Monday, September 10, 2007

September 11th

I live in a wonderful, friendly, stable, middle-class neighborhood. All the houses were built at the same time – 1958. It’s one of those cookie-cutter, post-war subdivisions built to ease the housing crunch created by the parents of the baby boomers.

People who move here have a tendency to stay for a long time. For instance, I’ve been here 12 ½ years, across the street 18 years, next door 12 years, other side 5 years, across to the left 6 years, original owners behind me and original owners across to the right.

We get to know each other but we don’t intrude in each other’s lives. We watch out for each other when any of us are gone on vacation or when we see strangers in the neighborhood. We share gardening tips, talk about things going on in our lives and sometimes discuss the world situation. Sometimes we gossip about each other and we have gone through good times and bad together. Some of us have keys to other’s houses.

New York and Washington D.C. are far, far away from our comfortable little environment. We read about them, watch them on the news and occasionally visit, but they don’t have much impact on our everyday lives.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, my alarm rang at 6 a.m. Pacific time – which was really 5:45 a.m. because I set it 15 minutes ahead. A song was playing and I was in a fog and headed for the shower. About 10 minutes later, stepping out of the shower I noticed there was no more music and the normally light-hearted DJ’s were very somber. It was obvious something serious had happened, so I turned on the TV and saw the smoke and flames coming from the north tower of the WTC. No one was sure what happened, but the term “tragic accident” was used when -WHAM - at 6:03 a.m. Pacific time I and millions of others witnessed a plane fly into the south tower.

I’m not often stunned, but I actually had to sit down because of the shock. I watched for a few minutes then rushed to dry my hair and get ready for work trying not to miss any of the coverage. Now the talk began to change from tragic accident, but there were no real theories yet on what had happened. The scenes from New York looked surreal.

Then shortly after 6:37 a.m. the news that the Pentagon had been hit was broadcast. Hijacking and terrorists were words being used with increasing frequency. While we sat waiting for pictures from the Pentagon, at 6:59 a.m. the north tower collapsed. The scene on TV was utter chaos and it was apparent that even the newscasters were in shock.

Pictures came in from the Pentagon with the smoke and flames, then the replay of the north tower collapse, then the news that Flight 92 had crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside at 7:06 a.m. and just 22 minutes later at 7:28 a.m. the south tower also collapsed in a huge cloud of dust.

I watched for another 10 minutes then had to leave for work. I was already running late, but didn’t care. I listened to the radio all the way in and noticed the solemn looks on the faces of the other drivers. People at work were shaken and we all had the streaming news on the internet on our desk computers. It was impossible to talk or think about anything else. We had jobs to do, but our hearts were not there. We all ate lunch in the conference room with the TV and as soon as work was over, went home to turn on our TV’s.

I pulled into my garage then went over to my mailbox to grab the mail. I was in a hurry to get inside and watch the news, but my next door neighbor yelled at me. I didn’t want to talk and was a little irritated, but she insisted and what she said stopped me in my tracks.

My neighbors – original owners across and to the right – a couple in their late 70’s at the time – their son might have been in the Pentagon.

No one was sure yet. There hadn’t been any confirmation, but his wife confirmed that he had gone into work that morning. He was only 30 days away from retiring from a long career in the Army and wasn’t even supposed to be in his office that day, but apparently he was trying to finish up some paperwork. He was a dedicated officer. He was a great and only son, had 3 wonderful children and a good marriage. I met him a few times and he was a very nice person

His office was directly in the path of Flight 77.

According to the reports, Flight 77 hit the first floor of the Pentagon’s west wall. The impact and the resulting explosion heavily damage the building’s three outer rings. The path of destruction cut through Army accounting offices on the outer E Ring, the Navy Command Center on the D Ring, and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s comptroller’s office on the C Ring. Flight 77 struck the only side of the Pentagon that had recently been renovated—it was within days of being totally [renovated]. It was the only area of the Pentagon with a sprinkler system, and it had been reconstructed with a web of steel columns and bars to withstand bomb blasts. The area struck by the plane also had blast-resistant windows—two inches thick and 2,500 pounds each—that stayed intact during the crash and fire. While perhaps, 4,500 people normally would have been working in the hardest-hit areas, because of the renovation work only about 800 were there.

We spent that evening and most of the next day waiting to find out if he was in the Pentagon when Flight 77 hit.

He was there.

They never found him. There was nothing left to find.

It was a sad time for all of us and even though we were on the other side of the country, it made the whole tragedy very personal and real for us.

I took a pie because that’s how I was raised. When something tragic happened to someone, you took food. Olga told me later she was glad to have it because they had so much company. The flowers arrived, and arrived, and arrived and arrived. The official Army vehicles came and went several times. Friends and relatives paid their respects and gradually things got back to normal.

