Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A MEMORY OF 9-11-2001

I was on my way to New Orleans from Shreveport, Louisiana for work.  The sky was gray with an ominous threat of a deluge as I sped down Interstate 49.  Traffic began to thin out down around Alexandria, which I thought was a bit odd but was a nice change.  The lush green of the fields caressed the sides of the highway with occasional stands of palmettos.  Here and there old houses and barns sagged beneath the weight of kudzu and time.  It was a lovely drive but at that time still a bit remote.

As I neared Alexandria, knowing this would be my last chance before Lafayette, I pulled into a truck stop.  It was as crowded as I had ever seen it.  There were big rigs in all colors and shades of road weariness parked willy-nilly, here and there.   Mother Nature was singing her siren song as I quickly made my way to the restrooms.  I passed motorist standing in the aisles staring at a small fifteen-inch television sitting on the counter.  Everyone was frozen as if an evil sorcerer had cast a spell upon them. 

I returned from the Ladies to find them all still in the same place spellbound by the small screen.  I noticed tears in eyes of big burly men and women openly weeping.  I edged my way forward.  A bear of a man was standing next to a lanky scarecrow, they both had tears rolling down their faces diluting the coffee growing cold in their hands.  I edged closer and followed their gaze to the T.V. that stood there.
My breath left my body.  My legs were weak as the second plane veered dipped and then flew into the second tower.  I felt a hand on my shoulder and I looked up at a complete stranger holding me up and cried “is this real?  Is this really happening?”  He nodded an affirmative. 

I looked around at the people standing in the rows of candy bars and beef jerky.  Tears flowed freely, choked sounds of dismay and disbelief drowned out the country music on the speakers.  A man toward the back said “do y’all mind if I pray?”  Not one person objected.  They may have been Jewish or Baptist, Methodist or Buddhist they may have been Muslim but they all bowed their heads and prayed with that man in the back.  We asked for peace and safety for those in the towers, we prayed for those poor souls on the plane and we prayed for ourselves. 

When he finished his prayer not a soul made a move.  Not a soul left that store in the middle of the swamps.  We all stood and watched, wondering if we were safe.  More reports came.  They had bombed the Pentagon, there was a plane down in Pennsylvania.  They were going to crash into the White House.  They were going to take out Wall Street. 

We watched as people covered in white ash and blood ran from those burning collapsing towers and brave first responders and heroes ran toward them.  We watched as helicopters flew over the crash site and reporters spoke in excited voices from the fringes.  We watched, we wept and we wondered.  What happens now?

I slowly made my way out to my car and pickup my mobile phone.  I called my mom and my dad and told them I loved them.  I called my daughter and we cried together.  I called my office and told my co-workers I loved them and told them all to be safe.  I wanted those I loved to know it and feel it. 
I eventually made it to New Orleans.  Late for my appointment but the client didn’t care.  We were all in shock.  I got to my hotel in the French Quarter.  The desk clerk looked shell shocked.  People, zombie-like, moved through the machinations of their day.   The bellman led me to my room and helped me with my bags.  I tried to tip him but he refused.  Life was different.

In twenty-minutes time, life had changed.  People were unsure and humbled.  The vitriolic rhetoric of retribution had not yet started.  We were just trying to sort through the terror and strife.  I sat in my room watching hour after hour of reports from New York.  People looking for loved ones and first responders looking like ghosts reporting both good news and bad. 

Then came the awful replays of bodies jumping from eighteen stories up and those towers falling.  They played clips of a burning field detailing the crash site and the Pentagon scorched and gaping. 
As I made my way to dinner that evening I noticed people were more polite, a little friendlier and ignoble. 

Where were you on 9-11-01?


1 comment:

Unknown said...

I was driving to work when the first plane struck the tower. As I entered Lytle Tunnel in Cincinnati, I remember noticing how brilliant blue and clear the sky was. Absolutely perfect. I was unaware of what had happened as the elevator doors opened into our lobby where a TV reported the initial story. The reporter was saying it was likely an accident; that a small aircraft had struck the tower in a tragic accident. I watched for a few minutes and went on to my desk. After settling into my work area, I went back to the lobby in time to see the second plane strike the second tower. Now it was unmistakable. This was no accident; this was a deliberate act. Was it terrorism? I turned my radio on to listen to the updates as I worked. Then the Pentagon was hit. Then Flight 63 went down in the fields near Shanksville, PA. My closest friend called me to ask if I was OK. We just stayed on the phone not saying a word; only hugging through the phone lines; comforting each other, not saying a word. Halfheartedly I went about my daily tasks only wanting to escape the city and go home. Home to my rural, peaceful, safe existence. This feeling did not leave me for several months. Only when I was home did I feel safe. Each day I traveled to the city to my job counting the hours and minutes until I could escape to the safety of my home in the country. So often now, when to Fall sky is that brilliant, clear blue, that feeling of sadness and mourning returns. I will never forget.