Monday, September 9, 2013

It's Been Twelve Years

Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001 when you learned that America was under attack? It's the day that changed my life forever, and I know it changed all of us. But it's been twelve years, and time does heal all wounds.

But many of us are scarred.

I woke up to the sound of a radio playing upstairs. I had fallen asleep on the couch the night before, exhausted from unpacking stuff in our new house. The painters had come early, and they were working on the kitchen when I came up to greet them.

"Hey, did you hear?" the painter with the long hair asked me.

I had to rub the sleep from my eyes. "Hear about what?"

"A plane hit one of the Twin Towers."

My mind had to process that for several moments. Of course I knew what the Twin Towers are. I'm from New York after all. But I still hadn't comprehended what the painter had said. "Seriously?"

"It's all over the news."

The only television I had was in the basement, so I went back down there and turned it on. I saw video images of the smoke billowing out of the North Tower. And then I saw another explosion. Were they replaying the plane accident? To my horror,  the South Tower had been struck.

In fiction, the term "heart sank" is overused. But damn. That's what my heart did. I felt it drop to my stomach. I must have screamed something fierce, because both painters ran downstairs. We all watched the scene unfold. None of us could move. None of us could even talk.

Half an hour later, a third plane struck the Pentagon.

The doorbell rang, and an old neighbor who does home improvement was there for an appointment. I ran up and answered it, and I could tell he had been listening to the news on his car radio. His eyes were red and still wet. I let him in, and we both practically ran downstairs to the television.

Maybe thirty minutes later, a fourth plane struck a field in Pennsylvania.

We all stood there dumbfounded for awhile before heading back upstairs. The painters continued their work with the radio on, and I spent the next few days in a complete stupor. I worked for a company that provided telephone and computer conferencing, and it was just crazy. My company provided free conferences to businesses in NY to help connect employees to loved ones and help them account for missing people.

I flew out to New York six months later, and we visited what was left of the World Trade Center. The smell stung your eyes. It was so sharp and acrid, you wondered how the hell the clean up crews could stand it even with those masks on. Driving down I-95 in a cab to Newark after my business trip, I looked across the bay at the Manhattan skyline, and it looked so strange without those Towers.

I later learned that a family I had grown up with lost their oldest son, Richard Salinardi. The family had moved from New York to here in St. Louis, and I played tennis with their youngest son. Richard was a general manager for Aramark, and he and another employee let others get on the express elevator on the 78th floor. The last thing those people heard from Richard was him laughing and joking, and his employees got to the first floor safely.

It's been twelve years, but it still hurts today. There's all kinds of irony during this twelfth anniversary of 9-11 that now we're on the verge of military strikes in Syria. I won't get political on here, but I will say that we are still living the nightmare in the aftermath of those attacks.

Nearly 3000 people died, and who knows how many have gotten sick or worse just from breathing in the poisonous air for months afterwards. Take into account the deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq following the attacks, and your brain is just starting to wrap itself around the long term impact of that terrible day.

I will be on a plane this September 11th, and it will mark the third time I have done so on this anniversary. People are a little more anxious, but more importantly, they are also more reverent. The TV screens at the gates will be televising the memorials, and we will remember.

It will take us back to twelve years ago.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I was at work and we all crammed into the breakroom to watch the news. I remember seeing the second plane strike and instantly knew it was a terrorist attack. Stupor is a good way to describe it. I'll never forget.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I was at work when the first one struck. I (like many others) did not know what was going on. It was kind of unbelievable when they crashed into the ground. What's strange about 9/11 is that there are kids alive these days (teenagers) that have never heard of it because parents aren't talking about it.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I was at work and received an email that I initially thought was some kind of joke. And when I knew it wasn't? I went cold inside, and tried to call people - family members worked in the city, in the Towers. Thankfully, my family members made it out okay.

Yes, we will always remember.

D.G. Hudson said...

I was on my way to work when the first crash happened, and the big tv screen in our lobby was showing the second crash into the tower as I came in. I didn't think it was real, even though I'd heard on the radio about the first tower crash. Family called as soon as I was at my desk. I got that sinking stomach feeling, too, Jay. We in Canada felt that horror just as strongly, especially if we have family in the USA.

Tears filled my eyes - I thought the first one might have been a mistake by a pilot. It was damn scary. You didn't want to think about what's next.

Are all these wars 'against humanity' just weakening the strong nations? Makes one wonder at intent.

