Today is a day for memories and reflection. After another night of too little sleep, I lay in bed, too tired to get up, and turned on the radio. NPR was broadcasting the ceremony from Ground Zero, where the families and survivors of the attack were gathered to mark the tenth anniversary. Ten years – so much has happened in the last decade, much of it as a result of the attack on 9/11/02001. The international and national impact has been huge, but many of us have felt the aftermath of the attack in very personal ways.
Where was I that fateful day? I was living in California then, three hours behind in schedule as someone from the east coast. I was teaching high school in San Bernardino and had to get up very early to be in my classroom by 7:30. All morning long I taught my classes in English and German, not knowing the world had changed. Then came lunchtime at the ridiculously early time of 11:20. That’s when I heard the news. I joined a fellow teacher in his room and together we watched the TV. By then, some rumors were flying around. As Mark and I watched the replay of the first plane crashing into one of the towers, I said, that’s weird. Then the second one came. Then news of the other two. We watched but I don’t think I took it all in. The rest of the school day is a bit hazy and as I headed out to pick up my two children, then in 4th and 5th grade, I wondered if they had heard anything. Sarah climbed into the car as usual, but Jacob leaned towards me and asked in a quiet ‘keep the news from little sister’ voice: Did you hear what happened today? I nodded and said we’d talk when we got home.
The full impact of that day’s events would come later. The kids and I watched the news and talked about it. My kids have had a rather international upbringing. They’ve been exposed to different countries and cultures that other kids their age may not have been. They carry two passports, have dual citizenship, speak two languages, and have traveled to Germany almost every year growing up. Their German father, a permanent resident of the U.S., speaks only German to them and has incorporated various German customs into their lives. We are also a Jewish family and the kids have been involved in the Jewish cultural and religious life since they were born. They knew about events like the Holocaust and the history of Israel from an early age. They had seen how on major holidays, synagogues, even in very small communities like ours was, have police security. Due to my previous years of teaching international students, we had a lot of foreign family friends. They also had a Turkish Muslim stepfather.
I had married Haktan after knowing him for about five years. He had been a part of my kids’ lives since they were toddlers. We all knew some Turkish phrases, music, and foods. Haktan was not religious, but we all celebrated the ‘sugar holiday’ after Ramazan, the Turkish name for Ramadan. He made baklava, I was the assistant cook, and we all loved eating it. Our life was complicated by his visa status, though. He had come to the U.S. for graduate school, and his visa, a J-1, required that he return to his country of origin for two years once he finished. Most people think that if you marry an American, it’s no problem living here, but that is not true. It all depends on which visa you were given. Not wanting a brain drain, the Turkish government requested that the U.S. grant all the students on his program this specific visa. It’s understandable, but surely there should be exceptions. We thought we could find some, but after dealing with immigration and an immigration lawyer, we finally accepted that he would have to return to Turkey for two years. He left in November 2000. In the meantime, I would start the paperwork for his return.
Fast forward two years. I had traveled to Turkey three times and after the last trip was optimistic that our two year separation was coming to an end. The effects of 9/11 were in full swing by then, but the one that affected me the most personally were the changes to immigration. Shortly before the two year requirement was up, I received a letter stating that all visa applications would be pushed back by at least two more years. I freaked out. I contacted my congressman and his assistant did as much as she could to help. She was inundated with cases like ours and spoke to the L.A. immigration office almost daily. The long separation had been harder on Haktan as he hadn’t coped very well alone. After seven years in the U.S., he had a very difficult time readjusting to life back in Turkey. I, at least, had the kids and our familiar life. After three years of living apart, much of it fighting the bureaucracy of immigration, our relationship did not survive. I decided then that I wanted a fresh start, which triggered my plans to move back to Austin. We’ve been here a little over seven years now, and despite the unfortunate circumstances that led to the move, it’s been a good decision for all us. Whenever I see or hear anything about 9/11, I think about the international and national situation, the terrible loss of all those lives, the effects in our lives as we travel and live today, but I also remember how it changed my life on a very personal level.