This post was written and shared last year on this day. My story hasn’t changed, but, I am going to make it a tradition to re-share it each year as well as share any new thoughts or life experiences that may be relevant as the years go by. Last year, I read a number of stories of my friends with children struggling with the explanations that need to be made when you are a parent. From what I gather, it’s a difficult piece of American life to explain to children. I will cross that bridge when I come to it… But for now, this is my story, Where I was:
It has been exactly eleven years. I was 20 years old. I had bid my teenage years goodbye just twelve days prior. What happened that day however, made me feel smaller and younger than I had ever felt before. I was living with my boyfriend at the time in a crummy apartment complex in Brandon, Florida. We didn’t have much, but what we did have was fine by me, because I was in love… or at least what I thought love was at the time.
I was sleeping when it all started.
It’s funny how strange it can make you feel when you realize the things that have or can happen while you are sleeping. Simple things like spiders or roaches crawling on you, to nightmarish things like someone taking your child from your home while you slept in the next room. Sleep is such a wonderful state and one that I cherish… But… the fact that I was sleeping when the world as I knew it had started to shift is still mind blowing to me. How could I not have felt that something terribly wrong was happening? We all like to think that when disaster strikes our intuition will alert us and cause us to act appropriately… But alas, my “guts” did no such thing.
That day began for me with the ringing of his Nokia cell phone. I recall being irritated that I was being interrupted in my slumber, but proceeded to check right back out once he answered the phone.
It took only one second for my instincts to kick in and I bolted up right, immediately realizing that something was terribly wrong. It was as if that nokia phone was pressed up against my own ear as every word coming out of it was dripping with panic and terror. His brother was in Queens. He couldn’t stop talking and all I remember him saying, over and over and over again, “They’re coming for us! They’ve got us! We are going down! It’s over!” and then one clear and properly enunciated sentence; “A plane hit the twin towers!”
I don’t remember if he said anything to his brother… I don’t think he had an opportunity. We were told to turn on the TV, so we did. It was the first TV I had ever purchased, it had a VCR built in! and it swiveled. I absolutely LOVED that TV, in fact, I still have it to this day, I somehow can’t bring myself to part with it…Never in my worst nightmare could I have imagined the horrific images that would be projected from it’s monitor.
At the same moment we turned the TV on he lost the connection with his brother, that would be the last we would hear from him for days. In fact it would be days before he was able to check on any of his family, all in New York. All cell phones and land lines were blocked.
That memory would stick with me and on August 15, 2003, I was living in Queens, New York and working at Bayside Outback. There was a blackout. The very first thing I thought was that we were under a terrorist attack. Cell phones were already not working so my very next thought was that I needed to get to the land line and call my mom. I called her and told her that I didn’t know what was happening, but that I was worried that it might be really bad. I told her I loved her and that I would try and get in touch with her again when I could. I will never forget the sickening feeling I had in my stomach making that phone call. For a moment I had let myself think that it would be the last time I heard my mother’s voice, the last time that she would hear mine. Luckily, the blackout was just that and nothing worse.
What I saw on the television captivated me. I sat on the corner of the bed with jaw dropped open in shock and just kept saying out loud, “This can’t be real. This can’t be real.” At that point only the first plane had hit.
I started to realize that I was witnessing REAL PEOPLE jumping out of buildings. Even typing that now I feel sick to my stomach. Terror and pain so fierce that people were either choosing to or being pushed out of the burning building. “This can’t be real life”.
Looking back it is outrageous to realize how incredibly slow my brain was working. I was so overwhelmed with what was actively happening that at no point did my mind transition to the “what could happen?” or “what is likely to happen next?”. It seems to me now that it is perhaps part of the “American Condition” to not have thought past what might happen next. In other countries, where survival skills are part of daily life, it most likely would have occurred to them that there was no reason to assume that there wasn’t another plane on it’s way, that there weren’t bombs set up through out the city, that the terror was only in that moment. They would probably have looked ahead and tried to see what terror may be next. It seemed to me that what I was watching was as bad as it could get.
At 9:02, we watched live as the second plane was filmed crashing into the South Tower. Time stopped. I stopped breathing. Screams, I could hear so many screams, the entire country screamed at that moment. Tears started. And then the fear started to set in. This IS REAL LIFE.
Again with the slow moving brain. At no point did it occur to me what would happen next. What could be worse? I was watching the only reality I had ever known burn and realizing that I was helpless. I not only had no concept of war, of battles, bombs, mass murder, terrorists, I knew I had no survival skills. I felt confident that I had the will to live, but at what cost and against what kind of enemy? I had never imagined I would have to think about such things.
In the next forty five minutes or so, we learned that we were under terrorist attack. That all air traffic had been stopped. That a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. More Americans were dead. And then my slow moving brain processed what the media had been speculating would probably happen as the first tower started to sink as if into quicksand, no longer visible in the sky, a black cloud even darker than the one that proceeded it racing upwards. Again. There were screams. “This can’t be real life”.
News of Flight 93 going down started to be reported. It was somehow a piece of “good news”. Amazing, strong and brave Americans had banded together upon learning what else had happened that morning and decided to take control of their destiny. They stopped what was intended for that plane from happening. True American heroes.
Somehow, I was still holding on to hope, thinking that all of this was more reminiscent of a Hollywood Blockbuster than an early morning news reel and that surely there must be something that won’t go wrong. My hope was shattered as the second tower collapsed and the reality of the last hour started to sink in.
We were under attack. “This is REAL Life.”
All of America was glued to their televisions or tuned into their radios for the rest of that terrible day and for days, weeks and months to come. The footage that would be shown later would not be what I had witnessed live that morning. As it shouldn’t have been. I will never be able to get the images out of my mind. People, real life people, jumping to their deaths, others trapped and never able to find a way out. I don’t ever want to feel the way I felt that morning again.
I realized on that day just how small and insignificant I am in the grand scheme of things. My love for my country had never been greater. But my pride had been taken away completely. I felt like I didn’t know what being an American really meant anymore. It had never occurred to me that we could possibly fall victim to acts of terrorism like that. One of the craziest things to think about now, is that I was aware of other terrorist activity that had occurred in the U.S. before that day, but I think I am not alone when I say that it had never once occurred to me that there was EVER a possibility for something as monumental and detrimental to take place.
My fiance’ posted this on his Facebook Status today:
“Its been eleven years and I still reflect on that day for the week leading up to today, and weeks following today. I was in basic training, red phase. We had just finished our run for the morning and the ‘sick call rangers’ had met back up with us from being lazy and getting out of P.T. . They told us that the twin towers got hit, but noone believed their lazy asses because we had just gotten our asses handed to us by the drill sergeants on the 5 mile run. Chow hall, two minutes to inhale, back out the door and in formation. March to the armory warehouse. In single file line and with a quickness we are issued our rifles, return to formation, and are abruptly commanded to fall back in single file line to be issued our bayonets for the first day of bayonet training. Normally we roll out immediately after to get on cattle trucks, but today the commander was there speaking to the drill sergeants, and a few minutes later we all are ordered to return our weapons and bayonets. Much confusion at this point. We all assumed we were going to get smoked, but we had no idea why. First Sarg comes out and yells ya’ll are going to WAR!!!!! We then proceed to go out to the field where we are met by the commander and told about the plane attacks and then issued a day of relief for what I guess was to make sure that noone was going to kill themselves with their bayonets. 9-11-2001 I will never forget.”