Friday, September 12, 2008

Memories of 9/11

I remember, it was an absolutely glorious September morning. I had just dropped off my children at school, and I was headed back home, cruising down the back streets, windows down, listening to my favorite radio station. I remember exactly where I was. The disc jockey's came on after a song and said they just received a video over the press wires that had them feeling puzzled. They tried to describe what they were seeing; an explosion? No, a plane had crashed into the world trade center. They were unclear as to whether it was a freak accident, or something more sinister. Seconds later, they grew frantic as they described a second plane crashing into the second tower. By that time, I was pulling into the drive. I rushed inside to watch CNN. Nick had just returned home from a treatment program a few days earlier, and he was just beginning to re-adjust to a normal home life. He seemed confused when I grabbed the remote from his hands, and began searching the channels. He was shocked into silence when I told him to, "shut up for a minute."

For the next several hours, we both sat in silence as the events unfolded and footage was played and replayed, narrated by mostly speculation, shock, and confusion from the most seasoned newscasters. I couldn't ever recall a time when network reporters were left speechless, or reduced to pure emotions.

I remember feeling my empty stomach begin to roll as people began to jump/fall from the windows on the upper floors.

As reports slowly began coming in regarding the remaining planes still in the air, and those unaccounted for, they began to get reports of another attack on the pentagon. I think that is when it finally hit me that no one was safe anywhere. Real fear, panic and thoughts of what could possibly come next, began to fill my mind.

When the towers began to collapse and the smoke and debris covered the city, I could no longer remain on the edge of the couch. I was up and pacing the floor to relieve my anxiety. I remember the words that rushed into my mind, "Dead, dead, they're all dead. Thousands and thousands of people, all dead. They didn't have time to walk all those stairs." And then, the images on the screen turned to chaos. People running. People crying. People bleeding and gasping for air.

That's when I had to take my first break. I went outside onto the balcony and looked around. The sun was still shinning, the birds were still singing in my part of the world, except there were no planes in the air. The traffic on the streets was unusually light, almost like it was during the early AM hours. All of the usual morning joggers and dog walkers were strangely absent. Every thing was strangely still and quiet.

When I came back inside, Nick had begun to flip through the channels. I knew that he would find the same story on every channel, but he would periodically stop when he heard a piece of new information. It would be days before we could sort through how much of it was actually true, and how much was just fearful speculation. As he reached the higher numbered cable channels, where the specialty channels reside; places like HGTV, The History Channel, Court TV - they were all blank. Just blue screen with the channel's logo in the corner, and a simple one to two line statement, that said, in one way or another, that in light of current events, it seemed inappropriate to continue with normal life, or regular programing. A few channels, who couldn't find the words to express themselves, merely broadcast an American flag, waving in the breeze. Scanning through these various statements, it suddenly hit home just how much our world had changed in one morning.

I told him to go backwards, to where the local channels were located. I wanted to know how our city was responding to the events. Local channels were reporting that area city, state, and federal buildings were also being evacuated and closed as a precaution. News footage showed local police, fire departments, and army reserve troops blocking off and barricading the streets surrounding those buildings.

My thoughts switched to my children at the nearby elementary school. My instincts told me that they were safe, but my distrust of public education caused me concern. I remembered back to the space shuttle disaster, almost 16 years earlier. Many public school classrooms had wheeled in televisions so that the children could watch the historic space shuttle lift off. A flight that included several civilians, including a public school teacher. Instead, they were traumatised by witnessing the the horrifying explosion, and instant death of everyone aboard. With public schools deciding that it was their place to teach our children about everything from the theory of evolution to how to wear a condom, I worried if they would be ignorant enough to allow them to witness this historic event?

After CNN reported that the last, unaccounted for, air flight had crash landed in a field in Pennsylvania, and that there were no survivors, I needed to get out of the house for a while. I couldn't take anymore. I called my husband, who was at work, and arranged to meet him at a nearby gas station during his lunch break. I immediately regretted his choice of meeting place. The station where I was to meet him, as well as every gas station along the way, was packed with people who were filling up their gas tanks in anticipation of the inevitable response to the attack. I went inside to buy a pack of cigarettes, and listened to the frightened chatter of the other people waiting in line to pay. I remember an elderly man came walking in. He had obviously not turned on a T.V., or radio, all day. He cheerfully asked if they were having a sale on gas. The blunt and terrified response from the crowd of people nearly knocked him off his feet and back out the door.

