September 10, 2001, 8:15 am
The immigration officer didn’t even ask for the stack of photo albums we brought to prove that we’re legitimately and happily married. Just a couple of cursory questions and voila! I was approved for my green card. Newly minted almost-American, just one step away from my citizenship.
I was surprised (and relieved) that it was that easy.
September 11, 2001, 7:46 am. Approximately 24 hours later.
The first plane crashed into the World Trade Center.
I was at home that morning, barely awake for my 10 am shift at the restaurant when I received a phonecall from my then husband. He asked me to watch the news. And the horror unfolded before my eyes as I hugged myself on the couch in disbelief.
Later, my dad called from Malaysia, half a world away, asking if I was watching the news. I nodded, as if he could see. That was when the towers collapsed. I felt a cry lodged in my throat. And then I bawled. My dad understood; he hung up and left me to my grief.
The day after my green card interview. I couldn’t imagine what it would’ve been like for me had it been the day after the attack, rather than before. But that was the furthest thing from my mind then. Like millions around the world, I was shaken to the depths of my core.
I am lucky - I didn’t lose anyone that day. But I gained a new home country just 24 hours before. And maybe that’s why the event felt like it hit so close to home. Because I was home.
Yet I couldn’t fathom the smoldering images that burned my eyes. This wasn’t the America I signed up for. What was happening? The fire, the chaos, the ashes, the utter helplessness - that wasn’t supposed to be happening here. Not here. Not America.
Suddenly tragedy was no longer just what happened to others in faraway places, in cities with hard-to-pronounce names. It could happen right here, on the soil that I, just 24 hours before, had newly and deliberately planted my roots.
September 10, 2011, 12:30 pm. Ten years later.
We drove two hours across state line to purchase a very specific vehicle that would meet our very particular needs. It has to be roomy but not too large for our urban streets; techie for my geek but not too complicated for me; family-friendly but still sporty enough for performance junkies like us; gorgeous but not flashy.
Not only would this be a departure from our manual, turbo-enhanced hatchback, but it would also be our first American car.
My Guy, the car enthusiast, who watched the sad demise of several classic American brands, has been really excited about the phoenix-like rise of the American motor industry that went from near or total bankruptcy to become worthy competitors of their Japanese, Korean and German counterparts.
I have to admit I was a little prejudiced at first; I didn’t trust his recommendations for us when he listed the American brands. But when I read the reviews and the specs for myself, I was sold. There’s never been a more exciting time to buy American.
So ten years to the day after my green card approval and on the eve of the 9/11 ten-year anniversary, it seemed poetic for us to go home with an American car. Just like New York who rose above the ashes, so did these American icons: Ford, Dodge, Chrysler, Cadillac.
When we pulled out of the lot with our new vehicle, we did so with our girls tucked safely in the back and our pride displayed boldly on the front, right next to the Dodge emblem.
As we rumbled confidently down the street, I couldn’t help but wonder, here we are with our American car and our American girls, but had my green card interview been scheduled the day after 9/11 and not the day before, would I still be here?
What’s your 9/11 story?