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A daughter and mother ask ‘what if?’

Rishell Graves was driving her daughter, Lacey, to school at Columbia High School in White Salmon on the morning of Sept. 11. Lacey was fiddling with the radio, trying to find some music she liked, but all the stations seemed to be airing only news.

“We kept hearing these reports,” recalls Rishell, who works as administrative director for the CAST Performing Arts Center in Hood River. “They sounded so unreal.” She couldn’t make sense of them, so after she dropped Lacey off, she hurried back home and turned on the television. She watched the horror unfolding in New York for a minute, then went to wake her husband and older daughter, Julene, to tell them what was happening.

The events of that day reverberated loudly for Rishell’s family for all the reasons they did with most people, but all the more because Julene had flown home only the night before from a week in New York City.

Julene, now 19, recalls feeling increasingly restless on her flight home from Newark — the first time she’d flown by herself. As the plane began its descent into Portland and flew past snow-capped Mt. Hood, Julene started to cry.

“I don’t know why,” she says. “I was just so thankful to be home.”

Rishell was at the airport waiting for her daughter.

“When I picked her up, she grabbed hold of me,” Rishell recalls. Julene told her that she’d “had the strangest feeling, all during the flight, that something was terribly wrong.” Julene describes it as a feeling of “unrest” — a desperation to get home.

After they returned to White Salmon, Julene collapsed into bed, exhausted, and told her mom to let her sleep late the next morning.

Instead, she got up when Rishell woke her and spent the morning sitting on the couch watching TV, crying.

“I was just really, really sad,” Julene says. “And so thankful that I was home.” Friends and relatives who knew that Julene had been in New York called throughout the day to make sure she was home safely. Likewise, Julene and Rishell tried to get through to friends in New York; everyone they knew — including friends Julene had been staying with — was okay.

Watching the news from New York throughout the day on Sept. 11 was wrenching for Julene. Only two days before, she’d stood beneath the World Trade Center towers gazing up at them. She’d been to an outdoor theater nearby and, later, a friend told her he’d seen the theater’s lighting in the rubble.

“It really hit home to me,” Julene says. “It wasn’t just a news flash.”

Rishell was flooded with a mix of emotions that day.

“I was just so thankful to have her back,” she says. Rishell kept asking herself, “What if?”

“What if she had flown home on the 11th instead of the night before?” Rishell says. “What if the attacks had been on the weekend, when she was there at the Trade Center?” Rishell felt so lucky that Julene was there with her, watching the tragedy from the safety of their living room. And she felt overwhelming grief for those who weren’t so lucky.

Rishell and Julene say the events of a year ago have made them appreciate life more.

“It makes you realize that at any time, anything could happen,” says Julene, who will be a sophomore this fall at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. “Nothing is safe. You have to live for every day.”

Rishell says she tries to remember to tell her husband and daughters each day how much she loves them.

“You realize that each day is a gift,” Rishell says. “It’s good to be here.”

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