On September 11, 2001, I was living in Southern California. I'm an early riser, so I was already awake when a call came in from the East Coast. My then-husband came out of the bedroom and said to me, "go turn on the telly." I said, "what channel?" He said, "it doesn't matter."
I ran down the stairs to the family room with him not far behind me, and we turned on the telly to see the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. As we watched, before our eyes the second tower collapsed. Seeing it on the telly, one could almost think that it wasn't real. I wanted to say, no, that can't be real - it couldn't be happening. But it was.
I was lucky - I didn't lose anyone close to me in the attacks, but my mom was in Boston on September 11th, boarding a plane to fly to Washington, D.C. We spent a very tense number of hours. All we could find out was that her plane was on the ground in Boston - nothing further. I worried that she and the other passengers had boarded and were perhaps being held hostage on the runway. I called for hours to her cell phone (which she never really learned how to use) and the home of the sister of the friend she was traveling with, leaving message after message, and finally the phone rang and it was her. And she was safe.
She had arrived at the airport, and from the time she and her friend had checked their bags to the time they go to the flight gate, the attacks had occurred. She said it was mass pandemonium at the airport - they were not allowed to board, thankfully, and I don't think her luggage was returned for a number of days. I thought about this all again this morning because I finally worked up the nerve to watch the film, United 93 this morning. It came out in 2006 but I could not bring myself to watch it until today. Everything came back to me so clearly.
I remember wishing so hard that President Clinton was still the President. No one went to work for a few days - and I remember my then-husband being particularly concerned because I worked directly across the street from the Burbank airport. Once we did return to work, it was eerily quiet in the air space. Two Germans who were in on business at my office were stranded until air travel resumed. And when it did resume, I remember being quite startled - almost frightened - by the sounds of the planes again landing and taking off from Burbank.
Stuck in Boston, my mom wanted to come home to Chicago, but she couldn't rent a car, nor get a ticket on Amtrak. And so, she decided to take the Greyhound bus. I asked her to wait, to stay in Boston a while longer, but as the days passed she was more and more anxious to get back to Chicago, and so my 79-year-old mom got on a bus for home. Riding a cross-country bus is not easy for an older person. The bus was full and it was not a great trip.
My cousins' dad was to pick her up in Chicago. The bus station is not in a great neighborhood in Chicagoland, and somehow my cousins' dad and my mom never connected. She was standing on the street, waiting, and the police questioned her out of concern - she said she was waiting for her ride . . . and finally when she realized that her ride was not coming, she sought out some officers and announced that her nephew was a Chicago police officer and would they please take her to the police station. And they did.
I got a message at the office saying my mom was at the police station in Chicago - which of course set off a huge flurry of long-distance calls between me and various members of my family because I didn't get the entire message and I thought she'd been arrested (which I couldn't really believe, but you never know - my mom was pretty feisty). I can't remember now who actually finally went and fetched her from the police station, but she did get home. And I was grateful.
Life changed for so many that day - changed in profoundly unalterable ways. I didn't lose anyone, but we all lost something - so much that had been taken for granted could not be taken for granted any longer. I played my pipes that day in memory of those who were lost. And I never bitch about having to get to the airport earlier, nor about how long the lines are, nor about having to take my shoes off to go through security, nor about having my luggage searched.
I set off the security alarm at an airport earlier this year - it was for a pewter bracelet that I forgot I was wearing. The search was thorough, and it took awhile, but the woman who conducted it was just doing her part to help keep me and everyone else safe. I thanked her.