Where were you when you heard?

The surreal horror of the 9/11 attacks is the Kennedy assassination moment of my generation.  Everyone remembers where they were when they first knew.

This came up on Thursday night.  I was with a lovely bunch of writer friends and I happened to mention I was reading Ian McEwan’s novel, Saturday.  This wonderful novel recounts one man’s thoughts over the day on which a huge post-9/11 Stop the War march took place in London. Someone mentioned the imminent tenth anniversary of 9/11, and all spoke about where they’d been when they heard about the attacks.

I knew exactly where I was.  Juliette and I were at Addenbrookes Hospital on the children’s oncology day ward.  She was ten months into her chemotherapy – bald and puffy from steroids, and was lying on the hospital bed watching cartoons when Steph phoned me and told me to switch the channel – there had been a horrific accident in New York.  We were both watching live as the second plane hit.

The monthly treatment days at Addenbrookes were always a long, tense round of blood tests, meetings with consultants, lumbar punctures and then often a long wait for the intravenous chemo.  September 11th 2001 was just one of these days. The six-bed ward was full of children, all hooked up to assorted jewel-coloured poisons which dripped slowly into their veins.  The horror of what was unfolding outside that room seemed in painful relief to the mute drama of our children with cancer.

I didn’t mention any of these thoughts on Thursday night.  Increasingly I don’t, in normal conversation.  As much as I want to talk about Juliette, such memories seem melodramatic.  They weren’t.  At the time such a day was simply and horrifically normal.  The only reference I made was to wonder whether such a huge, shared tragedy makes it easier or more difficult to cope with your own grief.  I can only imagine that at times I’d feel swamped, irrelevant even, but I suppose at least no one is ever going to forget.

7 thoughts on “Where were you when you heard?

  1. I sometimes think about the other people that died on that day – of heart attacks, or cancer, or suicide – and how their family feels on the day. Do they feel included in the grief or excluded?A beautiful read, as ever: 'jewel-coloured poisons'Pxx

  2. It was utter disbelief when I saw the Twin Towers hit and collapse. Surely it couldn’t be real, after all I was watching it on TV at work. (A perk, I guess, working for a cable company before they went bust!) I don't tend to believe everything I see, or hear, on the box and I couldn't really comprehend what was happening as the news unfolded. However, when my father passed away, almost a year later at Addenbrookes, it was real, because I was there!Thank you for sharing, again!

  3. I was at school, but watched after work and all I could think about was going to get my own children. I vividly remember holding them tight when we got home, watching it unfold further. They were both at primary school and both sat on my lap, as I searched for the words to explain to them what the hell just happened, desperate for my husband to leave London and get home – there was such a terrible sense that anything at all could happen now.

  4. I'll head over to read it, GK. Seeing the pictures today reminded me just how unreal and apocalyptic it was that day. I spent a student summer in NYC and the building where I worked was destroyed. So moving today listening to the names of the dead being read out..

  5. Petra, how rubbish of me absent-mindedly not replying to your comment on this post. Thank you. I often think about the Soham girls and their families, because they died a couple of weeks after Juliette. I was grateful not to have that spotlight and for losing Juliette the way we did, without violence and with no one to blame. It shouldn't matter because death is forever however it happens, but it does. xxJJ – I missed yours too, I'm sorry. I'm sorry too for the loss of your Dad. Thank you for reading. x

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