9/08/2006

Where Were you September 11, 2001?



A certain kind of relationship develops among fellow bloggers, those who make it their business to visit your blog, read what you have to say and comment accordingly and whose blogs you visit on a regular basis. There's a warmth that develops, even though you've never met, and often times do not even know what they look like.

I want to try an experiment with my blogger-mates, a kind of pass-it-along, tag kind of thing. I will answer the question I have posed, ["Where were you on September 11, 2001 when the planes hit the towers of the World Trade Center?] and ask them to do the same in the comment section of my blog. Then, when they return to their own blog, they rewrite their 9/11 experiences and ask their readers to do the same and so it goes. I hope it works.

On that Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, I left my house for work at about 8:35 AM. I am a Speech Pathologist and I work in the homes and Day Care Centers of very young children with, or at risk for, developmental delays. At about 8:58 AM, just before arriving at the Day Care Center in South Orange, NJ, I heard the DJ on a Rock radio station announce, in an exclamatory, but quite skeptical, almost joking way, that he'd just got word that a plane hit the World Trade Center or that there was a fire near the top of the WTC, he wasn't really sure (the station itself was broadcasting from NYC) and he followed it by saying something like, "yeah, right!" At that point I was parking my car and I didn't think all that much about it due to the flippancy in the announcer's voice. I entered the Center and for the next hour worked with my regularly scheduled 9 AM child. As I was leaving, an hour later, I passed a woman who worked there, with whom I'd become chatty-friendly, as one does in the work-a-day world. I asked how she was doing and she responded with a deep frown, "not very well". When I asked her what was the matter, she looked at me as if to say, where in the hell have you been girl? Her actual words were, "don't you know what's been happening?" and before I could mention something about what I'd casually heard on the radio, she blurted forth more of the details and the fact that many of the parents of these children in this Day Care work at the World Trade Center.

Rushing back to my car and the radio, every station, was broadcasting the same news and it took only a minute or two to get up to speed. But, like so many, I just could not get past those words that I kept hearing, that the two towers of the WTC had fallen. The World Trade Center was no more. For some reason it was that information, those words, that I could not get my mind around, that literally froze me in place. My imagination was not equipped for what they were saying. The World Trace Center was no more. I could not think of the people, the consequences, anything, other than those seven words. When I started crying, I became confused and disoriented. I didn't know what I was supposed to do. Do I go to the next child's home on my schedule? Do I go home? Do I call the office and ask them what to do? Do I call my husband (working in NJ) or my kids (one in High School, the other in College). It really didn't matter because when I tried to use my cell phone, not one of the calls got through. I began to drive to the house of my next child, but I literally could not find it, despite the fact that I'd been there tens of times. I was completely disoriented, was having trouble seeing through my tears and kept making circles. When I finally got to the door, with tears in my eyes and voice, the only thing I could think to say to the mother of the child, was to ask if I could use their phone because my cell phone was useless. She, of course, was on the phone, but soon hung up and handed it to me. The office said to call the other families and cancel therapy sessions if I wanted. I had no idea what I wanted, but I knew I needed to be with someone with whom I felt close. I drove to a friend's house in the neighborhood, only to find no one home. As I drove to my home, some 14 miles away, and my mind still in a fog, it suddenly occured to me that there was someone I'd not thought about calling, but ought to have. My hub's niece from Israel and her boyfiend had been staying with us for the Jewish holidays (Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur). Their plan for the day was to go into The City to visit the World Trade Center (they'd already been to other parts of the city and that day was for downtown). They were to take the bus in from NJ and then subways to the WTC. I freaked. I had absolutely no clarity of mind and all I could think was that I had to get home to warn them, hoping and praying that they hadn't left already (it was then close to 11 AM). I sped home and felt like I was driving blind through my tears. Once home, I left the keys in the car, door open and rushed into the house calling their names, only to find that thankfully they were there and my mother had called them an hour or so earlier with the news.

