As a rule, I never had the TV on in the mornings except for PBS, and I never played the radio in the car while I was taking Julia (age 2) to preschool. So it wasn’t until I dropped her off and got back in the car and turned the radio on that I knew what was going on. This was about 9:30. We were supposed to have two elders and their wives over that night, and we had only been in our house a few months and didn’t have curtains in the bathroom yet. I hated to think of the elders or the wives using the bathroom within full view of our neighbors, so I had planned to go to the store to buy curtains. Rattled and trying to take in the news, I still went to K-mart and got the curtains. The lady at the checkout seemed pretty cheerful. “Does she know?” I wondered. “Should I tell her we’re under attack?” I said nothing and left. Those curtains hung in that bathroom for five years until we moved out a month ago. It’s funny what makes you remember, and I always remembered when I looked at those curtains.
My mom called later that day pleading with me to get Julia from school and come to her house. She was concerned because our neighborhood was situated between Exxon’s largest North American refinery and the Houston Ship Channel. But getting to my parents’ house would mean driving through Houston. “I’m not driving through any major cities right now,” I told her.
The mother of a woman Chad taught with at Baytown Christian Academy was on the plane that hit the first tower. (I interviewed Chad’s co-worker for a one-year-anniversary newspaper feature.) Another Baytown resident was touring NYC and was supposed to have been in the WTC that morning, but she overslept in her hotel. The crash of the first plane woke her up.
For the one-year anniv., I also interviewed leaders at the Baytown mosque. It was five Muslim men and me around a table. I was terrified at first. But it soon became clear that they were hurting, too. After that, it grieved me to hear people — especially at my own church — bad-mouthing our local Muslims. The attacks hurt all of us, plus the Muslims had to live under suspicion and with hate-filled glares.
Julia was just two at the time of the attacks, and we always guarded her from anything Sept. 11-related — probably too much. The first time I really talked to her about it was this morning, because I knew she’d probably be hearing about it at school. She argued with me at first. She said the Titanic was the worst thing that had ever happened to our country. “But that was an accident,” I told her. “The terrorist attacks were on purpose.” The hurt returned again as I saw the understanding fill her sweet face. She just said, in her quiet, little voice, “Oh.”