Sunday, September 11, 2011

Taken just after September 11, 2001 near Ground Zero. Photographer unknown.

I woke to my alarm blaring at me, not because I had to get to work, but because I had a therapy appointment early in the morning. I had already quit my job and was in the beginning of a downward slump into a major depressive episode. My cousin had killed himself six months earlier on March 1, 2001. I was the last person in our family to have contact with him. We spoke over Instant Message, and he seemed okay. The next morning, my stepmother called me and asked me if I was sitting down. She then gave me the news that he had taken his life.

That morning, on September 11, 2001, I was about to get another rude awakening. After silencing the alarm, I turned on the radio. I always liked to listen for a few minutes before rising to a morning show in Los Angeles. The first thing I heard was a man saying, "Everyone is in line for the payphone because cell phones don't work. My friend worked on the 100th floor," he said, his voice cracking, "All I can say is God bless him."

My first thought was that there was a fire in downtown Los Angeles. A bad one. I got out of bed, knowing it would be on the news. I turned on the TV to see one of the World Trade Centers on fire, and a huge plane slamming into the other one. I was seeing a replay. It was just past 7:00 AM in Los Angeles and the second tower had just collapsed. They showed people jumping, I heard a woman sobbing, "Oh no they're jumping." Next cut, the first tower collapsing, then the second. I collapsed next, onto my knees, my face in my hands, my forehead on the floor. "Those poor people," I said. "My God those poor, poor people." I looked up at the television, a graphic across the bottom read, "Plane crashes into Pentagon." For the first time ever, I was terrified in my own apartment. When I saw the footage of the planes crashing into the towers, I could tell they were commercial jets. I also knew that no pilot, even if there was a gun to his head, would have willingly flown his airplane into those buildings. They would have fought them to the death first. And that's exactly what had happened.

My phone message was blinking, and then I remembered hearing my sister's voice while still in twilight sleep, saying something about being okay on my answering machine. She's a flight attendant for Delta, and when I played the message, realized she had called to let me know she was fine. I went to therapy, and was the one to break the news to my therapist that the second tower had fallen. She had been getting the news piecemeal from her patients and people in the building. After my appointment, I learned about the plane in Pennsylvania.

It's hard to believe it's been ten years. I've been watching the specials on National Geographic, History Channel and others because still, it's hard to grasp that it happened. And, to be honest, because part of me, the one that wants to believe in fairy tales, is hoping for another ending. For a long time, not even having been in New York or Washington DC when it happened, I suffered from what I can only call a mild post traumatic shock syndrome. I'd stay up all night, while in bed, glued to the radio. Or, get up and watch TV, trying to find out anything about what had happened. I quit looking for jobs entirely and merely existed. I was terrified to sleep for fear of waking up to something that horrible again. However, I will say that I never gave up on breaking through it. I was lucky to have not been one of those 2977 people who lost their lives that day. I always kept that in focus, that I would honor them by embracing life, even if it took some time, losing almost everything, a move across the country and completely starting over to relearn how to do it. And, that's exactly what I did and am still doing. Every time things got bad, I thought of those poor people, who weren't given a choice, and pushed through. God bless all the innocent souls who lost their lives that day. We have not forgotten. I will never forget, especially on my bad days. I remember what you lost and had to face. And then emboldened, I push through.

These are some of my posts about September 11, 2001.

December 12th, 2004 My Visit to Ground Zero in 2004. Includes picture of me there.

September 11th, 2004 America, Interrupted.

September 11th, 2002 One Year Later, and a tail of hijacked mail that got delivered.

September 8th, 2002 Before the first anniversary, thoughts of Them.

July 4th, 2002 Independence Day.

May 1st, 2002 An Unwelcome Companion.

April 1st, 2002 A Fireman's Daughter's Tales From Ground Zero.

Where were you on that day? Click on the time stamp (right next to "Posted by Anne") below to leave a comment.


Ron said...

A friend called to tell me. Like you, I was sleeping at the time of the attack. At first I let it go to voicemail. Then later I let it go again when he rang me the 2nd time. It was my day off and I wanted to sleep in, dammit!

On the third call from him, I started to think while in that hazy near-sleep... I was half pissed off -- just leave a freakin' message and I'll call you when I get up. Sheeesh! But wait. Was his girlfriend hurt or something? Did his car break down?

The phone rang again and I picked it up. "Turn on the TV." I asked why, and he just said it again. Turn on the TV.

I wasn't even awake yet but something about the way he said that scared the crap out of me. Not "turn on such-and-such channel". Just "turn it on". That pretty much told me it was bad. Real bad.

