I moved into my first condo on September 10, 2001. That night, my then-girlfriend and I shared a bottle of champagne with two friends, and looked in despair at all the dreadful wallpaper we had to strip from the walls. The sadist who sold us the place had covered every inch of the place—including the electric sockets—in jungle print wallpaper. My girlfriend and I had taken the coming week off to strip the condo clean of the awful stuff.
It was my first condo, and my first time living with a girlfriend. I was young, and filled with hope and anxiety.
One of the reasons we bought the place was that it had built-in bookshelves in the dining room and living room, and we owned thousands of books. When I filled the shelves, I was careful to keep our books separated. I was already anticipating the day we’d split up, and I’d have to make a hurried exit.
As it happened, we didn’t break up until several years later, after we had already sold and moved out of the condo. But young Jen had no idea of that then—just as she had no idea of what would happen the day after we moved into the condo.
On the morning of September 11, I was driving to the hardware store to buy chemicals to strip wallpaper. I was listening to NPR, which broke into its exciting account of some incredibly tedious subject to report that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Because it was NPR, no one seemed particularly excited or upset, which I thought was odd, because I felt planes hitting buildings was exactly the type of thing you should get upset about.
So, I stopped into my girlfriend’s office to watch the news on the Internet. These were the days of dialup, kids, so it took several minutes of listening to that weird AOL rubber-band connection sound before I finally learned what was going on. Shortly after I logged on, the second plane hit the South Tower.
For the next hour, my girlfriend’s law partner and I stared in stunned disbelief at the coverage, while I clutched a phone, and reported on the happenings to my girlfriend, who was back at the condo. At some point, real life shook me out of my trance, and I left for the hardware store to buy wallpaper-remover chemicals. The world might be ending, but that wallpaper wasn’t going to strip itself!
We worked 18-hour days the next week stripping wallpaper, with the news blaring constantly in the background. I was so grateful to have an all-consuming task to keep me occupied during that terrible time.
I finally understood my grandmother’s reaction to President Franklin Roosevelt’s announcement that the United States had entered World War II. She began crying, then got on her hands and knees, and scrubbed every floor in the house.
When I heard the news that Osama bin Laden had finally been found and killed, I was in a new house with a new girlfriend. We were in the midst of ordering lumber for a new deck and arguing with our contractor when the news broke.
So much has changed in the past 10 years in the life of this dusty old planet. It’s comforting to know that in spite of all tragedy and turmoil in our personal and global lives—the wars, the breakups, the loss of lives, the loss of friends—somehow, we all manage to carry on. The wars will end eventually (let’s hope); we’ll find new relationships that will have an entirely new set of problems to challenge us; and there will always, always be wallpaper to strip and decks to build.
Hey! I wrote a book. You can buy Dateland on Amazon.