A year later: This is our normal

Posted: Wednesday, September 11, 2002

PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- It is morning on an ordinary day in an ordinary place the locals call ''Everybody's Hometown.'' In the downtown square, an elderly couple walk arm-in-arm, quiet and serene. A woman intently pushes a stroller along the same route. Another walks her dog. A man sits on a bench, reading his newspaper, expressionless.

A mother holds her son by his ankles, swinging him as he squeals and she giggles -- swaying back and forth on the courthouse lawn under an imperfect sky that threatens rain.

Where is the sorrow and outrage and fear? Aren't we still healing? Aren't we still mourning?

In Everybody's Hometown and in all the places where Sept. 11 is being marked quietly or loudly, the answers aren't so simple a year after the day that changed everything.

The way we feel now about Sept. 11, 2001, isn't as tangible as the tears that fall at memorial services, or the faded flags draped from homes for 365 days.

Nor is it as palpable as our impatience in airport security lines, or our uneasiness when security alerts go up, or our anger when we see videos teaching terrorists to kill and learn that Iraq might be plotting an attack.

It is deeper and more subtle, concealed under this veil of normalcy that is life a year later. It could be a memory or feeling that sneaks up, like that of the New Yorker who looks at a clear, blue sky and thinks, ''What a gorgeous day,'' and then: ''It was like this when the towers came down.''

It's seeing beauty and ugliness through the same lens, the focus shifting from one to the other to both.

In this middle-class town a few hours from Phoenix -- far from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, home to neither a military base nor any other real reminders of the attacks -- the feelings are no less complex.

A great-grandmother hears a siren and fears something is happening again, closer to home this time.

A businessman sees a flag and envisions the planes hitting the towers.

A drifter wonders why the government hasn't done more. An ex-Navy man wants to know the same.

A store owner from India worries for her future in the ''land of the free'' and for that of her child, born nine days after the attacks. ''We lost our confidence,'' Neeta Patel says. ''Life is not sure.''

For many Americans, the day and all that it means have slipped into the subconscious, become another thread in the fabric of life. The economy, their family's well-being, terrorism -- it's all interconnected now.

''People live it every day,'' says 39-year-old Mike Robinson, an employee at the local Enterprise rental car agency. ''Every time you see that the stock market's crashing or you go to the gas station and you see that gas prices are up ... they may not think about it every day, but they're living it.''

''That's life as it is now,'' agrees co-worker Stephen Scott, 34. ''We have to deal with it.''

But do we? Some struggle with wanting to remember and very much needing to forget.

One Prescott woman says she ignored her Sunday paper last week: ''I don't want to be depressed at breakfast.''

Another suggests Americans turn off the news if they don't want a reminder. She does so herself. ''It just seems like there's no end to this,'' she says.

One recurring sentiment a year later is anger and frustration, some directed now at our own government for not doing more. Just exactly what more, few can put their finger on.

Why is Osama bin Laden still out there? Why, if he's alive, can't we get him?

''I'm upset that this could've happened, that we allowed it to happen and that we haven't, in a year's time, made it highly unlikely it will happen again,'' says Scott, who fought with the Navy in the Gulf War.

It seems the whole of America is just waiting for the other shoe to drop, believing it's only a question of when, how and where the next strike will occur.

But hope also remains. That defiant, you-can't-stop-living-or-they've-won attitude hasn't disappeared. It is, after all, the life lesson we learn from inception: You get knocked down, you get back up.

All that changes is how we choose to stage our comeback, to renew our faith.

A flight attendant refuses to quit, despite pleas from his sister. A bartender continues to fly even though she is terrified.

Some turn away from the newspaper and TV. Some turn toward the children -- like Robinson, who looks to his 2 1/2-year-old son when his faith falters and his anger flares.

''When you go home and you hug your child, it gets you back to the basics. It takes all the pain away,'' he says. ''Even with the memories of what happened, with the pain, it's a normal life.

''This is our normal life.''

How do we feel a year later, how do we really feel? We smile and argue and shop and work. We go to dinner with husbands, to movies with girlfriends. We kiss our children, and count our blessings.

A year later, it is a normal life. Different, but the same. By day's end in this place they call ''Everybody's Hometown,'' more dogs are being led around the square. Three women window-shop at Raskin's Jewelers. A man heads home from work while a couple strolls to supper.

Outside the courthouse, another woman plays with her children on grass that now feels dewy from a shower. As the sun dips behind a clump of clouds, a little girl with blond hair and an American flag on her plain white shirt chases her sister across the lawn, then dashes back into her mother's arms.

And they are laughing, this mother and child, laughing out loud.

Pauline Arrillaga is the AP's Southwest regional writer, based in Phoenix.

Subscribe to Peninsula Clarion

Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us