Remembering 9/11: When waking up from a bad dream becomes the nightmare

Reflecting on some of the more pivotal tragic memories in my life, it occurred to me that quite a number of them happened while I was in bed. (Mind out of the gutter, people – we're being solemn and respectful here). I recall waking up to hear about the space shuttle explosion. I was in a hotel room reading a book/dozing on the bed when Aaliyah's death was announced. I had flown in from an overseas trip and was getting over jetlag when the news broke in to say that JFK Jr.'s plane was missing. I was in bed battling the flu in a Nyquil haze when BougieOlderBro called to tell me my father had passed away. And I vividly recall waking up from a restless sleep early one Los Angeles morning wondering 1) why I'd left the TV on all night and 2) why was Independence Day playing at 7:00 am?

On each of these occasions, I remember wondering for a few brief moments if I was still asleep and trapped in a very bad dream. I remember thinking if I could just wake up, none of this would be real. I remember thinking these are things that affect other people… not me. But the more awake I became, the more I realized that living nightmares are far worse. Your nightmare has become the reality. You can't re-script the outcome, drink warm beverages or flip to the cool side of the pillow to make it all go away. You get no do-overs.

In the case of my father's passing, I did not have the luxury of wallowing in sorrow; there was simply too much to be done. For those of you who have had a close relative pass, you know that in most cases your time is spent comforting others around you. The funeral, the reception, the endless phone calls… it becomes about their grief and reassuring them that you are okay (even if you're not). One of my father's best friends was so distraught that his raw pain threatened to unleash mine. Needing to keep it together, I passed him on for my older brother to handle. I was actually doing okay (façade in place) until my niece asked me if Grandpa was an angel now. I took to the bed for the rest of the night and a lot of the next day.

In the case of 9/11 there was a sort of numbness in the face of so much senseless tragedy and a suspended state of disbelief. I was working for a large media company at the time; we had offices in New York City. Since our Director of Human Resources just completely shut down emotionally (hid in her office with the door locked), it fell to me to organize a phone bank, check on employees' whereabouts, draft a letter for our CEO to send out and at noon send everyone at all of our offices across the country home. Because I lived near LAX, the road to get to my home was blocked and you had to show proof of residency to get down the street. I had a Texas driver's license, San Francisco address on my checks and my car was still registered in Texas as well. For some reason, I was absolutely frantic and started crying while digging in the back seat before coming up with a phone bill showing my name and LA address. The police officer was so concerned that he got in my car and drove me the half block home before walking back to his post. My S/O was supposed to be flying that day, one of my best friends worked in D.C. and my sister was supposed to be on a plane. I did not draw an easy breath until all my loved ones were accounted for and safe.

Unfortunately, we have become such a media-centric society; there is nowhere to hide from the memories. You almost become desensitized to the immense scale of horror and tragedy. So instead of re-capping the event whose anniversary is being recognized today, I'll simply take this moment to reflect on lives lost. I'll say a prayer or two for all the souls and wish nothing but hope and happiness for those left behind. Rest in peace, be at peace.