Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in a series that will run this week to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

This isn’t a story about 9/11. This is a story of the story of 9/11.

My story.

We all have our stories about it. Where we were, how we heard, who we knew who was somehow more intricately bound up in its History than we.

We tell these stories so that we can put this huge, hellish thing in a box. We define its boundaries, we say, here, this is yours but this is mine; and in doing so we also invite the rest of Us, the survivors, in. We share. We become aware of how we are all the same person, and this person is frightened, sad, angry, hopeless, hopeful, resolute, courageous, but no longer alone.

I have this story too. And I’ve told it many times. But it has this moment in it–this hiccup, this Gypsy Rose Lee I’ll-Laugh-At-Myself-Before-You-Get-A-Chance-To thing–without which it’s not a story; it doesn’t resolve.

But this is exactly where I’m going to go. This is my not-story. This is the one that I’m not sure if there is an Us, and there certainly is no box.

I was late for 9/11.

At the time the first plane struck, I was probably just convincing myself out of bed. When the first tower fell–an hour after I was supposed to be at work–I was showering.

Normally, as I tell the story, I gloss over this fact: “As I was driving to work, had to be about 10am, I saw a sign on the highway…” Or I throw in a little rueful smile. “I was late for work, (heh), and I was driving in, and on the way I passed one of those big LED signs they have on the highways…” Gypsy Rose Lee.

And I’m always left wondering if the listener is distracted by this–10am? Going to work? Is she always late? Is she the kind of person who’s always late?

And I wonder if they’re judging me, and if I’m coming up short.

Because yes, I do always come late. Am I the kind of person who always comes late? I don’t know. Because I don’t know why I’m always coming late. So I am a person who always come late, but I don’t know if I’m a kind of person who comes late.

I went to a therapist for this, a few years after 9/11. Actually, I went to a therapist because I was having absolutely no luck with men, and hadn’t for a good long while, and well, that hurt. And the common denominator in all these nonrelationships was me. So…time to have a professional look at me. See what there was to see.

“You’re late,” she said.

“Sorry,” I said.

“You were five minutes late last week, too,” she said. “And the week before that. And the week before that.”

“Yes,” I said, because there’s really no point in trying to dismiss or hedge or excuse or explain away the truth.

“Let’s look at that,” she said.

And so we did.

For over a year. Once a week, for 55 minutes every Tuesday. Because I kept coming late. Five minutes late. Every week.

After about nine months, I asked if we could try another tack. I got that my lack of luck with men and my lateness were probably related–tackle one and you’ll tackle the other–but perhaps the lateness was not the loosest brick in the wall, after all. Perhaps another angle?

“I think the reason you come late might just be a big ‘F You’ to the world,” she announced.

I tried it on. No, no–I wasn’t coming up with any hatred.

“Then why?” she asked.

I didn’t know.

I still don’t.

And there it hangs, the little whisper in my ear every time I tell my 9/11 story. The odd appendage dangling out the side of a perfectly good portrait. The phantom whose presence is felt by where it specifically, tangibly, is not.

My nonstory.

Which, I suppose, really is my story.

So, then, perhaps here for the first time, is my 9/11 story in full.

At the time the first plane struck, I was probably just convincing myself out of bed. When the first tower fell–an hour after I was supposed to be at work–I was showering.

I was unaware, completely, of the pain and anguish being wrought mere miles from me. I was simply filled with my normal mix of worry that my boss would call for me before I was there, that my employees would think less of me for this, and that I was so very, very sick and tired of being me and doing this to myself and others.

(This mix, incidentally, would make me feel both hot and cold at exactly the same time, something I would notice occasionally with the strange detachment of someone who grew up memorizing the way things look and feel so she could be a writer.)

Did I turn on the radio on the drive in? I don’t remember. Perhaps I was punishing myself for being late again and so didn’t turn it on. Perhaps I thought it would stress me out more. Perhaps I did turn it on and assumed the static was due to my cheap secondhand car stereo, and turned it back off.

By the time I turned off of Route 440 onto Route 9 North, where it runs a bit easterly and alongside the Garden State Parkway, I had moved on to the next phase of my morning routine: What’s done is done. Be an adult and make the best of this day. So you’re late. Deep breath. Walk in with your head up, do your job and do it well, and put the past behind you.

So I noticed it was a beautiful day. The sun was shining; the humidity was low; it was Indian Summer and the temperature was perfect. Lovely, really. And I noticed a sign that made me smirk, an LED sign on the Parkway to my left:


Ha! I thought. Someone really should have proofread that sign. All of Manhattan? All of Manhattan is closed? Riiiiight.

I walked into the office a few minutes later. Head up, smile, just start working.

“A plane hit the World Trade Tower,” Derrick said to me as I passed his desk. “And–and–they’ve collapsed.”

Friday: “Missing the Last Train Home” by Neil Fein, The final installment of this series.


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