The next hours and days were spent glued to the television and radio, seeing over and over what the rest of the country and the world was seeing and trying, without success, to understand, to believe what had happened. In those raw moments, hours, days and weeks, you couldn't think about what it all meant, what the repercussions would be; all you could do was grieve and try to believe it, try to understand.

16 comments:

Diane S. said...

I love this post. As I said in my post on the subject, I sort of collect 9/11 stories. When I meet someone new it's one of the first things I ask them when we start having conversation. I ask in part because the answers are always fascinating, but in part I ask because people almost always want to tell you what that day was like for them. It's like we're all waiting for someone to ask us.

My answer is very long and is on my blog, but like you, there was this moment when I just stood there repeating, "The World Trade Center collapsed? I don't understand. The World trade center collapsed?"

I've never been as frightened as I was that day. I've never wanted someone to hug me as badly as I did that day. I never wanted my mother as badly as I did that day.

I remember thinking the oddest things that day. I remember thinking that I was glad Ronald Reagan was too far gone to know what had happened. Me! A liberal democrat! Worried about Reagan! But it would have killed him to know. Say what you like about Reagan (and I could say plenty), he loved this country.

I remember looking at the sky and thinking how amazing it was that the same sun shining on me in Texas was shining on all that devastation in New York.

I remember when the bombs fell on Kabul that night thinking, "Wait a minute. We haven't talked about this!" A very American thought, really.

I remember thinking that Congress singing God Bless America was forced and stupid. Maybe a lot of people found it touching. I found it almost offensive. I guess because it was politics. It was show. There was no sincerity in it.

I remember thinking our President was a coward for not going immediately to Washington, and in those days you didn't say that about George Bush. We all rallied round him like he was equal to the task. Think what you like, but during the London Blitz, the Royal Family did not leave London, they went into the subway tunnells like everyone else. That is what courage looks like. That is leadership.

I wanted Bush to be Churchill. I wanted him to tell us that we would fight them in the air, we would fight them on the sea, we would fight them on the land, and we would never surrender.

I remember crying when I heard the Queen had the royal guard play the US National Anthem. I remember not being able to turn away from the TV.

I remember wandering like a lost child in a supermarket, and stopping occasionally to cry, and that everyone there was doing the same thing. I bought some of the most horrific nail polish I've ever seen, and I haven't the vaguest idea why.

I remember wondering how long it would be before I could hear a plane and not think of that day. The answer is at least 5 years.

I remember thinking, "The history books will never get this right." And they won't. Just like I'm sure they didn't get Pearl Harbor right. They don't tell us what people felt when they heard about it, or the incredible national grief at those deaths. They don't tell us how afraid the people must have been.

I think each of our stories of that day are incredibly important. Each story holds part of a huge and monumental truth. Something too big for any of us to wrap our heads around alone.

One of the things that strikes me now is that 5 years later Osama Bin Laden is alive and well, and our presence in Iraq has been his best recruiting tool. We still don't know who sent the Anthrax out. Five years. Hell of a job, huh?

Thank you for sharing your story, Sherril. I hope you'll drop by my blog and read mine.

Maritza said...

I was at work which is only a 1/2 mile across the Hudson River. We have a panoramic view of NYC and we saw it all happen. It was surreal, we saw it and experienced the horror but the windows framed it and the glass kept out the sounds and smells. It was as if we were watching it on TV. I had to watch it on the news later that night to get a real sense of what happened. We were close, we saw every moment of it happening, from the first plane crashing to the towers falling, yet we all feel as if we didn't experience it. It's something we talk about at work, it's as though we have no right to claim that we've seen it happen. I wonder if other people who also saw it from afar feel the same way.

Ricardo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ricardo said...

I was at work and it was like any other day. I remember hearing someone say that a plane crashed into the WTC. At the time they thought it was a smaller plane. Seemed possible, I recalled my grandparents telling me about how a plane hit the Empire State Building in their day. I glanced over at someone's TV, I was at ESPN at the time so TVs were everywhere, and went back to work. I listened to the TV announcers describe the scene but had lots of work to do. Then I heard the people around me kind of gasp in horror. "Another plane hit the second tower!" someone said. I got up and went into a friends office. I asked her if she saw the second plane hit.

