Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life

11 Sep

As I scrolled through my Facebook and Twitter feeds today, I was reminded with nearly every post and Tweet that today is the 12th anniversary of 9/11. I was, of course, already quite aware of that before everyone started posting their stories and memories and tributes – I don’t think any of us will ever forget it. I debated on whether or not to write an entry today about that day because the stories I read tend to be maudlin and sad. Don’t take that to mean that it’s not a sombre day to remember and I certainly mean no disrespect, but out of all that horror and sadness I do believe there came some good, which is what I’d prefer to think about today.

On September 11, 2001, I was living with my parents in Louisville. I had just gotten my Masters degree in May, I had spent the summer doing summer stock in Tulsa and my plan was to return to Kentucky for a few months to save money so I could move to New York. The week I got home from Oklahoma, I went to a temp agency to find some work. My first assignment was to do general office work for a credit card collections company – stuffing envelopes, answering phones, making copies, etc. I showed up on my first day – Tuesday, September 11 – and within two hours, the entire office had been sent home because planes had been flown into the towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. The reason we were sent home had something to do with Fort Knox being a potential target, though Fort Knox is a good 50 minutes from Louisville.

I remember being incredibly confused by what was going on and didn’t quite grasp the import of what had just happened. I was just concerned at that point about whether I’d be paid for the full day or not. During the short 20 minute drive home I kept looking up at the sky, looking for planes, though there were none. I don’t know what I expected to see up there exactly, but I kept looking. It wasn’t until I got home and turned on the television that I really had a concept of the hugeness of what was happening. During my drive home, the towers had fallen. As most of you will remember, though, we had plenty of opportunities to see them fall over the next few hours, days and weeks, whether we wanted to or not.

No one was home when I got in from work. The house was empty – just me and the TV and the sudden, worried voices in my head, wondering about my friends from graduate school who had just moved to New York over the summer. I didn’t know the geography of Manhattan yet, so I didn’t realize how far Midtown actually was from the Financial District. I knew that most of my friends there were also working for temp agencies, and for all I knew, they were temping in the one of the towers and the news was telling us that there was no cell phone service in New York, so I had no way of reaching anyone. All I could do was watch and hope that they were all alright.

My parents were out at work when everything happened. My Mom has owned and operated her own residential cleaning company for the last 20+ years and on that day she had a particularly heavy workload, so she asked my grandparents and my great aunt and uncle to come down from Lexington to help her. They came home not too long after I did and, from what I remember, they weren’t really aware of everything that had happened. As they came in and settled down to watch the news, the phone rang and I answered it. It was my second cousin, Derek – my great aunt and uncle’s son. He is a researcher for the Army Research Labs not too far from Washington, DC, and he was calling to let his parents know that he was alright.

I didn’t recognize Derek’s voice when he called. We hadn’t seen or talked to each other in probably 15 years, so why should I? Derek had been one of my favorite cousins growing up. He’s a few years older than me, so I guess it’s normal for a middle schooler to look up to his cousin who is in college. As a kid, all I heard were comparisons between Derek and me – particularly about how smart we both were and how much we were alike in personality. What’s funny is, Derek is adopted, so it’s not genetic. And I remember Derek could juggle, and that fascinated me. There was one Christmas or Thanksgiving that he tried to teach me to juggle in our Aunt Bibby’s gigantic driveway and I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I think that was also the last time I saw him. Derek went off to college in Michigan and a year or two later it came out amongst the family that he was gay and had met someone. From that point on, we didn’t see Derek at family functions and he wasn’t really talked about around “the children.” I didn’t understand where he went or why we didn’t talk about him – I just knew I missed my cousin. The same thing had happened when our older cousin, Mark, came out a couple of years before Derek. I didn’t get in touch with him until last year – close to 25 years after the last time I’d seen him.

Derek gave me his phone number and email address before I handed the phone over to my aunt and I made sure to keep in touch with him. When I finally moved to New York five months later, Derek let me know that he was coming to Long Island for a meeting and we decided to meet and catch up. It was one of the happiest reunions of my life. I was on Cloud 9 for days. In the months that would follow, I would meet Derek’s partner, Pete, who is, as far as I’m concerned, as much my cousin as Derek. They drove up to Pennsylvania to see me in The Scarlet Pimpernel with their friends Nicole, Brian and Andy, who, along with their former roommate, Josh, have all become very dear friends. They’ve shared their home with me on multiple occasions. Pete played tour guide for me when I was in Baltimore with Flashdance and they hauled me back and forth from the theatre to their house every night after work. They even treated me to a very delicious brunch when we all happened to be in Denver at the same time a few weeks ago. In the wake of such a terrible event, something wonderful happened – my family grew, and I will always be grateful for that.

It’s easy to let “September 11” the Event overshadow September 11 the Day. We should never forget the people who lost their lives, but it’s important to remember to celebrate the living, as well. In addition to celebrating the fact that the Event brought me closer to some long-lost family, I also want to acknowledge my friends Sierra and Brendan today.  Twelve years ago, one of the most important days of a young person’s life stopped being about them and became “September 11.” I think they deserve a special shout-out today because it’s their birthday. I love you both and I am so happy you were born!

Be good to each other.

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2 Responses to “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life”

  1. Brendan September 26, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    I should read your blog more often! Thanks for the shout-out. Love you, Jason.

    • jasonhbratton76 September 26, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

      Yeah, you should!! It will be required reading in high schools and universities soon, I’m sure. 😉

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