Where Were You?

I was sitting in a beautiful, old hotel in Portland, Oregon on that strange and sad day. My habit when on the road working was to leave the television on to help me sleep. So when I woke up that Tuesday morning I thought it was a movie that I was watching on the screen, I must have left the channel on HBO, I thought. Then I changed the channel looking for some local news and almost every channel had the same images, over and over. I watched in disbelief, this could not be real and yet it was. I was stuck in Portland, all the planes were grounded. I wanted to be home. Not my southern California apartment but home, back in Wisconsin with my mom and the rest of my family.

My hotel phone rang. "Do you have your tv on?" asked my boss who was in a room at the same hotel one floor down.
"Yes," I answered shakily.
"Are you ok?" he asked.
"I think so, I don't know, I don't want to be here."
"Me either."
"Have you spoken to Lisa?"(his wife and a flight attendant)
"Yes, she wants me to come home."

The executive coffee suite was on my floor, just around the corner from my room. I didn't bother to get dressed but put a hotel robe on and wandered out to get a cup of coffee. The room had coffee and bakery, chairs, couches and workdesks and the room was filled with business people who didn't want to watch these events unfold alone.

My boss came in, got a coffee and we went back to my room and sat on the edge of the bed watching for another hour trying to figure out what we do next. We had meetings and sales presentations planned at the Portland radio/tv stations. None of which could happen today given the events. You can't call people and ask them to come to a tv pitch meeting when they had just watched people throw themselves from a burning building.

We went to our clients offices. We watched the ten plus monitors in their newsroom with feeds from all over the country. We were overloaded with images and talking heads. Some of us cried, some of us didn't. I chewed my fingernails down to the nubs, something I hadn't done since I was seven, the year my parents got divorced.

We were still there working when they tentatively opened the airspace to some craft, though not regular commercial flights yet. I was on my computer in an empty boardroom working. The boardroom had a big open skylight and when a plane flew overhead I gasped and covered my head. The skies had been busy with air traffic in the days before that day, then nothing. The sound of an aircraft ahead after all that quiet was jarring.

Finally, I got to go home.

Travelling got much more difficult after that. You had to go much earlier, everything took longer, everyone was nervous, hostile, paranoid, nobody wanted to make a mistake. Those first few weeks after the planes resumed normal-ish flights, the bulk of the people on them were business travellers who had to fly and people finally making their way home after being stranded somewhere else.

It was fucking grim. Nobody said much, everyone still looked shell shocked. It didn't get much better from there. All of a sudden no boxcutters(not a problem for most people), we had to take our shoes off, much more extensive searches, sometimes inappropriate searches, watch lists, mothers not being allowed to bring their own breast milk, it got really wierd there for awhile. I remember stopping to eat lunch during a layover. The only thing they had was Chili's and I had a two hour wait so I sat down and looked over the menu. When the waitress came, she informed me of the few choices that were available. Why just these I asked. They had stopped serving anything off the menu that might require a knife, even a plastic knife.

On September 11, 2001, my husband and I had not yet met. We have since shared with each other, as I'm sure many people have, exactly what we were doing on that particular day. I don't know anyone who doesn't remember. It's odd for me to think that I can talk to nearly anyone and we can place ourselves exactly where we were at the very same moment in time.

Those events have come and gone. The visceral anguish is gone for most. The open wound has faded to leave in it's place an angry, red, raised scar.

No one left that morning thinking they would not have the afternoon or evening. No one kissed their children aware that it was the last time. People rushed out the door, to work or school as they did every other Tuesday, unaware that this day would be wholly different.

For my son, today is a history lesson, a day to wear red, white and blue, a careful conversation with parents and teachers. For my husband and I, it is a reminder to cherish every moment of every day, to make sure to always say I love you and never leave angry because you never know when it is going to be your day.

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8 comments:

Bittersweet Confusion said... September 11, 2008 at 11:28 AM  

I remember where I was... Just next door in my office building, pale and cold and not functioning at all. Not knowing what to do but "just Pray" like a co worker told me to do.

Today I work in the same building I did that day and it will always be different. I walk passed vendors selling cheap 99 cent albums filled with pictures of that day and i fight not to gag at their lack of compassion. Tourists taking pictures of a hole that I consider massive grave just to have prove that they were there... Ground Zero.

I was there, I am there and that doesn't make me special, I don't even consider myself a survivor. I'm just sad. Sad for the families of the people who walked into those towers for what they thought was a normal day. Sad for the families of the rescuers who lost their lives for others. Sad for people like me who can't forget. People who wish they could.

Jigsaw Youth said... September 11, 2008 at 11:32 AM  

i was at home, asleep on the couch when i woke up to my mom staring at the tv in disbelief. my now husband, will, called me to say he had a flat tire & could i give him a ride. he was completely clueless & when he got in my car i told him & we were pretty much silent the whole ride, i guess in shock. i guess not the coolest "where were you" story, but it is what it is.

A Free Man said... September 11, 2008 at 4:00 PM  

Wonderfully written, Chris. It was a day that noone who lived through it will ever forget. I have mixed feelings about it now because of all the politics and war and b.s. that's been attached to it. But on the day, and for a little while afterward, everyone was an American. I don't think that's happened since the 40s and its a shame that it vanished so quickly.

Maggie, Dammit said... September 11, 2008 at 5:04 PM  

Gorgeous.

The Incredible Woody said... September 12, 2008 at 5:53 AM  

I used to make home-made treats and sell them at local offices as a way to make some fun money. I was on my way to the cable office when the announcement came across the radio.

After arriving at the cable office, we all just stood there - glued to the television, watching in shock as the second plane hit.

It was then that I had to leave. I had to go find my husband, tell him that I loved him, just see him and make sure he was OK - even though we were 1000s of miles away from danger.

I also remember hearing the first plane fly overhead after they had lifted the restrictions on flights. I was outside in my yard and I hit the ground, covering my head. I am sure I looked like a fool but in that instant, blind panic had taken over.

Rassles said... September 12, 2008 at 7:55 AM  

When I was younger I used to feel cheated, because I would never have my "where were you when JFK/MLK was shot/they bombed Pearl Harbor/man walked on the moon/William Prescott warcry" moment. And then you know, I got it. And I don't want it anymore. Not because it was scary or sad or shocking, I mean it was all of those things...but because as a collective country, we reacted poorly in every way, and I never wanted to feel that level of shame.

Dirty Pirate Hooker said... September 12, 2008 at 10:45 AM  

That was a memorable day for me on many counts.

I was in bed when it happened and I had just hurt my back a few weeks before at work. I called in to tell them I wasn't coming in and one of my co-workers told me what happened and said we were closed for the day. I called my mom and she was crying because our Uncle was in the towers. I went over to my mom's and we watched TV and tried to reach my Uncle all day. He didn't make it.

That was also the day I found out I was prengnant with the punk =)

A memorable day indeed.

People in the Sun said... September 19, 2008 at 11:46 AM  

I've become very cynical since then. In my blog I blame the people that have abused the memory for political gain, but really, it's just human nature to avoid certain memories. But as much as I try to avoid it, still, when I see a plane I imagine it going down or exploding. I guess that's also just human nature.

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