I stared at the TV and saw the 2 buildings smoldering. She said "yes"" a second plane had hit. It came out of nowhere. Then the replay of the second plane hitting came on, then a big explosion, a sick feeling in my stomach and wobbling of the knees. This was awful and no accident. Work came to a halt, we all stared for what seemed like an eternity at the TVs. Then news came up that the pentagon was hit and another plane crashed somewhere in PA and dozens of planes were unaccounted for. Were they going to crash into something too?

The world felt like it was coming to an end. I felt the need to walk away from the TV set and call my friends. They wanted to know how bad it really was and if reports were being exaggerated. I told them that from what I see, words can't do this horror justice. I remember one friend saying that the buildings could withstand a plane crash because he heard it on some documentary. I said they were wrong. He asked how did I know? I told him that I could see the buildings starting to lean and shift. With a lump in my throat, I said it looks like they're going to fall down. People were falling or jumping out of the windows. News choppers were zooming in on people hanging out of the windows desperate for air and help. It was hell on earth. With great reservation, he had to get back to work and I told him to give me a call back when he was free. A few minutes after that call the towers fell.

I remember the days following the incident. You could walk into a crowded store and hear a pin drop. Cars drove a little slower on the highways, radio stations stopped playing their music. People seemed to be in a daze and state of disbelief. I was one of them. Even now, 5 years later, if I think about it enough, the raw feelings are still there, painful as they ever were. Things like this should never happen, but they did.

I will never forget the fateful day of 9/11.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Hi Sherryl, thanks for the email.
My story is somewhat shorter than most.
I went to work, was told there was a terrorist attack (not very well - I couldn't understand why I was being sent home). The truth is, I'd never even heard of the WTC until Black Tuesday. I went home, & watched newscasts (most of which had Robertson & Falwell trumpeting about UBL - well in advance of any info on the terrorists).
It was mostly numbness. Shock. Tears. Rage. Some religious fervor. Bombardment of tragedy on every channel.

I've signed up for a tribute here:
http://www.jamulian.com/db911/

I believe as of this writing, there are still 2655 unassigned victims to pay tribute to.

I suggest everyone here sign up.

Clay said...

9/11 I was actually off work and getting my car serviced at the local Mitsubishi dealer and while standing in the service lane.......Someone came out of the customer lounge and said," A plane just hit the World Trade Center". We all thought it was an accident and buisness went on as usual...... until the second plane hit. At that point I said just take me home and I'll get my car tomorrow. I watched it on tv over and over just feeling numb, angry, and sad.......seemingly all at once. It was hard to comprehend what must have been going on inside the minds of the doomed. It was one of the worst days of my life.

Maritza said...

Hi Sherrill, maybe I'll post something about Sept 11th on my blog. I have to see if I can write something worthwhile.

As for Cuba and my blog, take a look at the November 2005 archives, there are a couple of stories there.

Have a great weekend! Isn't the day just beautiful here in New Jersey?

Dave said...

I retired last April, but on 9/11/01 I was still working in my local broadcasting career. I was in the newsroom of a local TV station in Billings, MT, having just finished my gig on the local program that leads into the CBS Early Show. (Our time zone is two hours behind that of the east coast.) With the sound muted because my work also involved telephone calls from there to several local radio stations, I looked at a couple of program monitors and suddenly we weren't local anymore. There was video showing over and over of a plane crashing into what I only perceived as a tall building in NYC. I realize now how dumb this was, but I wondered why what seemed to be an accident would be national breaking news, rather than a strictly local or regional east coast story. Then I saw the second plane on LIVE coverage go into a tower, and then I knew this beautiful, quiet morning would turn into one of those--well, "Where were you?" days. Islamic fanatics still didn't enter my mind; they weren't part of my world. That was, to me, stuff strictly reserved for the far-off Middle East.

