This may end up being a little long, but I'm writing this for me.......not necessarily for you.......I have never really went back and tried to recall how I felt that day. I don't know that I ever wanted to recall it. I have avoided the TV today. But alas the ActiveRain community has shared some of their personal experiences from that day and it has persuaded me to write about it, with a last push from Jonathan.
relatively fresh out of college I had taken my first "real" job with a store planning firm. We did remodels for big box retail stores. On this particular morning our crew of 20 was finishing up a reset in a Lowes Hardware store. We worked nights doing these resets as not to disturb the paying customers. I did this sort of thing during the summer all through college and landed the job rather easily upon graduation. Of course, any job at that point is welcome but working nights has it's toll. It must have been about 5:30am Pacific Time when the first of the daytime Lowes employees started to roll into the store. I was at the front submitting my reports to the Lowes corporate office back in North Wilksboro North Carolina. I would normally fax in the reports then follow up with a phone call. I can remember the face of the employee who was the first one to walk through the door that morning. He looked like a ghost. He had been at home 5 minutes before that watching the news of the first plane that had hit. As not to be late for work he hurried to the store while listening to the radio. Just like most of us, his first impression was that a small plane had hit one of the Trade Towers. I remember him saying "those towers can take anything, remember back when they tried to set the bomb off inside?" The look on his face though belied what he must have been feeling.
At this point it seemed like a relatively minor situation, a case of bad piloting, possibly some lunatic trying to end their own life. Little did I know that it was something so much more sinister. Regardless, since I was in charge of the group doing the remodel, I hastily gathered everyone up and we did the quickest morning clean up we had ever done. And we headed back to our hotel.
Upon getting to the hotel I immediately headed for my room. I skipped the normal morning dinner (or whatever you call the last thing you eat before going to bed when you work nights, I never quite figured that out). Doing a remodel on a store that has been around for ten years, you can imagine the kind of dirt and grime that accumulates on, behind, and under just about everything. Every morning coming home I would be filthy. The first thing I would need is a shower, not this morning. I needed to know what was happening.
This was the first moment that I caught a glimpse of the actual Towers. By the time I had arrived at the hotel, the second plane was moments from hitting. I turned on the TV and listened as the anchor was relaying eyewitness accounts of the first plane hitting. It was in fact a commercial airliner. I remember wrestling with the thoughts of if it was a terrorist act. At this point, the grime got the best of me, I had to wash my hands.......as I made my way to the sink and turned the water on the second plane hit. I didn't see it, I can vaguely recall the newsman on the TV saying something to the effect of "oh my god" as I stood at the sink. I didn't want to look around the corner at the TV again. What could have happened that this newsman would say that after what had already happened?
I was now glued to the TV. When something happens in my life that would normally illicit tears, my dike doesn't break until I talk. My eyes well up and my throat gets the worst lump in it (just like the one I have right now). At this point, it was now all too clear that our great country was the target of an attack. An attack on our own soil that no one alive had seen. This was not the Japanese attacking a military installation. These were terrorists attacking innocent Americans. Why? Who would do this? I have the images of the smoke billowing from both towers burned in my memory. I must have flipped through every channel ten times trying to get the most up to date information. No one had it, no one knew what was going on. There were reports coming in from everywhere.
My mind was so full of thoughts. I remember thinking about the people stranded in the towers above the explosion. As the news gave details of what floors appeared to have been hit, my mind calculated how many stories were above that, how many people were on each of those floors. I was on the math team in high school, it didn't matter, my mind would not, could not add the numbers up. One of the stations showed pictures of people jumping from the floors above. I could not fathom this, yet what other options did they have? Still no tears. That lump in my throat bigger than I have ever felt it.
The next thing I remember is that first tower coming down. There were no words for it. Aaron Brown was the anchor on CNN I believe. I remember him from his days on KIRO TV in Seattle. How can someone prepare to televise to the world something this horrific? One can not. As the consumate professional though, he reported it as he saw it. I can't recall a word he said as that tower came down, not one. I don't know that he said a word. What was there to say? We were watching on live TV the most horrific event ever to be televised. Words had no place. They say a picture can say a thousand words.......yet there were none to be spoken.
