I was dancing with Bud when the first plane hit.
Of course we didn't know it was happening at the time. We were wrapping up a Kindermusik class in a lovely multipurpose room in a quiet church in the woods, physically and psychologically far from the madness unfolding in Manhattan. Bud was not yet two and not yet diagnosed, but already very much himself. We tapped sticks together and danced among our classmates. The others danced in unison, in rhythm with the bouncy melody coming from the CD player. Bud danced on the periphery, in rhythm to a music all his own. I danced between them, to a mash-up of the two, and tried to bridge the distance. We all had a wonderful time.
I had planned the morning carefully. When the class ended, my husband would be waiting in the parking lot and we would bundle Bud into his car so that I could head to the college, to work. It promised to be a busy day. It was the first day of classes, and I was scheduled to start the morning with a rare staff meeting with the college President. I'd have just enough time to get to my office, change from my Kindermusik jeans to my meeting-with-the-President skirt, grab my folders, and head to the conference room.
The plan started off without a hitch. My husband was waiting, and Bud joined him happily. I drove straight to the college and found a parking spot in the first lot I checked. As I walked toward my office I spotted a friend and colleague hurrying across the quad.
"At this rate, I think we better just go directly from Convocation to Commencement and start again next year," she said, rolling her eyes. She looked at my puzzled expression, and explained, "Oh, you haven't heard? It's crazy. A plane flew into the World Trade Center." She said she was headed to the campus center to check out the tv coverage. I pictured a disoriented pilot in a single-engine Cessna, and wondered how he could have made such a horrible miscalculation.
We walked together across campus and as we approached the campus center another colleague came out and said, "There were two planes. Two planes hit the twin towers."
My God, I thought. Something is wrong. There must be a problem with the airspace radar system.
And then, But why would they both hit the same building?
At that moment, a third colleague rushed out of the building and said, "They got the Pentagon."
My mind went blank.
I hurried to my office, my stomach churning and my head spinning. I pulled up Yahoo and read the headline, but the story wouldn't load. I heard my colleagues in the hallway through the pounding in my head, "Def Con 3"... "Pennsylvania"... "other planes"... "terrorism."
As my head began to clear, my brain began searching for local coherence, and I focused intensely on a single issue: Should I still change out of my jeans and into my skirt?
Will we still be meeting? Of course we won't be meeting. Why wouldn't we be meeting? It's not like there's anything we could do. But of course we'll have to do something. No, no. Everything has changed. I don't need the skirt. I should put the skirt on anyway. Maybe I'd better keep my jeans on in case I have to do something. But what would I do? Maybe we should all go home. I can't go home. I have to meet with the President. If I don't change now, I won't have time to do it before the meeting. Should I even go to the meeting? I shouldn't go to the meeting. There won't be a meeting. No one will care what I'm wearing. Maybe I should just keep the jeans on and go to the meeting. No, I should put on the skirt. Just in case. Right?
Then I started to cry, and I don't remember much that happened after that.
I remember that we had a meeting with an entirely different agenda, but I don't remember if the President was there.
I don't remember where I went when the meeting ended.
I don't remember if I was still wearing jeans or if I had changed into the skirt.
But I remember very clearly the fog rising off the lake as I left home on that crisp, clear, almost-autumn morning.
I remember the carefree joy I experienced in my final moments in a world in which some kinds of horror were still unthinkable.
And most of all, when I think of September 11, 2001, I remember dancing with my son.