September 11, 2008

Where Were You?

I was home, doing laundry in the morning. I had to wait for a load to dry, so I turned on the Today Show. Katie Couric and Matt Lauer were talking about some breaking news about a plane crash in Manhattan. I sat down to watch what was going on while I waited. A plane had crashed into a building only five minutes earlier. As I continued to watch, I saw the second plane hit.

Oh my God.

Speculation mixed with reports as I sat glued to my television in the living room. After the first hour, I was already thinking about whether we would be downwind if terrorists hit the VX depot somewhere in the western part of the state. (VX is the most lethal manmade chemical weapon on the planet. And yes, we are downwind of westerly weather patterns.) Abe was on the road in southern Indiana. Where would I need to drive if I had to evacuate my family?

I sat for four hours in front of that TV simply to determine if it was safe to leave my two children in their schools. I watched in numb horror, alone in mute witness as people jumped from the towers before the buildings crumbled in billowing clouds of dust and ash.

Shortly after the first tower collapsed, my daughter called me from middle school. She wanted to know what was happening. The school had canceled statewide exams in the middle of testing without explanation. I found my voice, but not easily, and tried to explain that I had just seen thousands of people die. She was puzzled about the obvious impact the events were having on me, and I told her that she would be able to talk to me about it later.

At 12:30, I decided the kids were best kept where they were for now. I left the house, emotionally exhausted from the horror of it all. I needed to get away from the images. All I could think to do was go find some lunch. I’m in the middle of the biggest shopping district in the state, but the streets were almost empty. Those cars that were present were driving under 30 miles per hour, just like me. We all kept our distance from each other, moving in slow motion.

I stopped at my favorite sandwich shop at the height of lunch hour. The parking lot was empty. The shop is owned by a Middle Eastern family, and they looked quite wary when I walked in.

I asked, “Do you know what’s happening?”

The cashier nodded yes, her eyes big with fright.

I asked gently, “Are you okay?” and she relaxed a little and nodded.

“Yes, thanks.”

In subsequent days I would see people look inside the store as they approached, see the staff, and turn around and leave.

My children came home on their buses. My daughter had watched events unfold on the school TVs in every classroom. My young son had no idea that anything had happened, and it gave me the opportunity to frame it properly before he saw anything. We limited TV coverage quite a bit while the kids were home. I remembered the laundry the next afternoon.

It was in subsequent months as people everywhere were questioning the value of their careers and their purpose that I realized that not once had I questioned my own place. As I thought about it, the unconscious knowledge came to the surface: I was where I belonged.

Where were you when it happened? (If your answer is a post, include a link in your comment.)

6 comments:

Patricia said...

I was at work and was the only one with a radio on when the news broke. Within minutes, we were all crowded around a tiny 3-inch tv on my boss' desk. Even on that tiny little screen, its impact was immeasurable.

We stood in shock, watching over and over and about an hour later, my husband walked in the door. His face mirrored our feelings of utter pain and disbelief. I will never in my life forget him hugging me and saying that he just had to find me. In the midst of such horror, I remember feeling guilty to feel so incredibly loved.

MartininBroda said...

I know I belong not really to this place, but I have already considered the whole day on that date. I had just lost my job as a “very important person” and was therefore “at home”. I remember I was completely emotionally outer my mind and thought something must be done; there was an agreement at that time between so many people that is sadly lost.

Java said...

I was in my thinking chair, waiting for the pretty music to start on NPR. Carl Kasell's voice was still on, and I thought it was getting kind of late for him to still be talking. So I turned up the sound so I could hear what they were talking about. And I found out. And OMG. I had planned to drive up to Greenville that day to buy some school books for my homeschooled children. I went ahead with the trip. When I got to the bookstore everyone was talking about the attacks. I listened to the radio for the hour it took to drive up there, and had heard about a plane crashing in Pennsylvania. Everyone wondered if they were related. Oh, and of course the Pentagon had been attacked too. Everyone I saw in the bookstore was in shock. Everyone I encountered was talking in hushed tones. I kept wracking my brain trying to figure out how I was going to explain it to my children, then aged 10 and 12. (The 3 year olds I didn't worry about) We did not watch the coverage on TV. I am not entirely sure we had cable at the time, and might not have been able to watch the TV coverage. And I'm glad. Listening to it on the radio was hard enough. I didn't want my children to see it over and over again.

Greg said...

I was at home and learned from the TODAY show, just like you. I was also online emailing and IMing (big surprise) to friends who had no access to TV that morning.

I worked a golf luncheon in the afternoon and we had to break the news to the ladies who'd been on the golf course all morning. It was a very short event. I remember the restaurant was very busy, though, as everyone came out for lunch from their work to check the televisions at the bar.

I had the rest of the week off, as all the events I'd been scheduled to work were cancelled, mostly due to the no-flight restrictions.

Dantallion said...

I was at work - but by chance we had a TV on when the first reports started coming through. We remained glued to it the rest of the day. And I knew that the world would never quite be the same.

David said...

I was running late for work, so I didn't bother to turn the TV on and double check the whether on NY1. Instead I jumped on the subway, which was above ground as I was living in Queens at the time.

At the halfway point of my trip, still above ground, I caught a snippet of a PA announcement about a plane and a crash. I did a double-take and looked out the window of the train, and far off in the distance I saw a wisp of smoke above the skyline. It looked so tiny that far off I didn't think much of it, figuring some Cessna had crashed and hoping not too many people got hurt.

The rest of the ride was uneventful and I got off the subway, walked to the office (not sensing anything amiss in people milling about me) and headed up to my office.

I walked in to my department ready to make some joke about that silly little plane crash downtown and saw the face of my co-worker, which was deathly pale. The smile died on my lips and it began to dawn on me that something much worse than I could imagine had happened.

We huddled around someone's AM/FM radio and listened to an eyewitness report being broadcast over WNYC, by phone, of someone who lived in view of the towers. When the woman began to cry out that the building was falling down, I could only visualize it falling sideways and could not even fathom what the devastation might be.

We looked at each other in horror and one by one headed out of the office, on our individual journeys back home. I wouldn't return to the office for three days.