Where was Superman?

Another day in September, it was. We were toe-deep into our second week of school, Charlie in 2nd grade, Molly in kindergarten. Henry was the pre-schooler and my William was a little over a year old. This particular Tuesday morning was spectacularly mundane.

PBS was on, this was well after I had dropped the pretense of being a "t.v. free" mom. I think it was Arthur that was starting when my phone rang.

It was Big Red, my former BFF. "Turn on the t.v." she said. "It's on! What's the matter?" I asked her.

"Just turn on a regular channel, Jenny. I can't believe what's happened."

I fumbled for the remote and found one of the morning news shows. I was confused though, it showed a building on fire, I remember thinking to myself, "That looks like the World Trade Center." And then, as I sat there and tried to figure out what the hell was going on, the camera panned out wider and an airplane, a regular old, everyday kind of airplane, crashed into the building next to the one already in flames. I remember thinking, "Huh. It is the World Trade Center." The horror of the situation had yet to sink in.

By this time the kids had stopped whatever it was they were doing and stood still, big blue round eyes focused on the mayhem unrolling on the screen in front of us. Charlie yelled out "Woo hoo! What movie is this, Mommy!". And in a moment that I'm still ashamed of, I snapped at him: "SHUT UP! This isn't a movie! It's happening right now." By this time I had read the frantically scrolling messages that were blipping under the images. This was not a mistake, not a case of bad air-traffic controllers. This was an attack. I remember thinking, "Is this war? What do we do? Who's next?". I called Big Daddy at work and he said they were all watching there, too. "Come home, please!" I begged him. He consoled me and said that they were all being advised to stay put.

Now it was nearing the time we usually headed out the door for school. But was school happening? What the hell are we supposed to do? It was like a dream. I called Big Red, but she didn't answer. I called our school and the Secretary/Wizard Behind the Curtain with her smooth, calm, granola voice soothed me. "Yes, we are on schedule. Yes, just come on, bring in the kids. It's all going to be o.k." I hung up. Looked at my boy with his backpack, my little girl with her Dutch boy haircut and her Hanna Andersson clogs. "Time for school, babies."

We made our way down the sidewalks, talking about anything and everything, anything but what was happening in cities thousands of miles away from us. I searched the eyes of people in cars as they passed, searching for signs of recognition that they, too, felt as though the fibers of reality were slowly unraveling around us.

One of my friends slowed down next to us, her mini-van full of kids to drop off at school. She yelled out to me, "Look at the sky. There are no planes! Where are the planes??".

I looked up. The sky was an unreal, brilliant shade of blue that day. And my friend was right. Not only was the sky that technicolor blue, it was also sans clouds....and there were no planes.

The teachers did a great job that day. They were calm, reassuring support beams for our confused and scared kids. They were no doubt screaming inside their own heads, worrying about family and friends and how their own babies were doing.

I hurried home with the two younger boys and sat down to absorb all I could, find out answers, see if we should all be ducking and covering and hiding instead of putting on our happy faces and pretending that everything was fine and dandy.

Remember seeing those white flags being waved outside the windows of the buildings? I will never forget that. In my stupid, naive, innocent brain I thought that surely there would be helicopters sent to rescue them, that somehow those people would get out. In this Disney movie, happy ending world we have been programmed to think that things will be fine.

And then, the jumpers.

They showed one poor soul, almost floating in the air. Legs and arms akimbo, I remember thinking it looked like one of those dummies that they use in movies. Only this wasn't a dummy. This wasn't a movie.

I turned off the t.v. Cleaned the house, played with my boys. Got ready to go get the other two from school.

Put on my happy face. But part of me died that day, I think a lot of us had things die within us on that beautiful, perfect September day. I felt my heart break as I pictured husbands and wives and dads and moms and kids waiting, hoping against hope that their loved one was ok, that they had somehow made it.

I thought about them that night, as I tucked the kids into bed. What were the kids in New York and Washington D.C. being told as the covers were pulled up to their chins? That mommy or daddy would be home in the morning and that everything was ok? I thought about so many people...I thought of the wives and husbands of the firefighters and cops. The families of the people who had the bad luck to get put on one of the doomed flights that day. The people who happened to be walking down the streets of New York that morning, maybe on their way to work, maybe off to meet a friend for coffee, off to a job interview. How does this happen in a world such as ours, a world so advanced and so smart and big?

This was just a few months after the stretch of time when my Henry was obsessed with Superman. He wore a little Superman costume, cape and all, for several months in a row. Every day (I still have that size 3T costume, knees and elbows worn through, and someday I will show his kids their Daddy's little superhero outfit). As I kissed Henry goodnight, he said..."Superman, mommy." I asked him, "What about Superman, honey?". He looked up at me, huge saucer eyes earnest and full of sincerity and said, "Superman could have saved them." I knew what he was talking about. I hugged him tight, and said, "Yep. You're right, H. He could have."

That night I dreamed of the person falling from the building. Sickeningly graceful, they looked for all the world like a feather, listing, lurching, descending.

And in my dream, out of nowhere, Superman swooped in, took the falling man in his arms and flew him to safety. I woke up, choking on sobs, tears streaming down my cheeks and onto the pillow.

Where was Superman that day? We really could have used him.

9/11/2001. Never, ever forget.


  1. It was a surreal day! I only had Hank and we were getting ready to go to My Gym. I tore myself away from the TV and we went. All the parents were kind of in a state of confusion. What I will never forget was the radio broadcast on the way home. It was Peter Jennings, I think, on ABC. Someone said to him that the "tower is falling." He kept clarifying: "You mean the FACADE of the tower?" "NO. The TOWER is falling."

    That and the clear blue sky with no airplanes. That sticks in my brain.

  2. The author of this book was on TV today. Gives chills: http://www.amazon.com/Messages-Signs-Visits-Premonitions-Loved/dp/0061974072


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