I wonder how long it takes to recover from a broken heart? Not the kind where you break up with your spouse or significant other – the kind where you suffer a devastating loss.
I live in a friendly, stable, middle-class neighborhood. People who move here have a tendency to stay for a long time. We get to know each other but 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. Occasionally we gossip about each other and we have gone through good times and bad together.
New York and Washington D.C. are far away from our comfortable little environment. On the morning of September 11, 2001, my alarm rang at 6 a.m. Pacific time. A song was playing and I was in a fog headed for the shower. Ten minutes later there was no more music and the normally light-hearted DJ’s were somber. It was obvious something serious 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 witnessed a plane fly into the south tower.
I’m not often stunned, but I 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 coverage. The talk changed from tragic accident, but there were no real theories yet on what happened. The scenes from New York looked surreal.
Shortly after 6:37 a.m. the news the Pentagon had been hit was broadcast. Hijacking and terrorists were words 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 smoke and flames, then the replay of the north tower collapse, then the news that Flight 92 crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside at 7:06 a.m. and just 22 minutes later at 7:28 a.m. the south tower collapsed in a huge cloud of dust.
I watched for another 10 minutes then left for work, not caring about running late. I listened to the radio all the way in and noticed the solemn looks on the faces of other drivers. People at work were shaken and we all had the news streaming on our computers. It was impossible to talk or think about anything else. We had jobs to do, but our hearts weren’t there. We 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 – 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 said he went into work that morning. He was only 30 days away from retiring from a long career in the Army and wasn’t supposed to be in his office that day, but he was trying to finish up some paperwork. He was a dedicated officer, a good and only son, had 3 children and a stable marriage. I met him a few times and he was a very nice person.
His office was directly in the path of Flight 77.
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 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.
Today it’s even sadder. Last November Olga died. She never really recovered from his death. In June, Lee died too. He was an ornery old cuss, but he needed Olga so he went to find her.
The house is sold and soon new neighbors will settle in.
Olga and Lee never recovered from their devastating loss.
I wonder if they ever would have had they lived longer.