What the world would come to call 9/11 happened, as nearly everyone remembers, on a Tuesday. I can recall that day, that evening, the next morning as everyone else can, as a continuous loop of time spent trying to make sense of something that seemed utterly incomprehensible. But it's funny--I don't remember how the rest of the day after played out, or the day after that, or the day after.
I mean, I lived in the D.C. area, so the next few days were certainly infused with an increased sense of paranoia, a feeling that the other shoe could drop anytime. But that feeling lingered for months, especially with the anthrax scare that followed so soon after. But the actual specifics of the days that followed The Day That Changed Everything...no, I can't recall those at all.
My memory is gone, until the following Sunday. My wife and I were newcomers to the area, had in fact only lived there a little over three months when the attacks occurred. But we had carved out our little place in the world, and certain rituals had evolved. And one of those rituals involved me rising much earlier than her, and carrying out some of the day-to day necessities of life. I'd do laundry while she still slept. Or wash dishes.
Or shop for groceries. Heading out to the market on those dark, slightly chilly mornings of early autumn meant choosing between the Food Lion a few blocks away, or the Safeway just down the street. Food Lion had more varieties of frozen pizza--always an important consideration!--and the prices were slightly cheaper, but Safeway had the advantage of being closer. I'd usually alternate. On the morning of September 16th, I chose Safeway.
Not many people out that early, and the aisles were piled with merchandise waiting to be stocked. I shopped according to the usual script, picking up the same items I always picked up, and one I only occasionally bought: The Sunday Washington Post.
The tired-looking woman at the register scanned the items, and the clerk bagged them. He was the same guy who usually worked there on Sunday mornings, a doughy, shapeless middle-aged guy with thinning white hair. He looked like he might have come from a fairly rough-and-tumble background, but he was always unfailingly polite and talkative.
This morning, though, he paused briefly to examine the cover of The Post, which inevitably featured a photo of the rubble that had once been the Twin Towers. "3000 people," he said softly, as though to himself. "3000 people. Christ. In America. We..." He shook his head, as if snapping out of a dream, and rolled the paper and placed it in a bag. His eyes glistened as they peered into mine, as if searching for answers he'd never find. "How could that happen? How...here?"
I just shrugged, and said something non-committal. I took my bags and headed to the car, where I sat for several minutes, crying so hard it seemed the tears would never stop.