expatriate: n. One who has taken up residence in a foreign country.
I was scheduled to fly here - on a one-way fare, which wasn't a problem in those days - in mid-September 2000. But a temperamental gall bladder got in the way, and I ended up undergoing a surprise operation ('emergency surgery' sounds so dramatic, and it wasn't quite life-or-death, just painfully sudden) two days before the flight.
British Airways was very accommodating and, presented with a letter from the surgeon, at no additional charge changed the departure date to four weeks later, to early October.
That year was, as you might expect, full of 'new': new partner, new house, new routines, new life. A lot of my independence dried up - I couldn't just hop in the car and go. Even if I could have acclimated to driving on the wrong side of the road, I had no sense of geography and hardly knew where anything was in relation to where we lived.
Each month was an adventure - the hours of darkness as we approached the winter solstice... birds I'd never seen before... currency that looked like Monopoly money... radio stations and holidays and grocery stores, all different.
Several times that year I'd considered keeping a journal. A friend had given me a copy of Peter Mayle's "A Year in Provence," and I'd read "Notes from a Small Island," by Bill Bryson, and I thought perhaps I'd have a story to tell about what it was like to pick up and move to another country.
In nearly every situation I tend to tell myself 'I'll remember THAT. Surely THAT will stick in my memory.' And of course I always forget, or almost always. That's what happened. Day piled onto day and little things were forgotten.
As the end of that first year approached, I realized there were some things that were no longer alien, things that I'd gotten used to and that had become routine. I wondered if the anniversary of my arrival would in some way mark the end of 'new' to have it replaced with 'familiar.'
Then came 9/11.
It was a lovely fall day here, much as that morning was in NYC, and after lunch we planned to begin winterizing the fish pond. Himself went out first and I said 'I'll be out as soon as I check my email.' A headline on the home page said 'A plane has reportedly crashed into one of the twin towers at the World Trade Center.'
When I clicked on the link it repeated exactly that - with something like 'updates to follow.' I thought it must be a small plane, maybe a commuter plane, that had crashed into one of the skyscrapers - it happened once to the Empire State Building in the 1940s, for example. (This was of course several years before the private plane that crashed into a high-rise apartment building in New York.)
I went outside and said 'Odd headline on the US news; they said a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, but that's all it said. It must've just happened.' Himself replied there would probably be more by the time we went back in.
It was maybe forty or forty-five minutes later that we'd finished up, and I went in while he finished putting the tools away. Checking the computer again - well, you know what happened next. In that three-quarters of an hour, all hell had broken loose.
The worst moment for me was the announcement that a plane had gone down in 'southwestern Pennsylvania.' That's close enough to where my children then lived that finding out exactly where it had gone down became paramount. As it turned out, thank God, they were far away from it - but even so, Shanksville is probably less than a hundred miles from Gettysburg.
We stayed with television coverage for days - through the live broadcasts, I was so close, but so very far away.
That single event, the one that united us all no matter how diverse our backgrounds, our beliefs, our opinions - that one moment crystallized a realization for me: no matter how long I live in England, I will always be an American.
I've watched as the new buildings are being erected and as the memorial designs - incredibly moving tributes - have been constructed. As proud as I am to be part of a nation that has pulled together to face the ongoing threat of terrorism, I am even prouder of the hope symbolized by the new World Trade Center.
We won't forget the past - but our faith lies in the future.