Where were you?

Where were you that day?

I’ll never forget… I was watching cartoons with my younger cousin Reed at my aunt’s house. Normally my grandparents watched him, but my grandfather was recovering from surgery, so I had taken a few days off work to go help out. Back then, Reed was obsessed with Bob the Builder, and we were still watching on VHS tapes. Around 9:00am, one movie had ended and I took it out of the vcr to change tapes. Through the static on the screen, at first I thought I was seeing some awful movie. Suddenly, the realization came over me that it was not a movie but the news.

And then… the second plane…

How little did we realize in that moment how much the world was about to change forever?

I distinctly recall the difference in existence before and after that day. All innocence that I had vanished. This was different from Kosovo or East Berlin or the Persian Gulf of the 1990’s… this was something bigger. Something scarier. I had never watched the news so much in my life before that day, but spent the next several days glued to CNN, unable to tear my eyes away. Fearful… we don’t live far from a large military munitions base; were we still safe here, despite being far from a big city? Working at the church, I spent hours getting in touch with parishioners and families who were living out of state, including one whose husband was in the Washington Navy Yard that day. All were safe. I didn’t lose anyone that I was personally close to. And yet, the loss lingers… it makes my throat close up any time I spend too long a moment in thought of it.

Seventeen years ago, I didn’t know Antonio. He was here in the States by then, but he was in college and our paths hadn’t crossed yet. Back then, he hadn’t even finished his private pilot license, but he was well on his way. Today, seventeen years later, I can’t help but feel a more profound sense of trepidation over what that day meant for aviation families.

That morning, 8 pilots and 25 flight attendants headed out for an early report. They called their final cross-check and taxied out for the last time. Those flight crews never made it home.

I deliberately try to avoid thinking about everything that can go wrong when Antonio is flying at 35,000 feet. As a pilot’s partner, as the granddaughter of a pilot, as the friend of an FA, I know how (relatively) safe the sky is. I roll my eyes along with other passengers at the ridiculousness of TSA sometimes as we stand in line to remove our shoes or throw out the coffee we haven’t had time to finish yet. The anthropologist in me balks at the racial profiling, just as Antonio – as a Latino – tries to ignore the stares he gets in airports sometimes as a “brown” man in a pilot’s uniform.

But sometimes, if I let myself think about it… in the pit of my stomach, I am grateful.

Because the pilot-wife in me wants bags searched. Wants the extra scans. Wants everyone to have to remove their shoes and open their laptops.

Because the pilot-wife in me wants my pilot to come home.

What happened on 9/11 will probably never happen again. The world learned a tragic and immeasurably catastrophic lesson that day. And yet… never again will we ever say “that could never happen”. Because that day, it did.

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Dating while Brown in a Red State

Antonio is coming in for the weekend tomorrow.

I finished two of my summer classes this week, so he thought he’d come in so we could celebrate a little. He was thinking ice cream. But I have been trying to find ways for us to get out more, now that I’m so close to having life return to somewhat “normal”.

One thing we both enjoy but for some reason have never done together in our three years is go wine tasting. We’ve tasted at home, or at dinner, but not gone to a winery and just enjoyed a leisurely tasting. So I thought, “Hey! I could surprise him with a trip to French Lick!” I haven’t had a nice glass of French Lick Catawba in ages, and that sounds just lovely. And I hear their cafe’ (which is new since I was there) is really good.

And then I suddenly realized… I don’t know if it’s safe to take Antonio there.

My dad’s family is from Orange County, Indiana… home of French Lick Springs and the incredible West Baden Springs Resort. If you’re from down there, you call it “the Valley”. Springs Valley, to be more precise. My grandpa was born there. My great-grandparents both worked for the hotel’s original owner, Mr. Sinclair, back before the Great Depression… my great-grandmother was a maid who used to babysit the Sinclair children, and my great-grandfather was a livery driver who , as family legend holds, used to drive for Al Capone when he came to town.

But there’s a darker side to Springs Valley and Orange County. The side that was – and still is – a stronghold of the Klan. My big family secret is that I am only a few generations descended from a grand wizard of the KKK in Orange County. We don’t talk about it, OBVIOUSLY. It’s not something we’re proud of.

What I am very proud of, however, is how my parents made a conscious decision to raise my sister and me differently. To raise us to be accepting and to understand that race does not define a person. My dad’s interest in anthropology and my mom being raised by someone who grew up in a multi-ethnic community in Canada went a long way toward their own personal views of being people who embrace diversity, and passed along those values to us. My dad and his brother have both deliberately broken a generational “curse”, so to speak, in raising children (me, my sister, and two of my cousins) to be open-minded, accepting people who work with, love, and befriend people from all walks of life. (My two cousins are both doing amazing work in the areas of LGBTQ+ advocacy and Native American advocacy, but that’s another post.)

But down in Orange County, the Klan still lives. Even some of my extended family never outgrew those old, dangerous ways of thinking. Lots of people down home still believe in racial segregation and white supremacy. They’re not people I’m close to, but I’ve been to family reunions in the past and you hear things. Back before I knew how to speak up.

I can take Antonio somewhere else. We can come up with plenty of other places to celebrate, to spend time together. I can even think of a dozen other wineries nearby where we could do the same thing. But three years in, this is the first time I’ve run into a situation of not feeling safe to take him somewhere. I am so insulated from this in a way, because my home here in Bloomington is so diverse and all-embracing (for the most part). That’s the beauty of living in this literal liberal mecca in the middle of red Indiana… Antonio and I never feel unsafe together in downtown or out-and-about. But that’s not true all around us.

Bloomington is a bubble. Sure, we joke about “never pulling over in Martinsville”, but the fact of the matter is that this is real. Especially under the current administration. I sometimes recheck Antonio’s wallet just to make sure that his US passport ID card is still there, even though I know he never takes it out… just as peace of mind for me. I worry sometimes when he’s out flying, because while he may be relatively safe in an airport, we don’t always know what lies outside the terminal for a commuter crew. I worry that someone with an agenda may pull him over and never stop to determine that he’s a naturalized American before something terrible happens.

I don’t have any answers for this tonight. I just needed to write. For all the horrible atrocities taking place in our country tonight, for all the scared children ripped away from their parents at our southern border, for all the black and brown people being murdered in the streets… I see you. I know that my issue of where to go on date night is nothing compared to what you are facing just for being alive in what-used-to-be-America. I’m so sorry. This is not what we are meant to be. I promise to keep using my voice to fight for you, and to keep my eyes open. We can’t go back to this being normal.

In the meantime, I’ll be coming up with a new idea for date night.
I can buy my French Lick wine at Kroger. I can never buy another Antonio.