The day my daughter thought she was going to die: a 9/11 reflection
Every time 9/11 comes around, I am reminded of a day of confusion, a day of too much walking, a day my daughter looked up to me as a source of strength, calm and clarity.
When it became clear that the planes hitting the Twin Towers was not due to pilot error, I immediately snatched my purse and declared to my co-workers, I have to go pick up my daughter in school.
I walked more than two dozen blocks to get to the Immaculate Conception School on 14th Street. Outside were frantic parents picking up their children, and hugging them when they came out of the gate. ‘Veana Pastor,’ I told a school teacher. Within minutes, my daughter half-walked half-skipped toward me, and we hugged.
“You ok, anak?” She nodded, expressionless.
“My teacher said there’s a plane crash.”
“I think there were people who died.” There I said it; I did not sugarcoat Death.
We walked back to my office on 21st Street. We walked hand in hand. I would glance at her by my side and could see how she looked at the unfolding scenes of chaos and panic around us. She heard sobs around her and frenzied wailing from a bewildered Manhattan woman. She saw bodies covered in ash and dried-up blood being loaded into a medical van. She saw people in business suits running up and down the streets. She saw people huddled where there was a radio, listening to the latest news. I kissed the top of her head, my baby only 12 and witnessing for the first time the horrifying aftermath of an act of war.
I tried to explain even though I myself did not have a clear idea of what was going on.
“A plane crashed into the World Trade Center, anak. Also in D.C. Some people died. Our government thought they might be related, they’re still investigating.”
“Phones are dead so we will have to go walk to his office…You hungry?” She nodded.
We ducked into a tiny café where I would sometimes take my lunch. It was empty and dim, no office employees with trays lining up to pay. Just me and my daughter with our paltry plates eating in silence.
We returned to my office, a magazine publishing house, to find all my co-workers had gone home. I turned on the computer so she could entertain herself with some games. I began to dial my husband’s number. Still no connection. Back at the table where I left her, I saw my daughter drawing two towers on a piece of paper.
There was a loud knock on the door. It was the building super.
“You still here? We asked all employees to leave the building because we’re going to close it!” We left in a rush, my daughter and I, with no time to even power off the computer.
We were back again on the street of chaos, more people crying and asking why New York is being punished. We were determined to go to Times Square where my husband’s office was. I mapped the direction in my head, trying to find a quieter route. There’s no escaping the confusion of the day.
“Mom,” my daughter said. “My shoes hurt.”
Of course they did. We bought her a new pair for the start of school. I said she could remove them, we have a long way to go. I said to watch out for shards of glass on the ground. She walked all the way to 42nd with only her socks on. For the first time that morning, we had a little giggle.
Reunited with my husband, we all hugged tightly, with my daughter saying “Don’t worry mom, dad, even if we die at least we all die together.” I will never forget how death made an imprint on my daughter’s consciousness on 9/11.
My daughter now lives in Philly with her family. She always calls me around this time to ask how I am. I always tease her about her infamous words which she now claims with a hint of playfulness she does not remember.
“Did I really say that?”