Well here it is September 11, 2002 – one year after the terrorist attacks on America. All the flags in downtown Houston are flying half-mast and nearly everyone is wearing red, white and blue today.
I’m currently working on contract at American Express. Their offices in New York suffered horrible losses from the attacks. They had a town hall meeting this morning to memorialize their lost associates. An emotional and somber time to be sure.
The mood is strange today. Business as usual for the most part, but there’s no question what’s on everyone’s mind today. All the television stations insist on running the pictures over and over … as if no one had ever seen them before. I just can’t watch.
I remember that day vividly. I was unemployed and had gotten up to begin another day of calling headhunters and prospective employers. I flipped on the television to catch a little of the morning news and saw smoke streaming from the World Trade Center. I listened in horror as they said a plane had hit it.
I called my husband because I knew he would want to know. As we were on the phone speculating about how a plane could manage to hit that massive landmark, I saw it. The second plane careened into the other tower. I told my husband and we both immediately concurred it had to have been intentional.
It was as if time stood still. I stood frozen in my family room in front of the television. I couldn’t move or speak. My eyes were glued to the screen as the network wizards demonstrated their skill at instant replay. I heard my husband on the phone frantically telling his co-workers to get a TV hookup going at the chemical plant he manages. He called my name and I snapped back to full consciousness long enough to say I love you and we’d talk later.
I paced around the family room and surfed every cable and satellite channel I could find, trying desperately to grasp the reality of what I was seeing. I began to breath again and try to collect my thoughts. Then I found myself calling Bud again. All I could say was, “The Pentagon. A plane hit the Pentagon.”
I tried to answer his questions, practically repeating the newscaster’s comments word for word. My hand was on my stomach and my head was light. We talked briefly and he said, “I’ve got to go, honey. There are things we have to do here.”
What I didn’t know was that he could hear the fighter jets from Ellington Air Force Base scrambling in the sky overhead. We would discover later they were headed out to escort Air Force One. Reality started to set in … not just one target … but two. How many more? They’re strategic targets. What else would be a target? Obviously they weren’t focused on just one city. The refineries in Houston … the ship channel. Bud’s plant was right in the idle of a major American target.
Some of the schools in Houston had closed and sent the kids home. Not ours, of course. All of the skyscrapers downtown had evacuated and sent everyone away. I kept close watch on the school announcements and even considered going to get the kids anyway … official or not. I needed my family nearby. If we’re going to go up in smoke, we’re going to be together.
I prayed. Boy did I pray! Mostly those “groans too deep for words” kind of prayers like, “Oh Lord. God help us. God protect us.” When you face a danger and a fear like that for the first time, you don’t really know what to pray for.
The news said a plane had gone down in southwestern Pennsylvania, but they didn’t have an exact location. I immediately began calling my in-laws to see if they were all right or knew any more. I couldn’t get through to anyone. Eventually I found out it was near Somerset, and breathed a sigh of relief to know my family in Pennsylvania was safe.
At some point in the morning, I called my Mother. “Just called to say I love you,” was all I could say when she answered. She said I love you, too, and we both cried.
I was alone in the house all day. I wanted Bud to come home so badly. But he couldn’t. They were on their highest-level lock down and no one was coming in or out of the plant.
I was never so happy to see my kids come home from school in my whole life – not even the first day of kindergarten. Hugs were freely exchanged, even with teenagers who aren’t much into hugging anymore. But this was different … everything was different. Nothing would ever be the same again.
We closely followed all the television reports, found out that the administration was safe and in hiding, and listened over and over to voicemail messages and last phone calls to family members from the planes and offices.
The Towers had come down midday and the pictures from New York were unimaginable. No overseas war correspondent had ever captured a scene quite like that before … the rubble, the ash, the faces.
But came home a few hours late that night and I was finally able to relax a little. My family was all home with me.