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Vicki Hyman

When I remember Sept. 11, I always remember my son's eardrum, or lack

The night before, my husband, my 10-week-old son and I had returned to North Carolina from our first road trip together, a brief, almost pleasant journey to Annapolis, Md. Only small one thing kept David and I from declaring the Annapolis sojourn an unqualified success: two hours of unremitting, respiration-defying, full-on baby screaming during the car ride home.

By the time we pulled into our driveway that night, Theo had surrendered to sleep, or just plain passed out from exertion. We really didn't care, just tucked him into his bassinet and collapsed into bed ourselves.

Theo woke up a few hours later, hungry. As I fed him in our bed, I turned on the television. For some reason I still cannot explain, I turned to the Today show instead of channel surfing for a old movie. I watched with little interest until Theo fell asleep again, and then I crawled back under the covers, still cradling him in my arms.

I was not quite asleep when my husband, getting dressed for work and half-listening to the television, said it. "A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center." I fumbled for my glasses and squinted at the television. It must have been a commuter plane, I mumbled. Some freak accident. I buried myself again under the blankets.

Then David said it again. And then I woke up.

I spent that whole morning in bed. At first I stared dumbly at the screen as the horror slowly revealed itself. New York, Washington D.C., a Pennsylvania field. Hundreds dead, certainly. And then thousands. And finally, possibly, impossibly, more than 10,000.

I thought about my family. I grew up in the suburbs of New York City. My sister, brother-in-law and aunt and uncle work in Manhattan, but well north of the Financial District. My brother is a volunteer firefighter, but in a small town about 30 miles from the city. Even if he had been called in to help, he never would have reached the World Trade Center by the time the towers collapsed.

I guess I'm saying that I wasn't too concerned about them. I put in my calls, shared the obligatory where-were-yous. Everybody was safe.

I thought about my colleagues at the daily newspaper where I work when I'm not recovering from childbirth. This certainly amounted to the biggest story of my lifetime, but only the scraps would reach Raleigh, North Carolina, that day.

As the speculation started - Arab terrorists, Osama bin Laden - and as CNN showed footage of Palestinians rejoicing in the streets, I thought about my fellow Jews, about Israel, about how this savagery might spin out halfway across the world.

As the morning wore on, however, I discovered that I had more to worry about than the wholesale slaughter of my fellow citizens, the sudden frailty of the world.

Greenish-gray slime had started to ooze out of my son's ear. I called the doctor's office, and a nurse advised me to bring Theo in.

It seemed like everyone moved in slow motion that day. At the doctor's office, the receptionist and I alluded to the attacks but didn't know quite what to say about them. The doctor didn't mention them at all as he swirled a distressingly long metal implement in my son's ear, Theo erupting anew. Solving the mystery of the miserable car ride the night before, the doctor pronounced a burst eardrum and prescribed some antibiotics.

I drove to the pharmacy and waited for the prescription to be filled. I flipped through magazines while I waited and snuck glances at other shoppers, dropping off film, selecting a shampoo, or dawdling in the candy aisle. The newscasters and the commentators hadn't starting saying, "Everything has changed." And nothing, at least in a drug store in Raleigh, North Carolina, had, yet. Maybe nothing would.

When I would hear people talk about the day that Kennedy was shot, or Pearl Harbor bombed, I envisioned some sort of collective outpouring of grief, people gathering into the streets, sobbing. I was waiting for people to start showing the same loss and confusion and anger that I was feeling. Maybe they were waiting too.

When I returned home, I climbed back into bed, turned on the television and held my son. I made his bottles, changed his diapers, cleaned his ear, fed him his medicine.

I remember sounding like a bad made-for-TV-movie when I asked my husband what kind of a world had we brought our son into. I remember imagining the catastrophes yet to come. I remember crying for him.

When I remember now, I remember Sept. 11 as the day I discovered I could not view the world without seeing my son in every frame.
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