note: Before you read, know that I am no hero of 9/11. This is my first paid writing gig. A friend of mine asked me for a unique take on the 9/11 story. It ended up being included in the 10 year memorial magazine. It is an honor to be part of such an amazing tribute to everyone who was deeply and profoundly affected by that day. Thank you.
A Love Story
By Isaac Lomeli
“Ugh! I just want to be done with school.” This is what ran through my mind every Tuesday & Thursday morning at the sound of my alarm. It was set for, 0703 hrs—I loved those last 3 minutes of sleep. I was five years into my degree and had this last semester to go. The only date on my mind was 14Dec01; my graduation day.
I started my morning regimen that began with cursing the morning and morning classes and school in general. Drained my bladder and glanced in the mirror to see if I could tell if my workouts were working. Got back in my room and heard my mom yell, “Are you up?” Of course I was up—who else would be up stairs in the bathroom? She always asked and she always replied to my, “Yes”, “Okay.” I got the remote and turned on my TV to get my fill of current events and stupid simple humor from Jillian Barberie and crew—hey, it was too early for my mind to handle CNN, so I opted for, The Idiot’s Guide To Watching The News.
Now, I’m not sure how to say this, but, I loved her. I still love her. But, you can’t always be with the one you love. Anyway, I digress for now. So the TV’s on, I’m pulling out my attire for the day and all of a sudden…
I hadn’t been so shocked in all my life—I would later describe this shock as, that 9-11 feeling, and she would be the reason for this moniker. I was literally frozen for at least a minute. My mom yelling, “I’m leaving”, snapped me out of it. I wanted to cry. I wanted to fight. I wanted to be scared. I wanted to finish school and become a teacher, and motivate children to live good lives and become good people and to help save them from whatever situation they feel so helpless in. But I was a soldier. I was in the reserves and I knew what it all meant to me the instant I saw what was on the TV. I knew that I might have to be a hero for my country.
Still stunned I got in my car and began my convoy to Biola University. Then began my five stages of grief:
1. Denial & Isolation. I denied the significance of the event, “Man, God, you will do anything to keep me from finishing school.” I became selfish for a moment. Then got angry and marched on to stage 2.
2. Anger. I was so pissed at God, terrorist, and White folks. “Why are you doing this to me. I just want to graduate and become a teacher. I’ve done everything asked of me. No drugs, alcohol, gangs. You put me in the ghetto and beat me while I was down. I graduated high school, I joined the Army, and I’m going to college.” My spouts of anger turned to the weeping voice of stage 3.
3. Bargaining. I begged God to just let me graduate.
4. Depression. I cried. I started thinking of my struggles through life and how difficult it had been just to get to September 11, 2001. I thought about all my comrades who would have to lay down their lives for this fight we were all going to have to fight. I thought about my friend Israel Sanchez who I met when I started college after I got out of active duty. We were on the wrestling team together. I remember telling him how much I liked the Army. He ended up joining that summer, then got out and was now in the reserves, and I was now his wrestling coach rather than teammate. I remember meeting his younger brother the next season and becoming close friends with the entire Sanchez family. I started to feel guilty because Israel might go, “What if he ends up dying…it will be all my fault.”
5. Acceptance. “I’m a soldier; and this is what soldiers do.” I was now just focusing on being a soldier. “Pay back’s a bitch.” Oh, I was ready to give an outstanding payback.
I finally arrived at Biola not really sure how I even got there. Being a Christian college it felt a bit comforting being there. For the first time since arriving at that school, 3 years before, I felt the presence of God. I felt a strong sense of faith and hope, and an even greater sense of strength and courage. I believed that my God was a mighty God and that America would prevail over its enemies.
I walked to my class and I was early.
“Good morning Isaac.” She smiled warmly—apparently she had no idea what was going on.
“You haven’t heard what’s happening?” I asked.
Right away her countenance dropped. “What happened?”
As I explained to her I could tell that she was experiencing that 9-11 feeling. We then went to the department office to see what was going on. We ran into another professor. It seemed with everyone I ran into that day there was an immediate bond and unity. Everyone seemed to be feeling the same things and in one accord about what must be done. This country had been arguing about what we should do prior to 9-11. It was—be still; pull back; or fight. On that day we all said, “Let’s roll!”
Time passed and I graduated. Time passed some more and I ETS’d, 3Mar02. I was relieved, but it didn’t last. I felt like a coward for not fighting. I guess that’s why I fell in love with her; I wanted so bad to be a hero again to someone, and she needed a hero in her life at the time. My heart wanted to live without fear, so I let it fall completely in love with her.
I thought I was free from having to think about dying in a war. I thought I was on my way to being free from the burdens of military life. I forgot that Israel Sanchez was still, SPC Sanchez. I was just calling my friend to see if he had plans that Sunday after his weekend drill.
“There making me go…” He began to talk and I began to get that 9-11 feeling. “They had us update our packets and they said I would know by Thursday if we were deploying to the Middle East.”
I didn’t have many words to say. I just felt I had to be there for my friend. I showed up to his house. I walked inside and said hello to his mother and played with his little brothers. I got a sense that he hadn’t told them a word. I remember sitting there waiting for him to come out and looking at all the pictures of him hanging on the wall, and looking at his families faces. I remember praying to myself, “God, please don’t let this be the last time I see his family smiling.” I had many more prayers that night and over the next few days. “God, I hope those men never come over this house and tell his mother the bad news.”
That night we sat at a bar we had sat at a hundred times before with the most pressing thing on our mind was, how we can get those chicks to come home with us. Now, our minds were trying to fight off the fear of war.
The days moved quickly and Wednesday came and we had decided we were going to go do something we might not ever do again. We took another trip to Tijuana. We always went during the day for the food, the shopping for knockoff watches and shades, and enjoying our Mexican culture.
“Hey, if we’re lucky…” I said.
“Man, you always say that.” He laughed.
“Hey, if we’re lucky we will meet some hot chicks this time.” I finished and smiled.
We had never gone during the week before. We had never stayed so late. I guess it was destiny, and if you wanted something good to come out of 9-11, a love story happened. It’s how I met the love of my life; that night driving back across the border, her and her friend met me and my friend.
I loved her. When she left me it was like two buildings filled with your hopes and dreams being blown up and come crashing down inside you. That 9-11 feeling was all I felt for months afterwards. Israel never went to war. I went on to teach. And, she went on to being my 9-11 memorial.