On 9/11, I was seven months pregnant, a federal employee working in a building of federal agencies overlooking Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. Soon after the Pentagon was hit, we were evacuated.
I caught one of the last trains going out of the city that day. We were packed like sardines, everyone punching numbers into cell phones that had no service. I had received a panicked call from my brother while I was still in the office that morning, before the towers fell, begging me leave work and go home. By the time our office officially closed, I couldn’t reach him. None of the phones were working.
It was an unseasonably warm September day in Philadelphia. The air trapped inside of the underground train station was thick and humid. Crowds of people in ties and suit jackets congregated along the platform. When my train home arrived, everyone pushed inside. We could hardly move. And at the second stop in the City, even more people crammed in, taking up every inch of aisle, leaning over the people sitting three to a short bench seat.
Me and my pregnant belly were smushed against the window.
And then, we waited. The train, for forty-five minutes, didn’t go anywhere.
Our train was underground, underneath the tallest buildings in Philadelphia. No one came over the speakers to announce why we were stopped or what we were going to do. Hundreds of people were on that train and yet I could have heard a pin drop. No one made a sound.
But I knew we were all thinking the same thing: if a plane crashes into the buildings above us, we will all die.
With my forehead pressed against the window, I clutched my belly. During the forty-five minutes we waited, the baby didn’t move once. I wondered if she knew what was going on. I wondered whether she knew how scared I was at that moment. How I hadn’t even had a chance to call her father before I left the office.
As I glanced at the commuters on the platform next to me, desperate to get on any train to take them home, I wondered, for the first time in my life, whether it was a mistake to bring a child into this world.
* * * * * *
Early this morning I woke up and walked over to my 4 year old’s bedroom. I crawled into bed with her and wrapped my body around hers. Her breath tickled my cheek. Her limp arm flung around my neck.
I had already decided the night before that I would not be sending her to school this morning. Her older two sisters have tests and projects due this week. They have friends they want to see before Winter Break starts on Wednesday. Before they walked out the door, I kissed them over and over again. I wished them a great day.
But I kept their littlest sister home. I could not bear the thought of sending all three off to school today.
On this rainy, dreary, dark day, my youngest and I will draw pictures and read books and build with legos and snuggle. We will watch Dinosaur Train. We will not turn on the news.
I will try to cram in the work I have to get done, but I won’t worry too much about it. Instead, I will check the clock periodically throughout the day, wondering whether my older two are in math or science or whether they’re at gym.
I will wonder what their teachers are thinking about today.
This afternoon, the baby and I will prepare her sisters’ favorite after school snacks ahead of time and set them on the kitchen counter. We will sharpen pencils and place them on the table for homework. Perhaps we’ll boil water for tea.
And then, we will stand on the front porch together.
Waiting, watching, for her older sisters to turn the corner on the walk back home from school.