Eight years ago today I was stranded in Albuquerque with Aubry, still a baby, and Josi, a (thankfully) mindful toddler. We had traveled to visit Marsha, my old college roommate, and her family. Little did I know that our stay would be extended well past our intended departure date.
I remember the fear. The shock. The hourly phone calls with Mark and Holden as we tried to get our heads around the tragedy and ugliness of hate that revealed itself to all of us and to the world. The thought crossed my mind, “Will I get to watch any of them grow to adulthood? ”
When the day arrived for us to be able to go home, I entered the airport with dread after seeing Marsha chased off by the vigilant police. It was a rushed good-bye; her car was barely allowed to stop and drop me and the girls off. The airport was full of Red Cross volunteers. Someone offered me water as I desperately tried to handle the two car seats (the major ones with all of the necessary straps), double stroller and a pack’n play in addition to our suitcase and diaper-bag. While security pulled my luggage apart in the frenzy of the tragedy, a news reporter made her way into my face with a microphone. Me – the Caucasian mom, obviously shell-shocked like everyone else, but all the more conspicuous because of her two Asian babies. I don’t remember what the news reporter asked me, nor do I remember my answer. I was focused on the melee and keeping my daughters close, attached to me, safe, calm. Not five minutes later another reporter and a cameraman approached me, asking me, “Are you going home?” Looking at my girls and thinking of Mark and Holden (Greyson was not born yet), I began to cry. All I could do was nod.
It was a day of compassion.
It was the first day of resumed air travel. People were quiet. Their nerves were frayed, although they made valiant attempts to be brave. I held my girls so tightly – I still can’t fathom why they didn’t fuss or cry. They had to sense my fear.
As soon as we were in the air, the flight attendants passed around an American flag for the passengers to sign (it would hang in their home office). We were the first flight up for the airline after 9-11. I cried as I wrote my name, the girls’ names, and a heartfelt message on the flag that represents our unity and freedom.
Every time the plane shifted I practically threw up. My babies kept me grounded. Upon landing after the first leg of our trip home we were told we were in a different city. There was a problem with a possible terrorist at the airport we were supposed to land at. We had to wait. We would leave when we could. We would know when they knew.
My face fell and I struggled for composure. A lovely young Asian woman asked me if she could bring us lunch, “Do your babies eat pizza?” I told her they did and she asked if she could get it for them. When she returned she would not let me reimburse her. It was a kind gesture and I thanked her profusely.
We were told we would be staying for an undetermined amount of time. The pilot asked us to please go ahead and disembark, but to stay close to the gate. The airport was in complete chaos.
No one knew anything.
We were there for some time when an older woman said, “Oh honey, you look like you could use a hug.” She gathered me into her softness and I sobbed into her comfortable stranger’s arms, all the while holding my girls.
We eventually made it back onto the plane, into the air, and to our airport in Chicago, where we sat for a long time in a sea of planes facing every which way. Mark and Holden picked us up there. It was to be the first experience of not being met at the gate. I ran as much as I could with the girls in my arms. It seemed like forever until I saw my guys with huge smiles on their wet faces.
Mark and I held hands for the three hour drive home.
As we got on to the interstate, I turned back to look at my home city – sparkling on a rare clear night. The Sears Tower stood proudly in her magnificence. I looked at my daughters, already asleep. Holden’s hands lay over each one of them, as if to protect them with his brotherly love. He looked at me, smiling, “Mommy, I missed all of you.”