10 years ago today

After a surreal morning of work on a campus in Kentucky, two colleagues and I tumbled into a car and headed home. We were among the lucky travelers that day; no one we knew or loved had been hurt in the attacks, and we had wheels. (My brother-in-law may have been even more fortunate, he was marooned for a week at a luxury hotel in Orlando, ordering room service and taking dips in the pool.)

We had already decided--possession being nine-tenths of the law--that asking forgiveness would serve us better than asking permission; rather than dropping the rental car at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, we sped past heading west on I-70, heavily armed with chips, sodas, Slim Jims and Hostess products.

The details of that evening are as murky as the ones from Sept. 11 are bright.  Highway signs, the St. Louis arch, a blearly dinner under lighting so bad we looked like aliens, truck stop bathrooms.  

Since I'm night blind, I didn't drive but provided in-car entertainment while Stephanie and Scott traded drive time with fitful sleep in the backseat. (Though when I erupted into Russian folk songs at about two in the morning, it's hard to imagine anyone sleeping.)

Over the course of 20 hours, we traded stories of towns we had passed through, family members ("Hey, my brother lives in Liberty, let's stop by and say 'hi'), old boyfriends, favorite movies, bad jokes. The country careened past as did a lifetime of memories.

I didn't shut up until we glimpsed the barest outline of the mountains in the first morning light, whereupon I collapsed snoring in the backseat.

The Denver airport was a police state when we arrived; rental cars had to be dropped off miles from the airport, shuttles ferried dozens of us--each with a story of dislocation and homesickness--to the cordoned off parking garage.

During the course of that night, I'm not sure we mentioned the attacks. This was a national tragedy not a personal one. We all know people who claim grief for themselves even if an event is far removed from their own lives. Scott, Stephanie and I shared a tacit heaviness of heart and concern for what would come, but knew we were lucky. Lucky to be homeward bound and safe with our families healthy and in tact.

On this anniversary so poignant for us and so painful for others, my thoughts go out to that night of Ding Dongs and lottery tickets and to the people whose lives weren't merely inconvenienced but radically upended.

Scott and Stephanie, we'll always have Evansville. And Indianapolis. And St. Louis. And Columbia. And Kansas City. And Salina. And that dull pink moment when the three of us saw the Rocky Mountains in the far distance and we knew we were home.


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