by Tina Ann Forkner
Each year on 9-11, I think about the World Trade Center, the interviews with widows, pictures of children who lost a parent, and I remember how on that day I was being checked out of the hospital after a scary ordeal with meningitis. The doctor had just stopped by my hospital room to see how I was doing. I remember that I already felt numb even before the towers fell. I sat on the edge of my bed, he stood with his arms crossed, and we were both silent as we watched the first tower fall on the television screen. I don’t know what he was thinking, but I doubt he had any idea the emotions his next words evoked in me.
“Are you okay?”
I wasn’t okay. I was exhausted from my body’s battle to fight off a disease that I was guessing I’d caught in an airport, the only public place I’d been in around the time frame I’d contracted the illness, my heart was broken because my marriage was falling apart, the hospital had not let me see my two-year-old daughter in 3 days, and I couldn’t wait to get home and hold her tight, but somehow the weight of all my problems, as huge as it was on my shoulders, lessened some as I watched the horrific images on the television.
Later, at home, with my little girl tucked safely in bed, I watched the footage on the news over and over, but I was too sad to cry. I’d been crying for days before 9-11 about how difficult my life was, and when 9-11 came, my tears dried up. I would be okay. I was alive. And just in case you think this is the happy part, where my high school sweetheart and I patched everything up after looking back on our lives in the shadow of what had happened on 9-11 and seeing how lucky we were, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Every time I saw a story about a divorced couple who got back together after 9-11 or two best friends who forgave each other after what happened in New York I turned the channel. My life wasn’t a fairy tale. We broke up, promised to be friends, and went on with our lives.
When 9-11 came around the next year, I didn’t see how it had been a turning point in my life. There were too many other sad milestones I’d had to reach over that year to stop and think about anything on 9-11 except the Twin Towers. So when I eventually fell in love and got engaged to a wonderful man who looked into my heart and understood everything and saw a similar reflection of his own journey, timelines and all, all I wanted to do was set a date. He traveled a lot for his job and nearly every date we chose was taken up by traveling or something pertaining to the three children we now shared. The only date we could land on that worked for both of us, unless we wanted to wait six more months, was September 11th. You know how it is. How in the world could we wait? We wanted to be a family as soon as possible.
We talked a lot about September 11th. Was it unpatriotic to get married on that day? Was it disrespectful? We talked it over with our pastor and his wife, with our parents and friends, and examined it from all angles, except not one time did I ever think about the day I was checking out of the hospital and all that had gone through my head and heart that day. Somehow the shared date didn’t click. 9-11 was simply 9-11 and now I had to decide if it was okay to get married on that date.
We chose September 11th, and instead of our guests being somber, or uncomfortable with the date, like we thought they might, they seemed happy to have an occasion to smile and be together with friends. Even our friends originally from New York or who had connections to that state, seemed happy. For two hours, all any of us did was celebrate a wedding. Later, my husband and I mentioned 9-11 as we drove to the airport and all that was lost by thousands of other people on that day a few years earlier. We reflected on how blessed we were, and then we went on our honeymoon. This was now our wedding day.
Over the next few years, I always felt guilty about mentioning my anniversary in public when it came around. It seemed like bragging, but how could I not celebrate my wedding date? It wasn’t until we had been married for a few years and one of the kids had asked me, after a lesson in school, “What were you doing on 9-11?” That I thought about watching the TV with the doctor and made the connection between that date and the day I got re-married. I’d never forgotten 9-11, but I had tried to forget the part about my marriage falling apart. Now, with clearer vision, I looked back and realized that the day I had left the hospital had been a turning point for me after all. It wasn’t a story for the news, but it was real to me. After all that time, the fact that my husband and I chose September 11th to get married no longer felt like a poor choice that we were forced into. It felt more like we were supposed to pick that day, the day I decided to start over.
Every year I still wish my husband Happy Anniversary on the same day as 9-11 and wonder if it’s okay to put it on Facebook, to tweet it, or to talk about it at work. This year, my ten year anniversary, I choose not to feel guilty. I choose joy, and I hope that’s okay. And I think, I hope, that in doing so, in some small way honors those who were lost, and who lost so much on 9-11.
I will always think of them on my anniversary, all of those people I will never know who would have never crossed my mind if not for that day, and I wish them joy.
And I wish you joy, Albert. I love you. Happy Anniversary.