Somehow, even as we spoke about the possibility of me surviving him, the word widow never entered the conversation. He’d be dead and I’d be on my own but…widow? It never entered my mind.
With all our conversations about death and dying, with all the responsible shit I wrote down in that notebook, never once could I have imagined the devastation of living without him. Never once could I have envisioned the emptiness of life without him, the sheer agony, the silence.
Even though I speak on the phone with family and friends every day, use social media, text, use all the methods of communication that exist in our day and age…the silence is deafening.
The silence is in my heart and soul and it comes from the stark reality of Chuck’s absence. There is no other voice that fills that space, no matter what I do.
And I wonder, on all days, and on special days like this September 11, if I’ll ever feel that sense of safety again. Or a sense of peace. Or lightness.
Yes, I’m a strong woman. Yes, I’m independent. Yes, I can live on my own and be good with that. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
September 11, 2001 took away our sense of safety as a nation.
April 21, 2013 took away my sense of safety, personally.
Chuck was my go to person, at my side on that day, even though he was on base and unreachable. I knew he was there, though, and that comforted me.
There is no comfort to be found in this life without him.
And that’s just the honest truth.