Where Were You?

I opened my front door to thick humidity.  It seemed to wrap it’s tendrils around my entire body, suffocating me, all the while laughing while doing so.   My first thought, “why did I ever move to Charleston?”   That was 7:30 am on Tuesday morning September 11, 2001.

I was working for a country music radio station selling radio advertising.  I was starting my third month on the job and eager to prove myself.   My thoughts that morning swirled around the copy I needed to write for some commercials, the contracts that needed to be signed, and a list of cold calls that I needed to make in person.   I had on my smart red skirt suit, sleeveless to help relieve the oppressive heat, and black patent leather strappy heels.   I was ready to kick some butts and take names.

I had moved to Charleston earlier in the summer to continue a relationship with my college boyfriend who had gotten a job working for SPAWAR (Space and Naval Warfare).   He did network security so his job had him travelling a lot.   I had just put him on a plane the night before.  He was heading to San Diego, Ca.   He didn’t call me when he landed, since it was much too late, but he did email me once he was in his hotel.  I read that email on Tuesday morning while sipping my coffee.   He said he’d see me in two days.

The radio station I worked for was owned by a company who also owned five other radio stations, the maximum amount at that time for FCC standards.   One such radio station was an all talk, 24 hour news station, so they had tvs set up everywhere in the newsroom.   I’d been there three months and had never seen that room.

We had our normal sales meeting, then met individually with our sales manager on our goals and calls for the day.   My sales manager was eager to get going as he had a flight to catch at noon to NYC.   As I was sitting in his office, his phone buzzed.   “Artie, a plane has hit one of the World Trade Center towers,” another coworker said through the speaker phone.   My manager looked at me and then got up and went down the hall towards the newsroom.   I followed.

Our news reporters and on air personalities were everywhere.   The waves were buzzing with what had just happened.   Was it an accident?  How did it happen?  What kind of plane?   Computers were going crazy and printers were spitting out news reports and eye witness accounts.   Truthfully, none of us thought much of it.

I walked back out of the newsroom, grabbed my satchel and list of morning cold calls and walked out the door to my car.   Instead of heading west on 526, I went east, back towards the little house I was renting on the Ashley River.   I wanted coffee, MY coffee, something better and more potent than the cheap packets our company bought.   I opened the door savoring the blast of A/C as it nearly knocked me off my feet like a dog welcoming me home (strange the things you can remember). I flicked the switch for the television, tuning into the Today Show, before walking into the kitchen to brew some coffee.

I listened to the speculation in the background, heard the news reports and the paranoia.   Conspiracy theories were already abounding.   I rolled my eyes as I poured the coffee into a travel mug.   It was a horrible situation, but I was convinced at that point that it was a mechanical error with the plane.   There was no way this could be intentional, these conspiracy theorists were always looking for something.

I rounded the corner, coffee in hand, into my living room where at that moment an image was forever seared into my brain.   An image I’ve never been able to get to fade.   At that very moment I saw a second jet, an airliner, huge one, slam into the second World Trade Center tower.   My coffee dropped from my hand as the plane exploded into the building.

That is where I was when 9/11 happened.   This event became something I never thought I would experience, a tragedy reserved for my grandparents and parents.   This was my generation’s Pearl Harbor and JFK assassination.  We would forever ask ourselves, “where were you when 9/11 happened?”

We were told that morning to go home, to hug our loved ones.   We were instructed NOT to go see customers and conduct business as usual, because life couldn’t go on as usual, at least not at that point.   I called my boyfriend in California, waking him up, and told him what happened.   I called my mom since I have a cousin and his wife who live in NYC.   I wanted to know if she knew if they were alright.   She said she was trying to reach her brother.

I remember feeling inadequate and helpless as I watched news coverage of these selfless firemen, police officers, and every day citizens, sacrificing their lives to save others.   I wanted to help them.  I wanted to will all of my strength to them.  I wanted to get in my car and drive to NYC.   I could help locate people.  I could make coffee, brings blankets and food.  I needed to do something. After a couple of hours of shock and anger, tears and heart ache, I decided that the least I could do was donate blood.   I stood in line for six hours to donate.   It’s all I could do at that point.

14 years later, I’m raising part of a generation who I hope will never have a 9/11 moment, or a Pearl Harbor, or a JFK assassination.   14 years later, I’m at a place I thought I would never be…a stay at home mother to two boys.   14 years later, I’m having to explain to my oldest about the sheer evil that can be found in our world.   14 years later,  I still find myself shaking the hands of police officers, fire men, soldiers and all first responders for being the heroes so many of us need.  14 years later, I’m still owing a debt to the families of those heroes for their sacrifices in helping to keep me safe.  14 years later, I still get a lump in my throat and a sadness in my heart at the loss of so many lives.

I will never forget.   None of us will ever forget.  It forever changed us.   I like to think it made me stronger.

Davey asked a question this morning after seeing a news report about the tragedy.  I explained to him the evil that’s in the world and how people don’t like our country.   His response?   He went out onto our front porch, where Old Glory flies day in and day out, put his hand over his heart and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.   He then followed that with a prayer for God to help all the evil people in the world.

14 years later and life is still moving forward, something I thought would be nearly impossible on 9/11/01.


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