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.
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.)