Rusty Webb said...

Awful day. I was getting ready to go spend the day with our college football team when I got the call to turn on the tv. We cancelled everything and I spent the next week in shock.

Jay Noel said...

Alex: There were 30 minutes after each attack, and you just kept waiting, wondering if there's more. That's why they call it "Terrorism."

Michael: Exactly right. Young adults should learn more about it. They don't have to watch the footage over and over again or anything like that. But they need to know.

Madeline: I have a cousin that lives near Manhattan. Luckily, he was okay. Although he had to buy a bunch of air filters and put them all over his apartment.

D.G.: You're right. It does make you wonder. Looks like it's happening again.

Rusty: Everything was at a standstill. I have a buddy from Seattle who was stuck here in St. Louis for a week. It sucked the life from everything "normal" we were doing.

Maurice Mitchell said...

That was insane. I'll never forget when my brother woke me up to tell me about it. I didn't believe him and didn't believe all the predictions that the towers would fall. I guess I was in denial. If the smell was strong after six months, it must have been horrid when right after the fall. Those brave firefighters.

Robin said...

I worked commission sales back then. I had scheduled to work in Columbia, SC that day. So, I was in the car when the first plane hit. I was listening to a book on tape, so I had no idea that anything had happened until I reached my first customer. They didn't have a TV, but they were all glued to the radio. I joined them and that was where I was when the second plane hit.

I didn't cancel my day. I just went from account to account listening to the radio and then listening some more once I arrived there. My last stop was the VA Hospital. They had a TV in their maintenance room. It was nearly 4:00 in the afternoon before I actually saw the coverage. By that time, that "sinking sensation" you describe had set in. Everyone I met looked as though they lost their best friend.

I will never forget sitting in that break area and watching the replay of the planes hitting the towers. It felt unreal to me them and it still feels that way now.

Jay Noel said...

Maurice: There was an issue with their radios, so the firefighters didn't hear the evacuation orders. So sad.

Robin: I'm in sales too, but at the time, customers were jamming up the conference call lines. It was insane. People trying to reach out and let loved ones know they were okay.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I was at home when a friend called and her words "Planes are smashing into the Twin Towers" really jolted me. I remember calling my mom in Oregon and waking her up. (Three hour time difference.) I spent the whole day in front of the TV in a daze.

Christine Rains said...

I remember my husband and I didn't have work that day and we had slept in. I was up first and checked my email. My mom sent me a message asking me if I'd seen the news. (She's lost a friend and co-worker that day, a Canadian who was visiting there on business.) I couldn't believe what she said happened until I turned on the TV. I watched stunned for a few minutes before I ran in to wake my husband. The whole day was spent in a fog.

Morgan said...

I'm sure it's a reverent experience flying on that day... wow, Jay. What a beautiful post and tribute. Thanks for this.

And I'm sure like you, that day is so clear in my mind. It will be forever, I think.

J. A. Bennett said...

So many memories flood back when I think of that day. Every person who lost their lives has gone down as a hero in my book. That's one of those things that I'll always remember where I was and how that day unfolded. Which is a good thing. I don't ever want to forget.

Jay Noel said...

L. Diane: It took me three hours to finally snap out of my stupor and call to check on some family and friends in NY. They were all safe.

Christine: I think I read somewhere that the victims came from 90 different countries.

Morgan: Thanks! I think that day will be in the minds of all those flying.

J.A.: Me neither. I feel exactly the same way

DEZMOND said...

yep, I remember where I was on September 11,just as I vividly remember where I was in March 1999. when USA started bombing my country. We lived in hell for three and a half months. With not just one building being destroyed, but USA bombs falling on hospitals, roads, bridges, factories, houses, living people.... even on kids.... A nightmare... which still hasn't ended, since USA used poisonous bombs which are still causing cancer and stillbirths a decade and more later....

M Pax said...

My husband called me at some ungodly hour. It was really early hear on the left coast. I spent the day trying to get a hold of my former roommate in DC [she worked at the Pentagon]. Our conversation still brings tears to my eyes. I didn't get a hold of her until the next day. She was in the part hit.

Jay Noel said...

Dez: Many Americans couldn't understand why we were bombing Kosovo. They talked about the ethnic cleansing, and the UN finding evidence that the Serbs used chemical weapons on at least 4000 Albanians. I know the US has smart bombs, but they're not that smart. Unfortunately, despite over 80 percent of Americans against the idea, it looks like we're about to make the same mistake yet again.

