11 September 2006

Where Were You When...?

Up until 2001, I often wondered what my generation would have as our "I remember exactly where I was when..." moment. My parents had JFK, my grandparents had Pearl Harbor, but up until five years ago, I wasn't sure what ours would be. We had the Challenger explosion (I was in 4th grade, sitting at the reading table when Mrs. Jenkins came running in the classroom to tell us), the 1989 Loma Prieta quake (I was laying on my bed crying after fighting with my parents), fall of the Berlin Wall (this one I don't remember where I was, sadly) Rodney King (at home sick from school)...these things were all big, but they didn't necessarily make me feel like I was suddenly living in a different world.

Everyone has their 9/11 story...

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was working at a trade show in Atlanta. It was hot and sticky as I walked, in my suit, down to the convention center. I went down to the meeting room where I was to start my working day, my coworker Dan joined me shortly after. We were in a windowless room at the bottom of the center, so really had no idea what was going on around us. Suddenly, one of our editors walked in and told us a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Dan and I were confused...it must have been some commuter plane or something; the WTC was not in the flight path of any airport. The editor called her husband, a reporter for the Atlanta Journal, while I stepped out to go check the Internet. When I came back in, she was on the phone giving us the bullet. Two planes. Not commuter. Another plane at the Pentagon. At the PENTAGON? Our last fortress? This was bad.

The Internet was slow and jammed. My other coworkers started arriving, and hadn't yet heard what happened. We were supposed to go to the Braves game that evening, so they were going to pass out tickets. We still hadn't seen any video, and didn't understand the magnitude. They went up to pass out the tickets, and were back quickly. A client had said there would be no game, and when they finally saw the TV, they understood why. They immediately called back to California and had someone rent them a car in Atlanta to drive home, just in case. Other coworkers struggled to contact their family members (phone lines were all tied up everywhere), some of whom worked/went to school right next to the WTC. We all wondered what would be next. Here we were, across the country, away from our families with no clue when we'd get home.

I didn't see the footage until about 2pm that day. And what I saw devastated me. Then I saw that Atlanta was on the target list, as the Center for Disease Control is there (and right down the street from our hotel). We wandered over to the Hard Rock Cafe, which was short staffed and running out of food...yet everyone was patient. We all just needed to be together. Our boss wanted us to go back to work the next day; most of us couldn't understand. Our boss' daughter was across the street from WTC; I think she needed to keep working to avoid thinking about what could have happened. We watched the news, waiting to hear word of survivors, rarely getting it.

For me, the hardest part was being away from my home. Part of me has always felt that, even though they were scared, those who were home in New York were lucky, they were home and close to people who loved them. I was alone and scared. I had no idea how or when I would get home. And I had no idea what the world I lived in was to become.

I finally made it home on Saturday, two days later than I was supposed to be there, so, not too bad, considering. The check-in and security lines snaked outside of the Atlanta airport, but, despite all the people, it was silent. No complaining, just worried faces making their way through. The military was there with their huge guns. Everyone checked out everyone else in the waiting areas; people of Middle Eastern descent got wary looks. After a few hour delay we got on the plane, quietly. Every bump caused distress, every call button pushed caused wonder. When we landed, you could see the visible relief on everyone's faces.

I was so glad to be home I practically ran through the airport. It was one of the only times I have been met in the airport (usually, if I am picked up, it is outside). I still remember the look of relief on my mom's face when she saw me, and the tightness of her hug when I neared her. I was home, safe; it felt almost selfish, but I was still glad.

It has been five years, and the world is a different place. I don't understand the type of hate that would cause someone to do such a thing. I don't understand how this could be done in the name of a loving God. Maybe I have little faith, but I also have a great love of humanity.

I finally have my "I remember where I was when..." moment; not a day goes by where I wish I didn't.

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