And there it was, I watched the 1st tower collapse. Live. I guess as a pilot, the first time you see the video of that airliner hitting the WTC, it just doesn't register. As pilots we were taught not to resist hijackers in order to save the passengers from harm. Passengers were told to cooperate. Our whole system of responding is based... or should I say, WAS based on that philosophy. That's part of why 9/11 can never happen again, regardless of security at the airport.

I spent the rest of the day at the friend's place, watching TV and trying to adjust to the new reality. A major airport is nearby, and the usual sound of aircraft overhead was gone, replaced with fighters. It would be weeks before I'd be able to get back on the field and even see my aircraft again. Life, career, avocation... never the same after that day.

The weirdest memory -- and I don't know why this sticks with me -- is of my friend cooking some grub for us that evening. I think he made some pasta, maybe a simple Top Ramen. So pedestrian, so.... normal. I looked at the bowl and kept wondering if this was an appropriate food for the start of a war. Is this what they ate on 12/7/41 after Pearl Harbor? Was this a respectful food? Should we even be eating now? We didn't know at the time that the attack was over. There were rumors flying all over the place and we were waiting for the other shoe to drop.

In many ways, I think we're still waiting.

Travel / Surf Guy said...

I was on a plane 10 years and 1 day ago, on my way to Canada.
I transited through Los Angeles on the 10th of September 2001.

September 10th was my dad’s birthday and I had planned this date to ask Sonia to marry me.

I did this on the evening of the 10th when I arrived in Cranbrook, BC.

She said “Yes”

As you can imagine, we were very happy.

I was half a world away from New Zealand and she was a long way from her hometown of Montreal, but we were together and incredibly happy – that changed less than 12 hours later when the world we know, changed forever.

Such a historical event, I’m sure everyone can remember exactly where they were at that exact moment in time. When they heard about or watched the events unfold.

I got out of bed early and turned on the TV – my body was on New Zealand time and I was wide awake – I was flicking around the channels when I came across what I thought was a movie but no, it was a live news feed from New York. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and I called out for Sonia to come and see this. We sat there, eyes fixed to the screen with looks of disbelief on our faces. We watched as the second plane hit the World Trade Center and just felt sick.

We, like many millions of people around the world, felt so helpless.

What dawned as the happiest day of our life, quickly turned into one of the most sombre days that will remain with us forever.

We sat together in each other’s arms alone, miles from home, miles from family and friends but together

Kia Kaha New York

John Conners said...

I was flying back from Paris having spent a week climbing in France with some friends. While waiting for what seemed like hours in the departure lounge my brother texted me saying: "You'll never believe what's happened!" to which I replied "What?".

He said: "Terrorism on a massive scale!".

I naturally assumed he was joking - we'd often come up with random wind-ups, so when he mentioned that someone had flown a plane into a building in New York I texted him back pointing out that the joke wasn't funny. My flight was called, I went on the plane, switched off my phone and forgot all about it.

When we came into land a girl further forward on the plane switched her phone on, read a text and said: "Oh that's not funny" and at that point I realised my bro hadn't been kidding after all.

My friend went off to get his car while I stayed with the luggage and when he picked me up he had the radio on and, with a look of shock on his face said: "The world's gone mad".

We listened in horror to the aftermath of the second strike and I put the news on as soon as I got home and of course the rest is history.

Having been to ground zero years later and stood looking at the huge space that's left I still couldn't quite believe it had happened and talking to people working right next to it (my then company's office was a couple of blocks away) it just brought it home that yes it really did happen. Sobering.

Anne said...

Thank you so much everyone, for sharing your stories. It's always comforting, if such a thing can be said about that day, that we weren't alone in our feelings of sadness and horror that day. Right after it happened, I was glued to people's blogs, just so I could read anything about what they experienced, whether they were there or like us, somewhere else. I wanted the person on the street's version, and to know their emotions. Thanks so much for taking the time to post. It still makes a difference, even ten years later.

Anonymous said...

I had been working in Europe at that time on a project, so it was afternoon for us. I came out of a status meeting and one of my co-workers told me about the attacks and that both towers were burning. The German internet new sites all were overloaded and after a few minutes the new site Spiegel Online had switched to a text only one small picture layout to minimize the load. I called up my wife and told her to switch on the TV.

My co-worker cried a little bit and said something like "This is like war!" And I remember, standing behind her, looking over her should at the just fallen tower pictures, telling her: "This IS the new war!"

We quit early for our hotel and I spent the rest of the evening in my room on the phone with my wife and we watched the news programs dishing up the tales of horror, all the speculation and the pictures until they finally stopped at around 23:00.