My politics are the opposite of Diane (first post above) and of Sherril, but I thought of Reagan, too, although in the sense of (in my opinion) how smoothly and definitively I thought he would be handling the problem, with thoughts of the fired air traffic controllers and the reciprocal bombing over Libya. I also thought of my dad, who had died at the age of 88 four months earlier. He had been so confused and appalled near the end of his life at so many aspects of the current era; I was grateful he hadn't seen this one. And I thought of my mother, so far gone in her elderly dementia that this day would be just like any other.

Diane S. said...

My best friend doesn't do blogs, so I'm going to take the liberty of sharing her story here. She was living in Phoenix, and was working as a temp. She had a new assignment that day. All through the morning, she had been listening to music from a CD and had no idea what was going on.

When she arrived at her job, a nervous looking woman led her into a conference room and said someone would be with her in a moment. Two hours or so later, she poked her head out (since no one had come), ad learned what had happened. They told her to take the day off.

She doesn't remember driving home.

Sherril said...

I have not responded yet to those who have written their experiences here and I am not going to do that tonight. I want to wait until 9/12. I will just thank you all and tell you that it means a lot to me to be having this discussion.

mark said...

I was at home when it happened because I work the night shift. I watched the news all day and called all of my family members. My cousin was actually stuck on 95 when it happened. He was stuck in traffic for hours as they had closed 95 down where the pentagon is. 9/11 was diffenately a defining moment in the lives of all americans. Nothing will ever be the same again.

Behind Blue Eyes said...

I used to work at the Red Cross. I worked in the National Testing lab where every unit of blood is tested before being released. I worked midnight shift and at 8am, a woman came in and said that 2 planes had hit the World Trade Center. I said increduosly "Was it terrorists?", I just instinctually knew. She said that it probably was and we just kind of gawped at each other. I stayed close to the Radio and remember a reporter saying Fuck on the air and that was a shock! Somehow that really drove it in that this was really happening. Soon many of us were gathered at the Radio. I drove home with the Radio on, my drive was about an hour, and I listened, flipping through the stations trying to find out more and more. I eventually found a really good announcer who was so lucid and intelligent in his comments and so I kept it on his station. Eventually, much to my shock, I realized that it was Howard Stern that I was listening to. But of course...why not Howard Stern? He is intelligent underneath his 'crude exterior and of course he wouldn't make light of these circumstances. But it was still a shock and this also made it more real for me and pulled me even more out of this disconnectedness that I was feeling. I don't know why people complained about things that he said on that morning. I was listening and he did a great job! When I got into town, I kept looking at other people in their cars trying to guess by their expressions if they had heard the news. The minute I got home, I turned on the TV and saw the people jumping out of the windows and saw the people running down the street as the buildings collapsed behind them. Those were the scenes that chilled me the most. I couldn't believe that this was happening here...in the U.S! I felt like our lucky days were over and that now we were going to be more like the rest of the world no longer in our cocoon. I remember looking at my daughter and feeling so sad because I knew that the world had irrevocably changed....or maybe not changed but intruded.
My son was in contact with people from England and they all e-mailed him expressing their sorrow over what had happened. I remember feeling good because the rest of the world had such a sympathetic response and maybe didn't all hate us after all. Of course, GB has effectively ruined that for us, eh?
I went back to work that night knowing that we would have a lot of blood to test but never guessing that it would be like it was. No-one could have guessed! You just had to have seen it to appreciate it! All the bosses were there, there were people who'd been there for 16 hours. We had crates that the blood came in, when we were done with the crates we stacked them in the hall. There were usually about 20 crates, there must have been a hundred! There were racks and racks and racks of blood...waiting to be tested.....done being tested! It was like this for several days, until we found out that there were no survivors. The red cross started turning people away! We didn't really have the capacity to store all of this blood. Later on, the CEO of the Red Cross resigned. We think it might have been because so many units had to be thrown away and she was blamed for this, for not being prepared for the emergency. Blood units have an expiration date and we had so many that a lot of them expired. They can be kept longer as cyroprecipitate but we didn't have enough freezers. We got more after this. She was also blamed apparently for mishandling funds meant for the victims. In her defense, I don't think anyone could have forseen this, our government certainly didn't!
When this happened, I realized the importance of my job better. I felt like I was doing something, that I was involved in helping. It rid me of some of that restless energy that I'm sure many of us felt and gave me an outlet for it. Many of the people who donated wanted to feel like they were helping. I felt like I was helping by testing the blood. I remember thinking that I would be able to tell my grandchildren about working at the Red Cross during this situation some day if they asked.
After a day or so, we knew that we had too much blood, the Red Cross had announced that people should stop donating, but we kept hearing Radio announcers telling people to donate.
Well, I listened to NPR the other day and apparently there are a series of articles in.....The New Yorker maybe?...where people are writing about how 9-11 has changed everything and how life might have been if it had never happened. Many of them felt that something like this would have happened no matter what. And they said that now we are more prepared for it. Who really knows! I know that the RC is better prepared than they were before it happened.

