Friday, September 11, 2009

Where I was.

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.

12 comments:

HappyHourSue said...

Beautiful post. I remember hearing that there were people golfing and I was in disbelief. I must have been glued to the TV for 2 weeks - always waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Parties were cancelled, comedies on TV were cancelled...and then the flags. I remember driving the next day and just seeing flag after flag- real ones, painted ones, handmade ones.

I can remember rolling down my car window one or 2 days later to yell at a random construction crew: "They found 4 firefighters!!!!" and everyone cheered.

Posted a video on my blog today - I agree we can never forget.

Kim H. said...

I still feel like the happenings of that day are still so fresh in my mind. I remember being so scared, that we were officially under attack by people that hated our country -- a hatred that filled their entire being to do such a thing.

I remember Leo had to go Lowe's to buy a new stove -- ours had died and we hadn't had one for a few days -- and we really needed to get that stove.

So, he went out that evening to buy it -- which he said was just weird because everything was like a ghosttown. The guy from Lowe's helped Leo out with the stove so they could load it up in the SUV.

As they stood in the parking lot talking about the events of the day, they heard a plane above -- it was Airforce One -- which they didn't know at the time -- but it was confirmed the next day.

We'll never forget. And I can't say enough to thank the men and women that bravely and FREELY serve and defend our country and all our freedoms each and every day.

JustMiss said...

This might be the best thing I've read all day. Thank you for sharing it Colleen.

Roger said...

I remember that day and hearing about the first plane hitting the tower and thinking what idiot couldn't see a huge building and miss it? I even called my wife and told her to turn on the news. By the time I got into the office, we were all glued to the television, and saw the rest of that horrible day.

Unlike you, we had to go to work, and I can remember how eerily quiet it was, especially since I was at a sight located within a flight path to O'Hare. Trust me, that scared me more than anything, the silence of air traffic. I hope I never have to experience that again.

Great writing, thanks for sharing.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

You are such a good writer.

tdraxler said...

I had Lazer 103 on as I got ready for work that morning. The way Bob and Brian and Ted Perry who was sitting in for the sports guy that day went suddenly serious and quiet absolutely scared me to death. I ran to the TV, called my husband's cell, called by boss...and decided I needed to leave for work. The bosses' sister was in NY on her first business trip...someone needed to be in the office, so I went.

I was at 5 Corners in cedarburg, stopped at a light when the second plane hit. I looked in to the rear-view mirror to see the man driving the car behind me cover his face with his hands as he, too, heard the news.


I held it together most of the day, but started to cry uncontrollably upon arriving home that evening. My normally stoic husband had gone out, bought a flag holder and flag, which flew proudly from the porch of our first home. We stood in the driveway and cried together.

Never forget.
Beautiful post.

Mary @ Giving Up On Perfect said...

What a terrible story, but you wrote it beautifully. I worried about a draft that day, too. I remember hugging my husband, crying and begging him to tell me again why he wouldn't be drafted first.

theycallmejane said...

Beautifully written. You've expressed what many of us were feeling that day. Thank you.

theycallmejane said...

Beautifully written. You've expressed what many of us were feeling that day. Thank you.

Alisha said...

Beautiful Post. I think that day is ingrained in all of North America's minds, and the rest of the world for that matter.

Kat said...

Wow!! Great post. I remember almost every detail of that day too.

Miss you! How's it going? Hitting Opryland in Feb?

Wineplz said...

I remember freaking out a day or two after the 11th when I heard someone start up a lawn mower--since we lived near a flight path close to Dulles, I freaked out a little until my brain registered exactly what that sound was.
I also remember how incredibly quiet and empty the roads and the skies were that day as we drove home early from work. The only planes we saw were fighter jets that were flying around DC.
The next couple weeks I was glued to news reports on the internet and TV. I cried when I saw people in MidEastern countries celebrating all that we lost--I couldn't believe anyone could hate anyone else that much that they would rejoice in the instant loss of 3,000 lives.

Thank you for remembering.