Thursday, September 8, 2011

Remembering 9.11.01


When John used to do the Tommy D’s show, they always had a 9.11 special where they would spend their air time remembering the events of that day, what they were doing when the planes hit, how they experienced the attacks, and most importantly remembering the people who lost their lives.  They encouraged people to call in and share their stories as well, so that we might all remember the day a little clearer, and experience it from many points of view.

Those shows were horrible and cathartic all at once.  Terrible, but also comforting as a tragedy shared.  In the spirit of Tommy D (which no longer airs), I’d like to continue the tradition.  I’ll share my story, with the hope that you will too.  Blog about it, post it on facebook, tag me, or email me the link, and I’ll add your story to mine. 

So that we may never forget…

My story actually starts in June of 2001.  I know that may sound like an odd starting place, but I can’t remember 9.11 without also thinking of a beautiful day in June just a few months before.  John and I were in New York, with the kids, to get married.  Our service was in Nyack, NY on the 23rd, but before the big day, we took the family sight seeing.

On June 20th, 2001 John, Alexi, CJ, Tiana, my parents, and I all took the ferry from Liberty State Park to Ellis Island and Liberty Island.  From there we had a spectacular view of Lower Manhattan.  I was mad because I had forgotten the card for my digital camera, but my dad let me snap a few with his, which he promised to send me.  The photo you see above is one I took from Liberty Island.

As we stood at the rail, in front of the Statue of Liberty, looking across the Hudson at the majestic Manhattan skyline, Alexi and CJ asked if we could go see the twin towers.  John and I said no, it was nearing rush hour, there would be plenty of visits to New York in the future to do the normal touristy things, and we needed to get back to Nyack to take care of so many last minute wedding arrangements that had yet to be dealt with.

I said the towers would still be there the next time we visited New York.  Words I wish so desperately I could take back.  If I could do it all over, we’d have gone into the city that day and taken the kids to the top of the towers.  If nothing else, so that they would have been able to grasp the scope of tragedy that happened just a few months later, and have a better understanding of the scale of devastation.

But I didn’t know… How could I have possibly known?

The morning of September 11th was as beautiful here in Wisconsin as it was in New York, and we were doing our usual morning routine of getting the kids ready for school.  I don’t remember exactly why John was home that morning.  He should have left for work earlier than he did, but I suspect it was to take the kids to school for me, and give me a break from the 25 mile (one way) commute I traveled three times a day.

We had satellite television at the time, which didn’t carry any of the Milwaukee local channels.  It did, however, carry network television from New York and Los Angeles.  So, that morning, at 7:46am CST, we were watching the local news out of New York when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower. 

The news crew immediately switched to “Breaking News” mode, and began broadcasting a live feed of the smoking sky scraper.  They took phone calls from people who had seen the initial impact.  First reports were that it had been a commuter plane, or other small aircraft that had crashed; as more witness calls came in though, more reports of it being a jetliner were aired.  Someone said the T word, but the anchors quickly shut them down, saying it was much too soon to speculate that terrorists were behind the crash.  It was quite a bit more likely that some poor, inexperienced pilot lost control of his plane.

Until 8:03am CST, when on live network television we watched United Airlines Flight 175 strike the South Tower.

I might have let out a soft scream, I know I immediately clasped my hands to my mouth as I watched the explosion billow out of the South Tower on my television screen.  I turned to John who was sitting on the couch next to me, and asked him what had just happened.  My brain refused to process what my eyes knew they had just seen.

The news anchor answered my question, confirming that, what appeared to be, a commercial jetliner had just crashed into the South Tower of the Word Trade Center…

John started making phone calls.  We had friends and family that worked in the area, though we weren’t sure where in Manhattan their offices were. Phone services in New York were spotty at best though, with the cell tower on top of the WTC being disrupted, and circuits overloaded.  He couldn’t get through to anyone in New York, so we sat, and watched, and prayed. 

John told me about the emergency services that would be responding.  As a volunteer fire fighter in Nyack, he had trained with men who were probably currently working their way up the stairs of Tower One and Two.  They were the city’s best and bravest, going to rescue the trapped, and put the fire out.  I had the utmost confidence in them, and in the buildings ability to withstand the hit.

On the news, they took several calls from people who were trapped on the upper floors of the buildings, up above the impact sites where the air was filling with searing smoke.  They urged rescuers to hurry, afraid they would be overcome soon, and passed messages on to loved ones they had been unable to contact.  The anchors told them to remain calm, and said that help was on the way.  I cried silent tears, and prayed harder.

It wasn’t until the next day that I heard the reports of people jumping from the upper floors of the building.  I still often wonder what happened to those callers I heard on the news that morning.  Did any of them survive?  Did the panicked voices belong to someone who fell to their end trying to escape the hot, choking death on the top floors?  I wish I knew, and yet I’m glad I don’t.  Their voices will forever haunt me.  Part of me wants to believe one or two of them beat the odds, though I know it’s unlikely to be true.

John had to leave, as much as he wanted to stay and watch the reports on television.  He took the kids to school, and then planned to head to work.  We promised to keep in touch, if either of us learned anything new, or heard from any of our friends.

I don’t remember why I called John, I just remember that I was on the phone with him when the first tower fell.  I started to scream as I realized what was happening, trying to form words that refused to come out of my mouth.  As John’s frantic questions over the phone penetrated my brain, I fell to my knees in my living room and cried “The building collapsed, John; it’s gone, it’s just gone.”

I thought of the voices of the trapped people on the phone, the rescue crews making their way up the stairs, and I cried.  I thought of our friends in New York, their families, and the score of people who would never see someone they loved again, and I cried.

I was still kneeling on the floor twenty-nine minutes later when the second tower collapsed, numb from what I was witnessing, but still able to form cascades of tears for the beautiful lives that were ended that day.

I stayed that way for a long time, like Stan’s mom laying on the couch day after day, hoping for news of survivors and Osama bin Laden’s head on a pike.  I wanted to drive to New York, and dig up the rubble with my own bare hands, but all I could do was sit and watch.  When life, and television programing, started to return to normal a week or so later, I still didn’t feel right.  It didn’t feel right that life should go on for me, when for so many it hadn’t.

I still cry, whenever I see a documentary, read an article, or think too deeply about the events of 9.11.  I didn’t loose anyone I knew personally in the attacks, but I know many who did.  I cry for them, I cry for innocence lost and a country that has changed beyond recognition, and I cry for the huge waste of life sacrificed in the name of hate.  It’s likely I always will.

At least I hope I always do…


Now it’s your turn.  Share your recollections of the day, so that together we never forget.



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