Just over ten years ago it was a beautiful day in St. Louis, MO when my then fiancé walked out of the federal building with a young sailor in his dress whites. He just enlisted in the United States Navy. I didn’t know he was signing the papers. I still had so many questions and felt a rush of emotion. He smiled at me as the Sailor said to me, “You are looking at the newest addition to the United States Navy!” He then shook my hand and walked away leaving Nick and I standing in the sunshine together. I’ll never forget Nick’s reassuring touch. He took my hand and would squeeze it over and over as we walked to my car. I wasn’t able to say anything yet. I didn’t know what to think about it all. I was madly in love with him, but he was leaving college to serve. He and I had spoken about it, but I didn’t ask the questions a soon to be military wife should ask. He opened my car door, kissed me and said, “Everything is going to be OK, I promise.”
The ride home was abnormally quiet. Our normal banter and laughter was absent. Nick just held my hand while driving with the other and I sat processing. I have had flash backs to what I said next to him. It gives me chills. After about thirty minutes I quietly ask, “What if there is a war?” Nick just looks at me with his reassuring and calming smile and said, “Marie, no one is foolish enough to start a war with the United States. But, if there is a war, I will serve in it.” He squeezed my hand and smiled softly again.
September 11, 2001 was a beautiful warm sunny summer day in Charleston, SC. Nick and I are married and living on base while he goes though the Navy’s Nuclear Power School. Our son Zachary just turned three and I was pregnant with our daughter, Makayla. I woke up to Zach’s smiling face. It was a normal day. I didn’t turn on the TV, instead we ate our breakfast and went outside to play. Just as I was thinking how odd it was that none of the neighbors were out with their kids Nick quickly pulled up in the drive way. He NEVER came home during the day and I was thrilled to see him. I was beaming until I saw his face. He looked confused at my excitement and said, “Have you seen it on TV?” I tried to ask what he was talking about, but he just walked quickly past me and went inside. He turned on the TV and I watched as the second plane hit. I felt sick. I slowly sat down and didn’t have to ask if it was an accident. The look on Nick’s face and that he was home with me told me something was terribly wrong. He turned to me and said, “I need you to pack, I’m taking you and Zach to St. Louis to stay with your parents.You can’t fly, I’ll drive you.” I was confused. I started asking a hundred questions. Nick just looked at me with a look I had never seen before. Fear. He quickly answered, “No, I am not staying. I am to make sure you get to St. Louis and I am to return to work ready to be activated, our base is on the list of possible targets. We were allowed to come home and make arrangements for our families.” I told him I didn’t want to leave. I told him I was scared. We had a heated back and forth about staying and going. I raised my voice and said, “I’m not leaving you! I don’t feel safe without you…if you stay, I stay.” The evacuation was voluntary. He sighed knowing he couldn’t convince me, kissed my forehead and said, “I have to go back to work then and I don’t know when I am coming home…I don’t know anything.” He hugged and kissed Zach who was playing and giggling and walked out the door. This whole moment took less than 20 minutes. I sat back down holding my hands over my not even noticeable pregnant stomach and just felt ill. I’m not sure how long I sat there in shock. I just remember Zach coming up to me and climbing into my lap jabbering about going to the park and how he wanted to go outside.
I had never in my life felt true fear until that moment. I was fearful for those on the planes…those on the ground…the firefighters…police…and then what it meant for our family…my husband…our friends. I went through the motions of the day on auto pilot. Our base was locked down. Parents couldn’t get to their children at school…people were frantic. And there I was playing. It was surreal. I didn’t want my three-year old to see the news or be scared, so I played. Later that night Nick came home and I fell apart. I cried in his arms for what felt like forever. Zach played in his room unaware of any sadness in his world.
Ten years later Nick is on duty standing watch. Our daughter Makayla is 9 and playing tennis and swimming with friends. Zachary who we sheltered all those years ago from that day is 13 and watching the full videos for the very first time. It was a hard decision to let him see such sadness. We talked about it before hand and he said he was ready. After seeing the planes hit, I asked him what he thought. He replied, “I just never thought it was real. People talked about it, but I just couldn’t believe it.” I asked how it made him feel. “I can’t even talk…” he responded.
Zach hugged me and for a split moment I flashed back to his little face ten years ago. Our life has gone on. Nick and I have been together 13 years this year and have been able to watch our children grow. We have been through 15 underways and deployments. We have spent many holidays and special moments worlds apart, but we are grateful. There are families today that are not whole. They are missing a piece of their heart. And my heart aches for them. They are in my thoughts and prayers… I still cry for them.
I will never forget.