Today is my husband's birthday, and we were picnicking at an old castle on the Dingle Peninsula of Ireland when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Obviously, we were clueless. Laptops were just becoming popular, and we would have never thought to stay connected on a beautiful fall day, on the beautiful Irish coast.
On the way back to our rented cottage, we stopped at Inch Beach to buy gifts for our family. As I browsed the aisles, I kept hearing about planes being hijacked out of Boston and New York from a television set at the clerk's station. I found my husband and asked if he was listening; we both looked at each other and then went to the counter to ask what the hell was going on in the United States. We were watching the television screen when the second plane hit and we were stunned senseless. Leaving our purchases behind, we returned to the cottage and watched, in horror, like every other person in Ireland and the world, the beyond belief story unfolding in front of us.
It was a long time ago. But I remember the devastation I felt and the unbelievably emptiness in my heart, that something like this could happen. To us. To America.
We learned that the airspace over the United States was closed down (except for the Saudi royal family, who was allowed to leave). We were scheduled to go home the next day, but that was out of the question. It was impossible to reach the airlines. Our wonderful landlord, who had rented the cottage to us, showed up and told us we were the last of the summer tourists and we could stay in the cottage as long as we needed to --- no charge. Such a nice man, Sean Foley.
It took days before we could reach someone on the phone at the airline, and get on a flight to America. The best we could do was Baltimore, but it was home, and we would eventually make it to Milwaukee.
Shannon Airport was a nightmare. There were people everywhere; some had been there for days and days. Student travelers were out of money and begging for food, chips, anything. I remember thinking that I was a racist as I nervously checked out everyone at our gate to make sure they weren't Arabs. It was my first experience with having my body and my luggage searched before proceeding to the gate. The whole trip was uncomfortable, the plane was packed, the babies were at a full throttle howl and the flight attendants seemed harassed and tired.
Perhaps the most eerie thing I've ever seen in my life was O'Hare Airport, a complete ghost town, when we finally arrived in Chicago. If you've ever traveled though O'Hare, you know what I'm talking about. Only two flights had arrived at the airport the day we got back; it was dark, it was empty, it was quiet, and it was the most incredible reminder of just how much things had changed in four days. There was one bus to take us to Milwaukee, in a deserted parking lot that seemed to stretch for miles.
This year, is a happier birthday for my husband. We're living in Louisiana now, we're enjoying the start of our golden years together in a brand new house and we're going out for Japanese food tonight; because there will be plenty of opportunities for southern cooking on Saturday, when we take the short drive to New Orleans.
But forever, September 11th has sad meaning for us, because of the awful tragedy that we suffered at the hand of a bunch of miserably misguided terrorists; an awful tragedy for my family because my dear brother-in-law died in a motorcycle accident on September 11th, years earlier, and a sad day because no matter how much we try to be happy on my husband's birthday, the reminders will always be there of that awful, history changing day.
C'est la vie. Happy Birthday anyhow, to a man who never lost patience while spending four days on the phone, trying to get us home. I wonder, sometimes, if it wouldn't have been better to stay in Ireland.