I got my cigarettes and went to wait in the car. I turned on the radio to see if there was any new information. Every channel had suspended music play, and had a panel of various experts, most of which I had never heard of, discussing who could be responsible for such a horrible attack, and who we should kill in response.

Roy pulled up next to me in his work van about 1:30PM. I climbed into the seat next to him and we talked for a while. It was comforting just to see him and to talk about things that didn't involve death and disaster for a while. Eventually, he had to go back to work. I climbed down out of the cab and stood there holding the door open. I nervously asked him if he thought I should pick up the kids from school early. He said, "I think they're fine, but if it makes you feel better to have them at home with you, pick them up. Just don't make a big thing out of it."

As I drove back toward the house, I realised that, yes, I did want to have my children close by, just to be close to them. Before heading home, I took a three block detour and stopped by the school. I walked into the school office and signed them both out for the day - I told them that they had dentists' appointments that I had forgotten about. As I stood waiting for them to arrive from their class rooms, a reporter from a local news station arrived with a camera man following him. He walked up to the counter and asked the school Secretary if they had many children being picked up early by panicked parents? I couldn't resist waiting to hear her response. She must have been a card carrying member of the National Education Association because, she gazed at the reporter like he was a disgusting, new kind of bug. In her best mean teacher voice she said, "No." and turned away from him, and back to her work. I decided to wait for the kids in the hall. Seconds later, they followed me into the hall, and out the front door, grumbling about what a bitch she was.

By the time I got the kids home and sent outside to play, They were replaying the most graphic and frightening film footage, and gearing up for a presidential address. For the rest of the evening, I alternated between keeping the kids occupied, so that Roy could catch up with news and information he had missed while he was at work, and feeling like a total zombie.

I remember that in the weeks that followed, everything changed. People were suspicious and paranoid, and American flags appeared on almost every house. Another strange thing that I noticed: that year, at Halloween, there were no decorations on homes, and even stores down played the holiday. There was no mention of the missing holiday. It just seemed that everyone had had enough of death and scary things.

3 howled back:

sparsely kate said...

Even now I still get goosebumps reading about it.

I was asleep in bed, it was about 10.30pm Perth, Australia time. My husband woke me up gently and said, "America is at war. They've bombed America." and my very first thought was an overwhelming sense of doom and the words 'beginning of the end'.
Nice huh!!
I guess because America (to us) is such a huge powerful nation and sometimes it feels like the centre of the world, so that if America 'goes down' then well, we are ALL goin' down!

So I got up and until about 1.30am in the morning Kevin and I watched the events live. I called my Dad in Canberra crying and his voice was breaking over the phone. I think everybody in our country was just so terribly sad and sorry for what was happening. I didn't put my babies in childcare the next day, I just wanted them home as well.

I think it was one of the most traumatic weeks of my life but what made me angry was when I went to my university a lot of dickheads in the cafeteria were saying stuff like, "Well America deserved this...America is so arrogant, it's a wake up call to them" etc. And I just thought - you might like to say that to somebody who just lost an innocent sister/brother/husband or father. I hate those wanna-be intellectuals that like to have the last word...they've usually got zero life experience.

It's a really huge event that nobody will forget in their lifetime. All those poor people.

Willow said...

I agree Kate, no one - wherever in the world they are - will forget. And they mustn't.

Cat said...

I can relate to your need to have your children close on that day - I was downtown Chicago at a convention and the city litererally shut down - we were not allowed to go out of the hotel - the police wanted the streets cleared of traffic - so my boss and I sat, amoung strangers in the lobby bar watching the scene play and replay and we cried silently for a while - as did other strangers. When I was able to I contacted my father in law and asked that he get my children from school - I wanted them home with family - in case they were scared or in case the crazyness was not over.
Never forget.