I've read it from almost everyone else.......it felt surreal. This can not be happening. There was no way to rationalize it. A sane person could not comprehend what they were seeing. There was absolutely no way. To this day I can not comprehend what these terrorists did. I will never be able to comprehend it. How could 16 terrorists take away the safety felt by hundreds of millions? Part of being an American was feeling safe from the kind of extremists that perpetrated this act. Not any longer. They took that away from me. I can remember sitting there thinking this as reports continued to rush in about the state department, the Pentagon, the White House, the Capital building. I imagine for a moment I was looking at this as a "what if". What if this happened, how would I feel.
It felt like almost immediately I turned my thoughts to my family, my girlfriend. It wasn't almost immediately. I sat on that bed playing the "what if" scenarios through my head for an hour. Only it wasn't "what if", it was "what now?"
Now I am from Washington State. Not the most obvious place for a terrorist attack, but in some ways a symbol for the thriving international trade that takes place from our Seattle Tacoma seaports everyday. They wouldn't dare. Would they? As I watched what was unfolding before my eyes, it now appeared they would. How many of these planes were unaccounted for. At one point there were quite a few. 15 planes unaccounted for, 12 planes, 10 planes..........None of my family works in an area that would be an obvious target, but my girlfriend worked in a building right next to the Columbia tower. The Columbia Tower is the tallest building west of the Sears Tower. If they were striking at symbols of our thriving economy surely this would be a target on the west coast. Now at this time I still hadn't talked to anyone. Not a tear shed. I didn't know if I could speak, my throat felt like I had a basketball lodged in it.
"Brenda, are you ok?" I asked as my girlfriend answered. "what are you talking about, you just woke me up, what's the matter?"
I had lost it. I couldn't tell her what was the matter. I didn't know what was the matter. I still hadn't pieced together that nearly 3000 people had lost their lives. I sat there on the phone sobbing as she continued to ask me what was the matter. "Turn on the TV", I said. We sat on the phone for 5 minutes without either of us saying a word. Now she knew what was the matter. My girlfriend was never one for holding back a tear. She would cry if her soup was cold at the deli. But even she couldn't shed a tear over what she was seeing. Not yet anyways. "This is surreal" she would say. "But it's not, baby, it's real and it's happening right now in America". She couldn't fathom what she was seeing. Even when I got off the phone with her, I just sat in my room crying. Greater thinkers than I have written about why tragedies affect us when we are not directly touched, and now a whole new generation of Americans would understand. Not many of us can explain it, but we understand.
I didn't personally know anyone that lost their life that day. I have many friends who knew someone. One of my dear friends lost her uncle that day. But I did lose something that day very personal to me as an American. I lost my sense of safety. I would get it back in the days and months and years to come, but for some the return has not been as swift.
I have flown all over the world and to this day, not once do I complain or gripe when I have to take my shoes off in line at the airport. Not once have I complained when they pull me aside and check my luggage by hand. Not once did I question why they wouldn't let me take my nail clippers on board (ok, maybe once on that one). I understand why. In Asia back in 1999 they would search your bags by hand for everything that you carried on the plane. Men with machine guns would do the searching, I now understund why, but I still don't understand how hate could fester in someone so deeply that they could convince others to do this sort of thing as an answer to what they see wrong in the world.
Since that day, this is the first time I have looked back thinking of myself. It seemed so meaningless, who cares what I was doing when this happened when there were thousands of Americans grieving over the most unimaginable end to so many promising lives. I don't know that I will ever look back again on how I felt that day, but everyday I think about how America has changed. It has, I have to. Thanks ActiveRain for allowing me a forum to recall how I felt that day and God bless America and everyone that came to her defense that day and every day since then.