Everyone else’s world changed the day after, but mine changed forever that Monday. I was working at Dynegy on the 13th floor. During my lunch break, I went to a drugstore in the tunnels running beneath downtown Houston. I made my purchase, took my loot to the bathroom, then spent the rest of the day stopping to look at the results every 5 minutes. That wasn’t a line; that was the hallucination of a line. That was masochistic little me imagining a line. It was an artifact on my retina, a ghost of the other line, a mix up, a malfunction. It was not a line.
I stopped on the way home for another test. I went to my mom’s house and ran upstairs to the bathroom. I repeated the test. Yeah, that was a line. I placed the test on the sink, pulled my hair back from my face with 2 shaky hands, and looked at myself in the mirror. I wasn’t Ashley anymore, I was a mom. I went downstairs, sat on my mom’s lap and cried.
The next day, I returned to work as usual. A little more distracted, a little more confused, but otherwise treating it like any other day. I still had a diet Coke for breakfast. I still checked my email immediately when I got to work. I still doodled during our morning meeting knowing that the swirls and loops were better recorders of my thoughts than words at that point. Someone interrupted the meeting to inform us that terrorists had blown up the White House. Clearly, incorrect, but it motivated everyone out of the meeting. I called Mom, who was watching everything happen in NYC as it unfolded live on her TV screen.
Within about 10 minutes, all of downtown was being evacuated. I refused to take the elevator down, opting for the 13 flights of stairs instead. By the time my shaky legs had carried me outside, the panic was palpable. Everyone was talking, but no one had the same story. I didn’t know where to go, I was still panicked about being pregnant, much less everything else. I stood at my usual bus stop, but the driver said they were still only doing inbound routes. Metro hadn’t been notified of the impending exodus, so I was stuck. All I could see above me giant targets; headquarters for every major oil company towered hundreds of feet in the air. The rumors swirling about talked of a major US metropolis hit every hour. And there I stood, responsible for more than just myself for a change.
I bummed a cigarette from a girl walking by. We had been in the same new hire orientation a month previous and never saw each other again — but at this moment we became best friends. She told me about her friend she had just visited in NYC who worked in one of the towers. She couldn’t reach her friend. I took a couple of drags of the cigarette, confessed I was pregnant for the first time aloud, and then threw the butt into a nearby gutter. A lawyer who recognized us from the building offered us a ride back to the bus station if we didn’t mind cramming in the backseat with 2 other people. We didn’t mind and were soon observing the plane-free, blue skies while traveling 105 miles an hour in a Mercedes sedan.
Surreal doesn’t quite capture it. I found my car at the bus station and kept the same pace all the way to Mom’s. We prayed aloud for all the souls lost. I prayed silently for the soul newly formed within me. I rented movies so that I wouldn’t watch the news. I tried to reach Chris to tell him I loved him. I thought the words would come more freely from him in light of the circumstances. They didn’t.
My emotions felt like an impossible to do list: happy, sad, shocked, elated, worried, grateful, guilty, hopeful, doubtful, brave. So I did what I always do. I crossed them all off as complete, went with that last one as the most useful, and kept going. A skyline was amputated, a nation was scarred, and every molecule of my entire being was changed forever.