Mary: Glad your friend was okay. I remember hearing from my West Coast friends saying they woke to all this craziness going on. And family members in CA waiting for that flight that never came were freaking out. It was horrible.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

My blog post for Wednesday is a lot like yours. I will never forget where I was that day. I didn't know anyone personally who died that day but a few of my friends did. I don't think I'll ever stop being sad on 9/11.

Melanie Schulz said...

I was at home, like you, and felt like the world had just ended.

Sarah Ahiers said...

I was in an early morning class. None of us knew anything about it. They didn't even close the university until the evening. The only reason i found out about it earlier was because i skipped my second class of the morning and went home

Jay Noel said...

Susan: I look forward to reading your post tomorrow.

Melanie: I kept wondering if there was more to follow.

Sarah: I was one year removed from teaching, and when I talked to teaching friends, they said that every class pretty much couldn't do any work. All the classrooms had televisions, and they were on.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

I was a teenager in high school. That day I was home alone and had no idea what happened until my friend Zanya-Lee called and told me to turn on the television. Needless to say an ordinary day became less so. Also I found out that my friend knew someone who worked there but wasn't in that day.

Your post was very touching. It brought a lump to my throat and though I'm all the way in the Caribbean know that I send my condolences and love.

The Desert Rocks said...

We woke up to the radio saying something about a plane hitting the towers. We thought they meant small plane like a Cessna and turned off the radio. At work the televisions were on and it was quiet and weird. They left the lights off so we could watch it-over and over. It was and is an unbelievable and painful part of American history. Thanks for the tribute Jay.

Julie Dao said...

I was sitting in my high school chemistry class when it happened. My teacher turned on the TV and we all thought it was a movie - it was THAT unreal. I don't think we'll ever be able to forget where we were and what we were thinking when it happened. It's so disheartening sometimes that there is so much evil in this world.

Elise Fallson said...

That day will be one of many that will never be forgotten. I can still feel the moment when I realized what was going on, the feeling of totally helplessness and the question playing over and over in my mind... "why?" It's a day that has marked part of history forever and I wonder how it will be taught/analyzed 100 years from now. Will we learn anything from what happened? Or is history destined to repeat itself? Very touching post, glad I stopped by. And have a safe trip, Jay.

Jay Noel said...

Sheena: Thanks so much!

Eve: I'm pretty sure everybody at work came to a standstill.

Julie: Right. It was just like watching a movie. It was just too horrible to think it was otherwise.

Elise: Thanks so much. I'm pretty sure we keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

Pk Hrezo said...

I still get teary eyed just remembering. It happened before my kids' lifetime. I wasn't even married yet, but i was watching my morning dose of CNN when it happened. Then it happened again and it was so eerie. I woke my then fiance up and he came and watched and everything just sorta stood still. I only had cell service and all signals were jammed. I couldnt even call my mom.
All I can say about going to work at the airline that day, is that it was unforgettable. I was screamed at, cursed at, wished dead. Everything you can imagine. So much emotion was rising up from every direction. That was the only day that every commercial airplane in America was grounded.
Safe travels to you this 9/11, Jay. We'll all be remembering along with you.

Cherie Reich said...

I was getting ready for class (college) when I heard the news. I wish I could say that I was surprised about the attack, but I really wasn't. I knew our good luck would eventually run out. That said, I kept thinking about how I'd been up in those towers when I'd visited NYC as a child, how they embodied the NYC skyline. It will never quite be the same.

cube said...

I was online and had the news on TV while I drank my coffee. My husband was in the shower when I ran in and told about the first hit. Then I watched as the second hit happened and I ran into the bathroom again. This time my husband thought I was joking. He soon realized that I wasn't joking and that we were under attack.

At that point, we didn't know how many planes were out there, so he went and picked up our girls from school. Lots of other parents were doing the same thing. It was an awful day.

Nicki Elson said...

The day definitely leaves a scar that, really, I hope never goes away - because forgetting is dangerous. Though I'm not up to watching the memorials.

Arlee Bird said...

I feel relatively safe in the U.S. , but I'm disappointed that not only have we made little progress in making the world a better place, but I think the world is actually worse than it was before 9/11.

A Faraway View

Mr. Shife said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Jay. I will never forget what I was doing on 9/11 for a few reasons. One of the toughest weeks of my life. Have a good one buddy.

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