On the first anniversary of the tragedy, I took some flowers and a card to let them know I was thinking of them. They showed me a wonderful portrait someone had painted of him after his death. They were so proud of him. We all were.

September 11th is always a sad day in this neighborhood.


Merry Jelinek said...

September 11th...

On September 10th at about 10 or 11 at night I took one of those home pregnancy tests. My daughter was about to turn four and my son was a year and a few months old, so I had to wait until the kiddies were asleep to have some private time.

The stick turned blue and I was ecstatic. Already making lists of people to call, including a doctor's appointment to confirm, and exciting things to do, I can remember being so happy going to sleep that night.

The morning dawned like any other, baby waking me, my daughter asking for breakfast, a whirlwind of constant activity from the moment I got out of bed...

Then my husband called from work. He was running the AV for some convention and couldn't watch the news but he heard some odd reports on the way into work and asked me to turn on the news and call him back.

Turning on the tv in the bedroom, I was just in time to watch the second plane hit the building. The newscaster, Katie Couric I believe, was stunned. I was stunned. The whole world seemed to be stunned. I knew from the second the television went on that it was not an accident, it was only a matter of moments before they stopped reporting it as such...

And I sat there, staring at the screen, at these poor people running through the smoke filled streets, at the fireman who was asked by a reporter how he could run into those buildings as everyone else was trying to run out and he replied quite simply, 'It's my job'...

For the first time since having my oldest child I thought, "What the hell did I get them into?"

My youngest just turned five in May and he is a joy. But when mothers talk about all of the things they were feeling when they knew they were pregnant, even after three perfectly healthy pregnancies, that is the moment I think of... the greatest fear you have as a parent are the things that are out of your control. The weeks following 9/11 taught me that the things that are out of your control are also our greatest fear as a society...

Please let your neighbor know that she's in my prayers today.

Bernita said...

A day of gallantry and grief.

Ello said...

I try not to think of the events of 9/11 if I can. It has taken on the memory of a really bad nightmare which you push aside with a shudder. I live in DC and my parents in NY. That day we all lived in such terrible fear. Relief was only temporary as it was overcome by such grief for all who had lost loved ones. I still try not to think about that day, but it is never forgotten.

Kim Stag said...

My brother knew the first officer on the plane that hit the Pentagon. And my tiny NE prep school lost THREE parents on those planes from Boston. THREE! These were real people. Just living their lives when a madman decided to make us all pay for his perception of injustices. I wish we could take our billions a month geing spent in Iraq and turn over every rock in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I do.

Take another pie to the couple anti-wife. And a handshake from a gal in CT to them too.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

What a tribute to him, though, for you to remember him here.

We hung flags. I've hung mine today, with the same black ribbon it wore 6 years ago.

Andrea said...

I have goosebumps. What a heart-filled story. It makes the heart ache with sadness yet fill with warmth and love for kindness and community.

The Anti-Wife said...

All I can think of to say is thanks everyone.

Cecily R said...

Thanks Anti. I'm glad you reached out to your neighbors again today. I hope we all can in some way or another let them (and all the other families who lost someone) know we won't forget them.

Stephen Parrish said...

I couldn't go to work for three days. I just sat in front of the TV, feeling numb.

kim said...

"He was there."

Wow. Speechless.

My thoughts go to his family.

wordtryst said...

Thanks for sharing this, anti-wife. It brings back those horrible days, and yet there's the warmth of community and caring people that somehow managed to get everyone past the horror.

I was in Miami when it happened, visiting a friend at his office. A patient called, and I could hear my friend going, "What? What? Really!" I realized he was trying to calm the caller. Then he put down the phone and laughed - an uncertain laugh. It was one of his patients, he said, ranting about planes crashing into buildings all over the country. He'd have to check the old man's meds. Then another call came, from someone sane and reliable, and when he put down the phone and told me what was going on, there was just shock. Disbelief.

Well, the phone began to go crazy. By midday, the Florida authorities were telling everyone to get home, that the turnpikes were open, just get home. My friend closed up his office and took me home. When I got in and turned on the TV I saw my first images, and I sat there, tears pouring down my face, until the small hours of the morning. I've seen those images hundreds of times, and they are still so incredible that I doubt my eyes.

Over the next days I would go outside at night and stare at the sky. The long string of aircraft on the flight path to Fort Lauderdale Airport had disappeared. The sky was empty. It was very uncanny.

I didn't suffer a personal loss, or a connection to a personal loss like you did, but I know what you feel. I remember. Fifteen Trinidadians died in those towers. The tragedy of those days reached everywhere, and touched everyone.