Friday, September 9, 2011

September 11, 2001: My Story

Sunday will be the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy in New York. We'll all be remembering where we were and what we did that day, and we'll all be hoping it never happens again. Below is my story of that day. I wrote it that evening, trying in my own way to kill the demons in my head by putting my thoughts down on paper. It was later published in Futures Magazine.

September 11, 2001: My Story

6:30 am: My granddaughter wakes me with her crying. She is three months old, wet and hungry. I change and feed her, still in my nightshirt, aware that her parents are even now on their way to O'Hare Airport. A three-day vacation in Vegas, time alone for the two of them, time for me to cuddle this latest little member of the family.

8:00 am: I'm bathing Cinnamon Rose, the radio tuned to my favorite station. Sarah and Tim should be on the plane, waiting to taxi down the runway. A break in the talk on the radio -- a plane has hit the World Trade Center in New York. How sad, I think. A plane taking off from Kennedy, a tragedy of some kind. Then word that a second plane has hit the building. I gather Cinnamon in my arms and rush to the TV. No accident, I think. This is more. This is a terrorist attack. I call my husband at work at the SSA building downtown. How many thousands there? Too many, too many floors. Have to rush, says Fred. Security problems. Fred is a Facilities Inspector, works with the contractors, 'Don't cheat the government! Do it right!' and 'Damn those idiots in Baltimore! They want to build a plaza outside the front entrance. Perfect for car bombers.' I visualize a plane hitting the building. No, don't think that way. Not in Chicago. Not today.

8:30 am: My daughter Jenni calls. She works for United Airlines. Have you seen what's happening, she asks. Terrorists hijacked those planes. No one knows how many more. The west coast next? My thoughts turn to O'Hare. A huge airport, an international hub. No God, please. Not Sarah and Tim's plane. I rush to call America West Airlines. Our system is down, they say. Call back later for news. No God, no. Not their plane, too. I hug Cinnamon and call Jenni. Find out what's happening, I demand. I call my husband again. No answer. Too busy locking down.

8:45 am: Jenni calls back. Sarah and Tim are safe. Their plane was stopped on the runway and turned back. I cry in relief, and hug little Cinnamon. Your mom and dad are safe. What about Fred? Damn these terrorists! Do they care if we hurt?

9:00 am: I call my sister, back from the grave after a January MI and cardiac arrest. She shouldn't be alone with this stuff on TV. She gets too upset. I'll come by you, she says. Carrie will drive me. Fred's sister Fran calls. 'Is Fred OK? Terrorists!' I know, I say. He can't come home. They're locking down. I carry Cinnamon outside and put the flag in the standard by the front door. It hangs limply, then catches in the breeze and unfurls. I watch it pivot in the wind, my private act of defiance. I am an American. I am an American! I shout it in my head. You cannot hurt me! You cannot stop me! I am an American!

10 am: The Pentagon hit. My God! My cousin Dan works there! His wife works there! Call Kathy, Dan's sister. No news. Call my brother in California. Chuck's son lives in New York, ten blocks from the Trade Center. No word from Jeff. Will call when he hears. My daughter-in-law calls. Have you seen the TV? Are Sarah and Tim safe? They're at O'Hare, somewhere, I say. I haven't heard from them. My sister arrives. Be careful, Virginia! No! She falls on the stairs, rolls to the cement driveway. I'm OK, she says as I lift her to her feet. But her wrist is painful, beginning to swell. We ice it. She refuses to go to the hospital. I watch her carefully. She's on Coumadin, a blood thinner. She's hit her head.

11am: Sarah and Tim arrive. They hug their baby, then join Virginia and I in front of the TV. My son John calls from work. His cell phone dies before I can tell him Sarah and Tim are safe.

11:30 am: My son Matt arrives. Golfing with friends when he heard the news. Ex-Army man, Kuwait. He's glued to the TV. Bomb the bastards, he growls. Turn the desert to dust. He remembers the heat, the hatred, the fear. He remembers being young...before he learned to use a gun. My sister squirms, uncomfortable with such talk, uncomfortable with the ice on her wrist.

12 noon: Fred arrives. I hug him. He's safe. They've closed the building. 45 minutes in line to get on a train. 500 people at the station. One man goes down. A heart attack. Paramedics arrive. The train leaves.

