Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 11, 2001

 I don't usually use this space to talk about myself, and I haven't used it much at all lately (too much work), but I can't let today pass without commenting on the aay that changed all our lives. Ten years ago today, on September 11, 2001, I was sitting in the Southwest Airlines terminal at Corpus Christi International Airport waiting to board a flight back to Dallas. The Today Show was on - and being a Matt Lauer/Katie Couric junkie - I had my eyes glued to the television. What news was breaking today? What did I need to know about before I went in to work later that day at the Dallas Morning News?

Like many, I couldn't believe my eyes when a plane flew into the World Trade Center right behind Matt's head. I figured someone was filming a movie. It seemed strange that the anchors would have the Twin Towers as a backdrop if someone was filming, but my little experience in TV taught me that anything can happen.When it was announced that terrorists had just flown an American Airlines jet into the Tower and that it was no joke, my heart started racing. I had spent the weekend visiting my mom and stepdad in Corpus Christi and now I just wanted to be home. I needed to be home - and at work, where reporters and editors were starting to scramble. I was a clerk for the Religaion section at the time, but this was all-hands-on-deck, no questions asked. I called my dad in Dallas and told him to turn on the TV. Having spent part of my childhood in New Jersey, I knew that he had friends in NYC and would be worried. A few worked at the Trade Center. He was supposed to pick me up at the airport later that morning. I then called my mom, who had dropped me off at the airport before heading to elementary school where she taught strings. I told her that the flight was delayed, but that she should turn on her classroom TV because someone had flown an AA plane into the Twin Towers. Mark was next on my list. We had been dating less than a month, but there was a definite attachment and he knew I was flying home today. I called my boss last and reported that I wasn't sure when I would make it in, but that I was trying to get home.

For the next hour, Southwest Airlines went back and forth, saying "we're going, then we're staying, we're going in 30 minutes, then we're staying." When the FAA grounded all airplanes, one of my mom's colleagues drove out to the airport and picked me up. We spent much of the morning glued to the television set in her classroom. I don't remember if the school cancelled Specials (strings, band, art, dance) that day, but I don't remember any kids coming into her room. The teachers were all in shock, but they tried to keep appearances up for the kids' sake. It was apparently decided that this was something their parents would need to handle later that day. Eventually, when it was clear that I wouldn't be (and didn't want to) getting on an airplane that day, my mom drove me back out to the airport and with a promise that I'd be reimbursed by the paper, I used my charge card to rent one of the last cars available. A few guys were looking to split a car, but they were headed another direction. I think the car rental agency overcharged me - $500 to rent a car to drive from Corpus to Dallas!! - but I had been told by my boss to "get home now" so I was not in a position to haggle. I don't remember much of he 7-8  hour drive to Dallas, only that NPR ran a continuous stream of news about the attacks. Not much was known at the time, so they repeated the same details over and over and over. Occasionally, they'd learn something new and would report it, but otherwise, it was information about the events that I had unknowingly witnessed on live television. I mostly took the back roads home to avoid traffic, but even those were eerily empty. Everyone was at home or work, glued to their TVs and radios. I thought about heading to I-35, but that would have delayed my return even longer.

I made it home sometime between 8 and 9 p.m. that night and then ran through the calls again: work (don't come in tonight; get some rest and we'll see you tomorrow.), mom, dad, my brother, grandma, Mark. I probably called more people, but I was emotionally and physically exhausted and can't remember much more than that. The next few weeks passed by in a blur, with seemingly endless coverage of the attacks from all possible angles.

Ten years later, I look at my husband, our two healthy girls, and my step-daughter who's about to be married, and say thank you, thank you, thank you, to the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect us that day and every day since then. 

I still wear a sterling silver bracelet bearing the name of a New York City Firefighter who lost his life at the World Trade Center. I purchased the Mercy Band after writing an article for the Religion section on the woman/charity who designed and sold them. I wear it to remind myself and others of what happened that day, but mostly I wear it as a memorial to Michael Cawley. I never met him, but am beyond grateful for his service that day and every day leading up to 9/11/01. When my girls are a bit older, I plan to pull out the brief bio about him and explain why mommy wears the band so often. He is a true hero.

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