Thursday, September 11, 2008

Where Were You?

I'm sure this topic is going to be all over the blogosphere today. As it should be.

It should be all over everywhere.

Do you remember? Can you say exactly where you were and exactly what you were doing when it happened or when you found out?

I wasn't alive when Kennedy was shot but my parents were. They can recall pretty vividly that day. They can recall random details and moments about that day. It lives for them on November 22nd each year. But really, I don't think it's the same.

I was alive for the Challenger. It was the day before my birthday. I remember it. Sort of. Again, I don't think it's really the same.

September 11, 2001 I remember. I see it in my head. I relive those moments.

I was not in the city. As a matter of fact I was in Philadelphia that morning. I was living there. I was a senior in college. One stage of my life was ending and another was getting ready to begin.

Like everyone else, life was going.

I skipped class that morning. Ethics. I'm not sure why. I was tired, I guess. But I did. I slept in. I slept through my home phone ringing again and again. I slept through my cell phone ringing again and again. In my half sleep I thought it was my professor calling to find out why I wasn't in class.

Finally, I got out of bed. Finally, I answered the phone. It was my mom. The moment I heard her voice I thought for sure she was calling to tell me my grandfather had died.

I was wrong.

Planes were flying into buildings. I needed to come home before they shut down Philadelphia. NOW.

I turned on the TV. I saw the second plane hit. I nearly vomited my empty stomach. I hung up the phone. Maybe I showered. Maybe not. I made a point of grabbing my dirty laundry. I loaded myself and as much crap as possible into my dad's Volvo that I had for some reason. I can't remember why. And I fled.

I drove fast that day. The fastest I had ever driven. Everyone seemed to be driving fast. Everyone seemed to be fleeing.

I cried most of the way home. I listened to the radio, unable to tear myself from the news. I listened as the first tower came down. I listened as speculations flew over the airwaves. I listened as silence came over the NY airwaves. I searched for any news that I could.

As I drove I called people. I called everyone I could. Everyone I could think of. I was dating my husband at the time. I must have called his phone and his cell phone 25 times in a 5 minute period. The phone lines were tied up but even when they weren't he was not answering.

He had no reason to be in the city that day. He really had no reason to be in the city at all, ever. He wasn't in the city but I was sure that he had woken up that morning, extra early, and decided to take a trip into NY.

Not so.

He was upstairs. His father had woken him up just after the first plane hit. They were watching the coverage. He was fine. I drove on.

I arrived home. Home, 35 minutes from the city. Home, where from the right vantage point you could see the plumes of smoke. Home.

I watched coverage until I could watch no more. There was nothing anyone could tell us. It was what it was. We called to make sure people were ok. We awaited word on those that might not be. My sister went into the city that day. She was a first responder. She worked for the Red Cross then. She has had Bronchitis and Pneumonia a number of times in the past 7 years. Life has changed.

I finally went into work. I went to the job that I worked at on the weekends and during the summer. They were my second family and a community. I could not sit at home any longer. I could not watch the coverage.

Work was a distraction. Until it wasn't. Until the trains started emptying. Until the people were getting over the bridges and off the buses. Until they started coming into my work, my store. Then it stopped being a distraction and became a reminder of the reality.

I will never forget the man who came into the store in his business attire. He was dressed nicely. He had his wife and child with him. His pants were khaki. His shirt was blue. He was covered in blood. I didn't know whether to cry or vomit. He paid for his items and you could see the strain and stress on his face. And they left. They were going to get donuts because his son wanted some Munchkins. I don't know why they told me that, but they did.

I can't even begin to tell you the things I learned about people that day. The things they shared. The number of people who came into my store covered in dust or blood or dirt or debris. The number of people with tear stained faces.

They marked me. They marked my brain and my heart. They are there forever. The people I knew that no longer are, are there forever. I still see my neighbor jogging even though he perished when one of the towers came down. I see him jogging through my old neighborhood with his walkman wrapped around his upper arm. I see his face as clear as day.

I had nightmares for a long time after that day. Nightmares about being on the planes. Being with those men that flew the planes into the buildings and into the field. Seeing their photos burned into my brain. They still are. I think they always will be. Those faces haunt me. Frighten me.

That night I lay in my childhood bed at my home, the windows open. And I listened. I listened as helicopters flew overhead. I listened as fighter jets patrolled the airspace. I listened to sounds that I never thought I would ever hear. Sounds that signaled a beginning that I was not ready for. Sounds that penetrate the heart and mind.

Seven years ago a new stage of life began in a way that no one expected. Today, I remember it as if it were yesterday. Today, I think of it and it makes me sad.

I hope to never hear those sounds again. I hope to never see images like that again.

I hope that our beginnings come from good from now on and the images that haunt us are those of laughter and happiness.

I hope for peace. But I always remember.


dani said...

WOW! I wanted to do a post about that this morning, but didn't for some reason.

Your post is amazing. I have read many stories about where people were and what they remember. Your vivid description blew me away.

Melissa said...

That was beautifully written, Stella. I'm in tears.

I remember how blue and crisp the sky looked watching the Today show and Matt & Katie cutting away to report a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers. I thought it was a small, private plane.. oh how naive we were back then.

We owe it to the fallen and their loved ones to never forget. Hopefully we keep their memories alive for generations to come.

Leendaluu said...


That was so personal and poignant and I hear you. My in law's town in NJ has a shrine of obelisks to community members that were lost that day, as well as a central oblelisk with all victims' names. We visit that little park every time we are home, and every time I cry. We never will forget, will we?

LunaNik said...

I was at work when this happened. The entire office stopped working and was glued to the tv in the boss's office all damn day. Naturally we did zero work. Then, for the next week or so, all I did was watch the replay of the towers getting hit and then collapsing over and over and over...

Since that day I have not watched the news. Not even once. Watching the news will always and forever remind me of the empty feeling and numbing pain I felt that day.

Great post girl.

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