1:00 pm: Kathy calls. Dan is OK. He couldn't find his wife, then learned she'd been sent to Crystal City for a meeting. Her office is in the wing that was hit. She's safe. Jenni calls. She's assigned to call the families of the plane that crashed outside of Pittsburgh. I hate this duty, she murmurs. Someone has to do it. My heart goes out to her. No news from California.

1:30 pm: My sister Martha calls, on break from her duties as an 8th grade teacher. What do I tell the children? she asks. They want to know why people hate us so. I have no answers, at least not for thirteen-year-olds. My daughter Mary Caroline calls. She's crying. She and her dorm friends are gathered in the university's Great Room in front of the TV. She's on a cell phone. The college lines are all tied up. Are Sarah and Tim OK? Yes, I tell her. They're safe. Her first real disaster, a bitter taste of war at the tender age of nineteen. She'll grow up quickly now. Nowhere is there safety. I love you, she says. Big words from a cool teenager suddenly a little kid again. I love you too, I say. I love you very much. Reassurance. We both need it.

1:45 pm: Fran calls. Her husband is home with a wild story. Jet fighters forced a helicopter down in the parking lot of Home Depot. "Get out of the skies!" they scream as they circle the mall. "Get out of the skies now!" We are safe. No in-the-sky minicam to witness an emptying city.

2:00 pm: Virginia agrees to go to the hospital. We talk in the car -- just a little, each with our own thoughts. I think of the medical personnel, the nightmares they'll have when this is done. The firemen. The policemen. The ER nurses -- my own people, my comrades in medicine -- I know what they feel. Adrenalin rush, then overwhelming fatigue. I pity them, then thank God I'm not in New York. My own ER is safe in a Chicago suburb. No skyscrapers for us.

3:30 pm: Virginia has a broken wrist. No bleed in the brain -- CT is clean. A half cast on the arm, a splint on her sprained ankle, home to her own place with pain killers for company. I start the long drive home.

5:00 pm: What are these fools doing driving into a mall? Why aren't they home in front of their TVs instead of shopping? Why are you cutting the grass? It's a day to mourn, not tend a lawn. Kids playing football. Go inside, dammit! I drive home angry, sad, scared. Thank God for a red light. I can wipe away my tears.

6:00 pm: Jenni is home. She lives next door, married the young man next door, moved into his home, her home now, the two of them building a future in a squared-off Georgian. We hug. I cry as she tells me of the phone calls she made. This is Jennifer J. of United Airlines. I regret to inform you.... A mother -- oh no, don't tell me it was her plane! Yes, say Jenni. A 9-year-old, off to see grandma, an only child. The mother screams. One of the big bosses walks into the office, walks over to a nearby desk. Jenni's co-worker looks up. Your daughter....a flight attendant...the woman lowers her head and weeps. Jenni's eyes are red, but she doesn't cry. It's all part of the job.

7:30 pm: Sarah and Tim gather up a sleeping Cinnamon. They pack their car with all the toys, the bottles and clothes, the diapers, the playpen. So much for three days with Grandma. We hug. I love you, I say. Thank God you're safe. Sarah smiles. She's used to an emotional mom.

8:30 pm. Fred can't stand the TV pictures any longer. He wanders outside, strokes the cat, checks the garden, takes out the garbage. Ordinary things. Safe things. Life in the neighborhood. A Chevy truck roars down the street. A a rock. Two American flags float in the breeze, high on standards attached to the truck's bed. I give the boys the thumbs-up sign and they wave back. Somebody feels like I do. It comforts me.

11:50 pm: The TV is off. Fred is asleep, the cat curled up in his armpit. I sit here pecking away at the keyboard, keeping the day alive, too pent up to sleep. Tomorrow I'll read the papers, listen to the pundits expound on what we should have done to prevent this attack. The skies are silent. No planes heading into O'Hare, no planes all day, none until later tomorrow, if then. The telephone rings. My brother in California. Jeff's safe. He's okay. He was down in the streets, helping the wounded. I hang up on Chuck, relieved, exhausted.

The last lost sheep is home.

Now I can go to sleep.



  1. I know I will always remember where I was on 9/11. It is like my social studies teacher in grade 6 said, "Ask anyone of your parents or grandparents generation where they were when JFK was shot -- I guarantee they will remember." This is the event that is burnt into the memories of this generation.

    Thank you for your post.

  2. You're right, Lynn. This is the main historical event of this generation. And I remember the day Kennedy was shot, how our high school principal came on over the loudspeaker system to tell us of his death and how stunned we all were. I imagine it was the same for our grandparents that awful Sunday morning when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and drew us into WWII.