By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
It’s funny the things that will spur a memory that’s sat quietly in the back of our minds. Sometimes a familiar smell or sound will trigger a fond reverie of pleasant times past. Other times, the memories which spring to the surface are unpleasant ones whose sharp edges have been dulled with the passage of time.
And sometimes, a memory arises that brings with it a most perfect ambivalence — a recollection of simultaneous beauty and tragedy. Both realities preserved in their inextricable contradiction.
When I stepped outside for the first time Monday morning I was immediately struck by the crispness and cleanness of the air. A cold front had blown in which had caused the temperatures to dip only just, but had had a more noticeable effect on the moisture in the air.
Monday morning was bright with golden light spilling from the still-rising sun as it soared in a nearly cloudless azure sky. The breeze that brushed across my skin was dry and cool — not enough to warrant a sweater, or even long sleeves, but enough to make me acutely aware of the fact that I’m alive.
It was refreshing, in every sense of the word.
I saw the American flags as I made my way into town to our offices in Port Isabel. I knew why they were there, placed in front of businesses and homes and the medians on Queen Isabella Boulevard by the Rotary Club. The sunlight reflecting off the flag in front of our office practically glowed in that particular way that sunlight only ever seems to do when shining on American or Texas flags.
The warm, clear light; the crisp, cool air. My mind constantly reaching to describe the day as “perfect.” It all transported me to another day, 16 years ago, which had been quite similar. To the day being commemorated by the American flags which lined the boulevard. To Sept. 11, 2001.
I wasn’t here then. I was in college in Waco. My first class of the day was clear across campus, so I had enjoyed a leisurely 15 minute walk in conditions nearly identical to Monday’s. The beauty of that day juxtaposed to its abject horror is a memory that has vividly endured in my mind as if branded onto my very neurons.
I remember calling my dad in confusion and fear, seeking reassurance. And then, just a few short days later, I remember my dad calling me to tell me what had happened here in the Laguna Madre. To tell me of the late night tragedy at the Queen Isabella Causeway on Sept. 15, 2001.
I wasn’t here. But with two tragedies happening so close to one another, my heart ached to be here with my family. To be near what felt like safety and normalcy.
But, just as the ugliness of 9/11 is forever entwined in my mind with memories of that day’s beautiful weather, so, too is entwined the memory of how that day fostered a strong sense of community. My friends and I, all so far removed from our families and homes, leaned on each other. We gave each other strength.
I wasn’t here when the Causeway was struck by a barge, but I’ve heard the stories of how the people of Port Isabel and South Padre Island and the surrounding area came together to support each other. I think it’s just something that’s in our DNA as Texans. We are sometimes battered and bruised, but we get up, we help our neighbors up, we rebuild, and we remember. Together.
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