Well, guess I'd better stop. I was actually going to make a post about this anyway...now that I made such a long comment I don't know if I have the energy..:)

Penny said...

I was on my way into Manhattan on the morning of 9/11/01. I was meeting a sales rep at a client's office. My husband, Dave, took the bus trip in with me to work out of his office in the city. Normally he works from home but he figured he would take the ride with me and visit the office.

It was a beautiful day. I was dressed up in a suit. I still think of it as my 9/11 outfit. We boarded the bus at 8:47am. I still have the NJ Transit ticket. We were on our way in and a young girl with headphones on, removed her headset and said "The radio says a plane just flew into the WTC". Now we assumed it was a small private aircraft and thought "How awful" not knowing the devastation. We proceeded on our way into NY and again later the young girl removed her headphones and said, "Another plane hit the WTC."

Dave turned to me and said "Something's going on. We have to get off this bus." He walked up to the busdriver and said, "Are you aware that there are planes that hit the WTC?" The busdriver said he had heard about it. Dave said, "Pull over, we're getting out." The driver objected at first and said he couldn't pull over on the highway, but Dave is a very persuasive man. Meanwhile, I called a colleague at work and she frantically said, "The city is under attack! Don't go in!" The sales rep I was meeting was stuck on the NJ Tpke watching the smoke billow out of the tower.

We got off on Rt. 46 and called my Mom to pick us up. On our way home with Mom, the radio said the Pentagon had been hit. I felt like it was the end of the world. When we got home and watched the first tower collapse on TV, it was surreal. But it was real, and we all have shed so many tears over this tragedy.

Maritza said...

Sherrill,
I did post somewhat on my blog on 9/10. I guess I have strong feelings about that day that I haven't really examined. I tried posting on 9/11 and kept deleting everything I wrote. I felt it just was not good enough. A few people, however, did leave some very personal and sensitive comments on my blog.

Thanks for dedicating your blog to this event these past couple of days. You did so respectfully and with sensitivity.

Sherril said...

I have chosen to make my remarks to you all on a new post on my blog. I hope that is ok, with everyone, since I did directly quote you from your comments to the post. Thank you all so much.

Sherril

Marna Atkin said...

I was a high school Guidance Counselor at the time and was in the Guidance Office dealing with all kinds of beginning of school scheduling snafus when I heard the news from students. Of course, no students were allowed to have cell phones but somehow they all knew what was happening before any of the faculty did. Before long, there was chaos in the building…..parents started showing up wanting to pick up their children, students were trying to leave to go home, there were announcements on the loud speaker and rumors were flying. We turned on a TV that had been sitting in the corner of a conference room for years, (hoping it would work) and miraculously, we were able to get one station, CNN, which proved to be our lifeline for that day and several to follow. Teachers had turned on their TV sets in the classrooms and everyone was riveted. I remember trying to call my husband who was on a business appointment where there was no cell service. I remember calling a close friend, whose daughter in law to be worked at one of the World Trade Center outer buildings and as of yet, nobody had heard from her. The Guidance Office was extremely hectic…….we were told to try to proceed as normally as possible, which, on any opening day of school, is challenging…….I remember just feeling so overwhelmed, confused, dazed…….every glance at CNN was worse than the one before.