Dearest Rachel –
Twenty-nine years ago today, we were simply hanging out at the hotel, waiting for family and friends to arrive and greeting them as they did. Only one story stands out with me at this point – most of the others, I’m afraid, have faded into obscurity. It was some of your mom’s extended family from the Philadelphia area, and clearly several income brackets above even your folks. As they were checking into the Fairfield Inn, you pointed them out, and I went to greet them and, while at first intending to introduce myself, I decided to offer to carry their bags to their room, as it was up a flight of stairs and they were on the elderly side. Once I got them situated, they proceeded to offer me a tip, having mistaken me for a bellboy (imagine, a Fairfield Inn with bellboys!). At that point, I turned the tip down, and introduced myself as the groom. It may not have been the level of impression you had managed a year and a half previously, but I’d like to think it generated sufficient goodwill.
I always find myself feeling badly for those people born on this day; they can never quite celebrate it the way most people can their own birthdays. It always winds up being dampened by the significance given to it by the events of twenty years ago.
By contrast, it guaranteed that I would never forget our anniversary, unlike most husbands of joke lore.
Of course, we hadn’t been married long enough for me to fall into the sitcom stereotype where I would forget that our anniversary was imminent. Indeed, I was in the process of considering what we might do – and what I might get you, as you were never a great fan of the traditional trinity of anniversary presents of flowers, candy or jewelry – at the very moment as I made to pull into the parking lot at work that fateful day. Maybe we could go out to some nice place…?
And of course, it was at that point that the radio announced that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. I’ll be honest, the magnitude of what was happening didn’t occur to me at first. I’d heard about a plane that had flown into the Empire State Building in either the thirties or forties, and while there were casualties from that event, well, the Empire State Building is still standing, after all. So I was picturing an event similar to that; tragic, dramatic, but little more than a truly unfortunate accident.
Once inside the office, everyone was buzzing about the news. It was exacerbated slightly by the fact that our main bank at the time, the Dai-Ichi Kangyo (later Mizuho) had its U.S. headquarters in that very building. For what it’s worth, we received word shortly from our contact at the bank that everyone there managed to clear out safely, as they were located near the fortieth floor, well below the point of impact.
One of the fellows in the IT department wheeled in the television from the founder’s office (no big deal, as he only visited the office one every year or two, and so he wouldn’t notice any such messing around in there as long as everything was put back the way it had been previously arranged before he returned), and the entire administrative staff watched as the story unfolded.
We didn’t get a lot of work done that day.
It wasn’t much different at home, as you had the television on and the news reports going pretty much non-stop. Daniel was wondering what was going on, and I don’t recall if we had an answer for him; there was a lot to process, after all. Between the second plane and then the strike on the Pentagon, it all became clear that this was deliberate, but at the time, we had no idea why, any more than anyone else. After all, plane hijackings, while common in the 70s, had long since tapered off, and in any event, they were usually done for the purpose of some kind of gain on the part of the hijacker.
There’s an old Monty Python sketch in which Eric Idle’s character portrays a Scottish hijacker (why Scottish, I don’t know – maybe just for the funny accent) claiming to have a bomb aboard the plane, and demanding a million pound ransom, otherwise “the bomb will explode, killing everyone.”
“Including you,” points out John Cleese as the pilot. There is a pause.
“I’ll tell you where the bomb is for a pound.”
And that is what completely made no sense about what was going on. Cui bono here? What benefit does a man – or clearly, a whole group of men – get out of dying in the process? We didn’t know at the time, and wouldn’t for some time to come.
Well, actually… while the world eventually sorted out the whole mastermind behind it, I don’t know if we ever figured out what would bring someone to such a point. There are no easy answers here.
But needless to say, every year since, there have been commemorations of the day that America was attacked. And while it seems ridiculously crass to point it out, I have to acknowledge that I could never forget our anniversary because of it. I even would get a whole day’s notice.
Not that it would help in terms of determining what you might want for the occasion; and in all honesty, I can’t recall too many truly memorable anniversary presents between us (although the folks got us one not all that long ago that… well, it’s definitely a story for another time). I’m thinking the paint job on your car might have been one, but I had to let you do the research as to where to go and what exact color to get on your own. It ensures that you get what you want, sure, but it doesn’t carry the same romantic weight as something I went and got for you on my own. Oh well… you got what you wanted that way.
I wonder if the guys in the plane got what they wanted.
I somehow doubt it.