Jule Gardner Banville teaches classes at the University of Montana School of Journalism and edits the website New West-dot-Net.
In late September 2001, WNYC aired a piece by one of our producers, Jule Gardner (now Banville) about her decision to leave New York just after the attacks. We checked back with her recently and found out her life’s changed more than a little since that move.
Video produced by Amy Pearl
The morning after Osama Bin Laden died, I was sitting on the porch in front of my house thinking about the sky. Maybe you’ve heard Montana is big sky country? Well, it is. But so was New York that day. We all remember. The sky on Sept. 11 was impossibly blue, so blue it made your eyes hurt. It was blue, blue, blue. Even though it was probably just a normal lovely day in September when the towers fell and I was on the Brooklyn Bridge, which I walked across almost every day and thought of as the place I loved most in the world.
Ten years ago, I felt so stuck. I wanted to be one of those journalists who raced to put away personal fears and just go, do, report. But all I could do was walk around and look at people and wonder, silently, “Hey, did you know anyone in the towers?” or “Hey, are you scared?” Because I am. I was, I mean scared to be around any tall buildings. Scared to stay in New York -- Brooklyn Bridge or no Brooklyn Bridge.
I started realizing what it meant to be a transplant, not a true New Yorker and I wanted out.
I had this overwhelming sense I wanted a life less nuts. Not just because of the attacks, but because of the rent -- mine was about to be doubled -- and the infrequent F train and hauling my laundry and rude dudes in the deli. All of the annoying stuff about living in New York you don’t realize until you live there.
The weekend after 9/11, I had a wedding to go to in Erie, which meant home to me because it’s where I went to college and where I worked at the local paper before coming to NYC to get a graduate degree.
At the reception, looking around at all these people whose stories I knew, I belonged in a way I just didn’t in NYC.
At the time, I was 28 and it was just me and my cat: no romance, no really close family, and after being on the bridge and watching something bigger than me go up in smoke, I just wanted to be connected to something -- to commit to something. So I decided my family was Erie. It wasn’t my hometown, but always felt that way. Within two weeks of that wedding, I was packed.
Back in the rust belt, I got hired again at the Erie Times-News, this time as the night cop reporter.
Suddenly, I was settled. But I did miss New York and I did feel shaken. I'd walk to one of the few places you could buy a New York Times and spend days poring over the "Portraits of Grief," those small flashes of the lives of people lost on 9/11. I forced myself to read them, even though they made me incredibly sad. I felt so inadequate. They had so much to live for, it seemed, and I up and left because it felt good.
I wrote a few columns about being on the bridge during the attacks, but it was weird. In Erie, it was just TV. But the TV was still full of it, it seems. I’d see the flaming towers on the screens in the newsroom and cry quietly at my desk.
After almost three years there, I met a guy who made me laugh. And seemed perfect. Except that he lived in D.C.
So I moved again, to another big city, which is something I thought I’d never do. We got married and went on vacation to Montana, where we picked up a familiar story: People often fall in love with the place and move there.
We bought our first place, a big yellow farmhouse with a porch in the middle of Missoula, where my daughter was born in 2009.
So now, I guess, I have the connections I was searching for 10 years ago. I thought I’d find them in Erie, but I didn’t and now this is home.
But I still miss those other places I’ve lived. Among the first things we hung up in our house were some old photos of the Brooklyn Bridge. I think I do heart the bridge more than ever and sometimes find myself scrolling through images of it, nostalgic for my former commute and my former city.
I don't talk about it much. I think about it sometimes. I cried in the shower once, remembering. Now in the way-out-west, I feel a sort-of kinship with anyone I meet who lived in New York or who just loves it for some reason. I love it from afar now, like a movie-watcher, which is OK by me.
Someday I think I would like to take my daughter for a walk across the bridge.
If that time ever comes, I hope she gets it. I hope I can tell her what it was like to briefly be a New Yorker. Even though, 10 years ago on that September day, when everything seemed to grind to a halt, her mom bailed. But life, as it turns out, went on.