Sunday, September 11, 2016

I Already Had An Emergency to Solve; Then Sept. 11 Happened.

Funny, but I am not sure I've ever written it all out. Maybe it took a few years. I know details and chain of events are smudged. I think this is a pretty good combination of emotion, effort at factual recitation, and enough years to try to do both.

The day recalls the reality. The truth unfolded slowly as we attempted to live our normal lives.

I had an important meeting. It wasn't about money or regulations. It was about what I and the State of Texas and CPS was going to do about a mother with three kids under 3 who were temporarily living with a couple of really hands on, interfering Good Samaritans.

And they were good samaritans. If they hadn't taken her in, as part of what they saw as Christian duty and love, she and hers might have been separated with the kids in foster care.

She wanted to pack up her and hers--including an incredible amount of stuff she had gotten from local charities--and head for family in Arkansas, just over the state line. The couple would have to pay for some of it.

It was a life-changing decision and it had to be made today. Otherwise, and maybe anyway, the state of Texas would do its meager best to care for the whole family. And I was very worried.

No matter what, you don't miss a meeting like that.

I got up earlier than usual to drive to the home, about 45 minutes from home. I always listened to Dallas Radio KVIL news and music.

As I dressed, Andy McCollum, news manager, said something about a plane hitting the US Trade Building Tower.

"What was that?" Jody Dean asked. (I remember his saying this after the first crash, not the second. I may be wrong.) My memory says McCollum answered he didn't know, maybe a small plane.

I do remember the small plane comment, but maybe Dean asked "what was that" after the second crash. In Dallas, they still had no information. It was evident something truly bad was going on.

I thought, "terrorists!" But who? From where?  Was I simply panicking?  That unknowing remains a remembered frustration. I wondered if I were simply freaking out.

SOMETHING BAD was happening in New York. I had a family in Denton County to settle. I got in my car and drove. Maybe it wouldn't affect me much, but be something horrible somewhere else.

The third plane hit the Pentagon.

I screamed at my radio. "What is happening?" and I didn't know. I kept driving.

We were under attack. By then I knew that. But I didn't know who was attacking. And that made it even more frightening.

I don't know the sequence when Flight 93 crashed, or we started hearing what happened. Was it before or after the government ordered all planes to land? I think after. Some reports of portable phone messages from Flight 93 appeared. Also the info of scrambled US fighter jets. I drove on a highway parallel to DFW airport and saw some planes land, and I thought, "Those are the last planes I will see in the sky for awhile." And I was right. It would be four days, I think. It was surreal.

 I was a journalist for many years. When I heard about the crash in Pennsylvania, I was not only broken-hearted, but even then, relieved. I wonder if we will ever publically acknowledge these heroes for more than foiling further attack. US fighter jets would have had to destroy them, which would have done irreparable damage to our spirit as a country, but it would have had to be done.

I reached my destination. They let me in, and they had the TV on. The mother was restless, excited with the action, more so when the buildings came down. At that time I feared maybe 50,000 were dead. I saw the people jump. I saw the people run in the smoke and dust. I saw the police and firemen--I guess--I've never heard of a woman on those teams. I watched them almost swagger as they marched in to help, and then to die.

So much more was going on, some I didn't hear for years, like the private boats ferrying people out of the chaos and morass.

For the first time, we had a national catastrophe on television for everyone to see almost from the first minute. It was horrifying. It was riveting.

When the buildings fell, the couple, the mother and I prayed. We choked back our tears. We pulled our socks up, and then we had our meeting. I think, actually, we made some good, rational decisions. All of us were satisfied. By the time I left, it was almost noon.

I stopped by Kentucky Fried Chicken for a take-out order, which I often did. (2 pieces dark meat and cole slaw, iced tea.) The woman I saw so often was there, and I realized what a hard morning I had had, and knew she had too, but she had to keep working all the way through.

For the first time, I asked a personal question.

"Are you okay? " I asked.

"I'm doing all right," she answered, then her face crumpled. "But it's hard, you know?" She shoved my sack over, credited my debit card. I kept eye contact, I nodded. I said,"I know." 
And I watched her pull herself together for the next customer.

Staff without morning appointments had been watching the television in the staff room. They had left to eat.

I sat with my KFC lunch and tea. I ate. And I continued to find out what was going on. If I filled out more agency forms and narrative the rest of the day, I don't remember it.

It was the next day before we had a clue who the enemy was.

Like so many others, I had never heard of Osama bin Laden before, nor Al Quada. When I did, it wasn't real.

We had been attacked, as surely as the bombing of Pearl Harbor. But we didn't know who. We didn't know where they lived or were. We had no idea how to strike back.

The emptiness of it. The sheer tragedy of malignant action with no way to strike back or retaliate.

In the recorded history of the world, did that ever happen before?

I don't think so.

And that made it all the more frightening and frustrating. National leaders handled it well.

President Bush said, "They win if you cower in your homes."

That helped. So we continued to live, and go about.

Maybe we hugged a little more.

I remember Johnny (my ex-husband) insisting that all of us get together for a meal together, crowded into a booth at a local Italian restaurant. He insisted we take the time to celebrate each other, and that we loved each other. While he and I were friendly, this was unusual.

He was right.

One of my sons wrote today it was the single worst day of his life. I thought about it. Was it the worst day for me? Well, not quite.  Because no one I knew personally died. Disaster is extremely personal.
Living in Dallas as a college student when President Kennedy was shot was personal in so many ways. Dallas was affected deeply. I don't remember hearing a single laugh for 3 days.

My father's death when I was 19 was another deep blow. I developed a deep impatience with funeral processions then, looking out the window of the funeral limousine as cars pulled over or tried to get past when we headed for the cemetery. We were a grieving family, and the world was getting larger and more populous. I thought the custom was ridiculously self-important for modern cities.
I have not changed my mind.

Both events greatly changed my expectations from the world, and those changed expectations indeed shaped my life. Sept. 11 horrified, frightened, and grieved me. It did not disillusion me.

That had happened earlier.

This is personal. I am not commentating on the world.



clairz said...

Powerful writing. Such memories.

I read in this morning's newspaper that high school students now have no personal memories of 9/11. Of course.

On that morning, my husband and I were at work in New Hampshire. My son, Ben, had just left for work on a subway to Manhattan. It took many long hours for us to find out that he was okay. I just wanted us all to be in the same room together.

What I remember is what Ben said about that day. It was a beautiful blue sky day when he went down into the subway. The planes crashed into the Twin Towers during his train ride. When he came up the subway stairs, the whole world had changed. Taxis were pulled over with their radios turned up and their doors open so everyone nearby could hear the news reports. Strangers (in New York!) were embracing each other and walking together holding hands. Nothing was the same.

charlotte g said...

That's an amazing story. Unique. He was so aware. I said the Kennedy assassination affected me more in a way. Classmates had invited me to go downtown to see the President. I scornfully refused. I went on to another class. I came out to see people sitting in cars, listening to their radios. I heard someone say, "This means Lyndon Johnson will be president," and it didn't make sense. I ran. I ran several blocks to the dorm, and went straight to the television. I still remember when his death was announced, I said, "No, no", and backed away. A kitchen worker was the only other person in the room, and we hugged. I was 19. My father had died just two months before.