I was in Tokyo 10-years ago. I was visiting family on my way to New York. My husband had moved to New York some months earlier, and was working for a Japanese news agency. I’d been hanging out in Australia with our son, preparing to join him in September.
As the towers fell, I decided to return to Australia until the dust settled. Literally.
A few days later I boarded a plane back to Oz. It was a very different flight to any I’d ever been on. Passengers stowed luggage quickly, then sat quietly in their seats. They eyed each other suspiciously. The captain spoke over the intercom, before the plane had even moved:
“In light of recent events, many of you are no doubt feeling nervous, but I’d like to reassure you. Everything has been done to guarantee your safety. So please relax, and we’ll have you in Brisbane in 10 hours. You’re in good hands.”
We taxied up the runway. Absolute silence in the cabin… until my two-year-old piped up loudly, “Are we going to fly into a building?”
People around us turned and glared, demanding that I shut him up.
“No,” I whispered. “That stuff just happens on TV.” I thought I’d protected him from those images. Obviously not.
My son and I waited until December and then moved to New York. I’d spent a lot of time in New York before, and always loved it. But this time I arrived in a very different city. It’s was bruised and battered, but the people were nicer to each other. There was a certain warmth to the place that had always been missing before. It was as though New Yorkers had experienced something so horrific, and they had survived. Together.
My first visit to Ground Zero will haunt me forever. The cards and flowers and poems that lined the walls around the area had not yet had time to fade. But over the next couple of years I occasionally took visitors to the site, and the hawkers were cashing in on the national misery, with their souvenir stalls. I found it so distasteful, and yet so New York. After one visit I had a dream where they turned the site into a theme park, where you got to relive the attack.
People were nervous. I’d regularly catch the train from the Upper East Side to Astoria, under the East River… Everyone seemed to breath a sigh of relief when we made it through. My husband was away for work, following the New York Yankees around during spring training. He quickly learnt to allow himself extra time at each new airport. Racial profiling was rife. As a tall, dark, mixed race man he fit the bill… whatever that bill was. He often asked, as airport security pulled him aside, but he never got a clear answer.
The US invaded Iraq and people became fearful. Suddenly the supermarket aisles were empty. No canned goods. No water. No tape… people were taping up their windows.
My son’s childcare sent a note home:
“In the event of a terrorist attack, and if you are unable to reach us, we will look after your child for three days. Please bring an extra blanket.”
I took off to Austria. It was a very different atmosphere in Europe. I fell pregnant, returned to New York, and decided to pack up my life… again. A few months later I boarded another plane. Qantas. I was too nervous to fly an American airline. Five months pregnant, still battling debilitating morning sickness, my now four-year-old son and I flew out of New York.
I don’t think of 9/11 and think of one horrific event… although it’s certainly that. I think of it as an era. Flying to Tokyo in early September 2001 was a very different to the flight I took home and every flight I’ve taken since. Travel seemed a lot simpler before 9/11. To me anyway. And I miss that.