Eight years ago today, I was in the office early, getting ready for a big golf outing I was organizing for the following day.
Even at 7:30 in the morning, Milwaukee skies were the brightest blue with only traces of wispy clouds. The temperature was truly still summer-like. I remember taking my sweet time as I walked boxes and bags of miscellaneous things out to the trunk of my car. I remember hoping that maybe someone wouldn't show and they'd ask me to fill in to even out a lopsided foursome instead of spending the day as the marketing lackey, destined to hand out name tags and quite possibly becoming the drink cart girl.
On one trip back to my cubicle, Randy, a friendly if not goofy sales guy, wheeled back quickly in his chair, so as to catch my eye and shout, "Hey! Did you hear? A plane flew into the World Trade Center. They think its like a tourist plane or something."
I hadn't heard. But how horrible! I imagined a small plane, carrying two or three people, hitting the building, bouncing off and crashing in a fiery heap at the ground.
I don't remember when I heard that it was an actual airliner. But I do remember that my car was loaded and I was back at my desk when I heard the news.
A second plane had hit the other tower. And they knew it wasn't an accident.
This was unheard of. What did they mean a second plane hit the other tower? Hadn't that pilot heard that another plane had just crashed? What in the HELL was going on in New York?!?
I don't remember the morning DJs using the words 'terrorism', but maybe they did. What I do remember was listening intently as their normally inane sports-ladled diatribes, laced with laughter and box scores turned serious and urgent.
I didn't notice until I whirled my chair around to go ask Randy where he was getting his news that nearly a dozen people were hovering at the entrance to my cubicle. I had one of the few radios in the office, back in a time when nothing streamed online.
A wall of dazed faces greeted me with silence, heads cocked as people are wont to do when they're trying to listen. I turned up the volume.
I called my fiance at home. Hubs was a retail manager at the time, and happened to have the day off. He had seen the infamous footage of the second plane flying straight into the second tower.
"Colleen," he'd said, "they did that on purpose."
I don't remember what came next - whether it was the plane crashing into the Pentagon, or the plane going down in Pennsylvania, or the first tower falling. I do remember the office phones being eerily silent, and feeling panicked that there was nothing I could do but sit and wait for more reports of carnage. I imagined all those people and their families and cried.
At one point I theorized that these planes were heading west, and who knew when they would stop. I feared for Atlanta and Chicago and heard that buildings downtown were being evacuated. The one-story building I worked in was in the 'burbs, but that did nothing to ease my anxieties or resolve my NEED to just get home - to be with people I loved before the end came for US.
There had been a meeting scheduled - a conference call with the company President - for who the hell knows what. Some company meeting we all assumed was now off in light of the circumstances, only we got an email saying it wasn't. Milwaukee's Mayor had scheduled a press conference to start around the same time and I said out loud that I was going to hear what the Mayor had to say and then was going home. To hell with the goddamn company president. He could fire me if he needed to. Strangely, almost everyone else sat through that entire hour-long meeting.
I remember the Mayor divulging that the buildings downtown (including the one I would, ironically, start work in almost exactly one year later) had been evacuated as a precaution only - that all planes in the country had been grounded and accounted for. THAT scared the shit out of me. This was so big - so important - that NO ONE WAS FLYING. IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY. HOLY SHIT.
After the "meat" of the press conference, I went back to my desk and grabbed my things. I started walking to the front door and my car when I heard someone say, "Hey - they're letting us go home early. That's nice, isn't it?" Fuck nice. I was going one way or another. Just because they had our airplanes accounted for didn't mean that whomever had done this didn't have other tricks up their sleeves.
The freeway was nearly empty. I fought back tears so that I could drive safely, but nearly jumped OUT OF MY SKIN when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a huge black bird fly overhead. For a split second I had thought it was a plane - a plane that wasn't supposed to be there - and my relief at the fact that it was just a bird did nothing to relieve my tension but instead just made me sob.
I watched HOURS of coverage with Jay that day. Hours of smoke rising and people jumping and papers fluttering to the ground. Crowds running and ash falling and folks crying, trying to reach loved ones by cell phone.
We watched, unable to do anything else, while citizens of New York City made make-shift communications centers - posting papers containing photos of loved ones - "Have you seen my wife?" and "This is my son!" SO many papers. Just unbelievable.
Late that afternoon I stood out on our porch, unable to keep watching. Crying. And then it hit me.
It started slow...a single lawn mower roaring to life.
"How in the HELL can people just MOW THEIR LAWNS?!?" I shouted, angry. Jay hugged me from behind while I cried, fearing that there most certainly had to be a military draft coming. I knew that Hubs is the type of person who'd want to enlist. I cried selfishly, not wanting to lose him, then cried some more for being selfish when some people had already lost so much.
"Hon," he'd said. "Those people today? They hate us for being who we are. For being Americans. For living in a country where you can be anything you want - do anything you want."
Another lawn mower started up. Maybe I wasn't the only one with nervous energy.
We stood there, holding each other, on that porch for a very long time, the TV on in the background, the reporter going over and over and over again the footage we'd already watched half a dozen times.
Before we let go of each other, we were being serenaded by a chorus of small engines. We were on the porch of our home. Together.
And somehow? The simple fact that we could do anything, mundane or otherwise, was quite a bit more beautiful.