Where Were You
Saturday, September 11, 2010
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."
"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 work desks 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 weird 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.
*Originally posted 9/11/08