Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering 9/11 From the Midwest

I remember September 11, 2001, as the day that I started listening to talk radio. Up until that day, I always listened to music--unless I was listening to the Reds or Ohio State football. In fact, I'm sure I was clicking between music stations that morning during my 90-minute drive into work.

The New York City skyline as I grew up picturing it.

It was a Tuesday morning after all, and I always took advantage of our flex time to beat the Cincinnati traffic in the morning and evening by getting in at 7 a.m. and leaving by 3:30 p.m. There's something very quiet and productive about getting into the office 2 hours before most of your co-workers. I'm 100% sure that on that day nearly all my work was done by 9:30.

I didn't watch the clock, but maybe a little after 9 that morning is when I first heard about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. Since I wasn't involved in the discussion, I just immediately assumed that they were talking about a small Cessna or something. After all, those little planes seem to crash every so often. No one stopped by my cube, so I just kept working under that assumption.

Maybe around 9:20 or so, I first heard the word "attack," but again, I was safely tucked away in my cube. So I jumped on CNN's website, and this is when I knew something weird was happening, because the site would not load. I tried a few other news websites, but they weren't loading either. My guess has always been that the traffic volume was crashing the sites. Eventually, I tried ESPN, and there were the Twin Towers with smoke billowing out. For the rest of my work day, ESPN is where I got my news on the attacks.

The last moments of the Twin Towers.

The rest of the work day was a blur. Somebody found a TV that I didn't watch. Video didn't stream online back then. So I actually did not see anything in motion until I got home that evening. However, rumors were in motion all day. First, New York was attacked and the Pentagon. Pennsylvania was attacked. People started claiming that attacks were under way in Florida and California. Of course, not everything panned out, but our world suddenly seemed more vulnerable.

When I left work, I remember walking out to my car in a surreal fog. Everything was so perfect outside, but I almost felt lost or out of place. I turned on the radio and that's when it started. I felt the need to know what was happening, and that's when I located NPR. It would be months before I started listening to music on the radio again.

On my 90-minute drive home through the city, then through the suburbs, and ultimately through Ohio farm country, I just kept looking up at the sky. It was blue. No birds. No clouds. No planes. It's like everything was grounded for the day.

At the time, my first wife and I were staying at her parent's house while our house was being built on the other side of the lake. (We'd move in a few weeks later.) When I got inside, I finally saw footage of the planes crashing into the towers. I watched it over and over again. I watched them fall down. I watched people jump. I watched people run. I watched people walk around in a daze.

My first born son, Ben, was two months old. He spent the first two weeks of his life in ICU, and now I wondered what kind of world I'd brought him into. We were under attack, and it seemed like only the beginning. Then, a huge explosion outside shook me to life.

My father-in-law, an ex-Marine, and I looked at each other and ran outside. Our neighborhood was filled with propane tanks, and my first thought was that one had exploded. We were under attack. I felt my stomach sink and thought, Here we go.

But when we got outside, I didn't see any smoke or fires. I didn't see men with guns and bombs strapped to their chests. I didn't see anything. Then, my father-in-law nudged me and nodded up. There were two jets speeding across the empty blue sky.

We'd heard a sonic boom when they broke the sound barrier. That was the end of our excitement for the day. I admit I had trouble getting to sleep that night. I kept imagining that terrorists would start the second wave at any moment.

Over the coming weeks and months, I saw all the vulnerable spots and targets that I would hit if I were a terrorist. I didn't feel safe on bridges or near the GE factory. The sky suddenly seemed more ominous. The world around me was the same as it had always been, but everything had somehow changed.


These are my memories of 9/11/01. If you wish, you can share your memories below. Or check out these places that are sharing thoughts on a day when so much changed for so many:
  • Poetic Asides. On my poetry blog, I've invited poets (after the suggestion of Bruce Niedt) to share poems they've written about 9/11 (old or new). 
  • Writer's Digest with Brian Klems. Brian shared his story of that day. He and his future wife were working and living in Chicago at the time.
  • Let's Keep Rolling. Rick Reilly of ESPN remembers Flight 93 (the one that ended up in a field in Pennsylvania).
I'll probably add more links as well throughout the weekend. If you know of any, please send me an e-mail or leave a comment below.


Denise said...

I also made a blog post of my memories of 9/11.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Thanks for sharing, Denise! Nice post.

Diana said...

My husband phoned me seconds after the first plane crashed into the first tower. I rushed into the living room and turned on the TV. I saw the tower collapse in real time, and then the second plane crash in real time. I felt as if my own body had come apart from my brain and all the parts were floating around (this is actually called dissocation, a kind of psychological shock.)

I stayed glued to the TV all day and I prayed all day. And all day I kept thinking of another day that seemed as bad in its own way. November 22 1963. On that day I was 9 years old. I was sitting up on the wide window sill in our kitchen looking out at the fields beside our house. And Mom turned up the radio. President Kennedy was just shot. Oh no! All day, and for days after there was talk that the event may somehow cause World War 3.

As I watched the twin towers crash down I remembered the fears I had in 1963 and had the same thoughts in 2001. Would this precipitate another world war? To young people these thoughts may seem weird, but growing up in the shadow of WW2 and in the midst of the Cold War the thought of WW3 was never far away.

I praise God that we have not been pushed into another world war, though I think there are times we have come close. And I praise God that though 9/11 was terrible and I grieve for the lives lost, really, when we compare our lives to those in places like Africa and Afghanistan we are very blessed.

I also praise God for how the people of America (I am Canadian) rallied together to respond and support one another.

Unknown said...

My son was 2, and I remember worrying about what kind of world he would grow up in, too. Thanks for sharing. This is my first time here, so I look forward to visiting again :)

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Thank you for sharing, Lori and Diana. I find it's helpful (for me anyway) to remember that the world has always been a dangerous place. Our opportunity is to make it better in our own ways.