Monday, September 11, 2006

Remembering 9/11

Everyone that I have ever discussed this with has been able to tell me exactly where they were, what they were doing, how they felt . . . .

I remember hearing about the day John Kennedy was shot. It happened before I was born. My family was living in Orlando, FL, and my sister remembers the teachers quickly herding the kids onto buses in the middle of the school day and all of the kids cheering on the bus - they got to go home early. She remembers the bus pulling into their neighborhood, a gathering of cookie cutter tract homes on treeless lots, and seeing all of the mothers outside, crying, waiting for the bus to bring their kids home to safety. She didn't really understand what had happened, she just knew that she got out of school early and that Mama was crying. She remembers seeing John Jr. on the black and white television, saluting. She still didn't understand, but the memories are clear.

It's like that with 9/11, I think.

I can pinpoint the second I realized what was happening. I had just dropped my daughter off at her church preschool, and I was exiting the carpool line, heading back home, my baby boy happily watching the world pass by from the safety of his carseat. I remember noticing as I waited for my turn to exit the parking lot that it was a beautiful day, one of those kind of Atlanta mornings where you begin to feel the coolness of fall approaching, yet you still thank the fading summer for providing flawless, cloudless blue skies . . .

I remember still looking at the sky when my cellphone rang. I dreaded hearing it; it was usually work, and early calls meant problems or firedrills. I was a bit relieved when I heard my friend Frankie on the other line. Frankie was a writer hired a few monts previously, and she and I worked closely together, covering for each other, and we had become good friends. She was a pistol; she was in her 60s, looked way younger, sang torch songs in clubs around Atlanta for fun, and was a conscientious worker that could be counted on in a pinch.

"Rita, have you heard the news this morning?" was the first breathless sentence out of her mouth. Oh shit, I thought . . . layoffs. Before I could answer, she was telling me something crazy about an attack of some kind, and that I'd better not try to come into the office, that I should just get home as quickly as I could. I was kind of stunned . . . surely, she was mistaken. I was thinking about the Oklahoma City bombing, wondering if it could have been as bad as that.

One thing I didn't waste a minute on was U-turning right back to the preschool.

I hadn't been gone 5 minutes, and when I got back, it was a madhouse. Church be damned, people were grabbing their kids and making a run for it. I was still stunned, and little Rachael, so much slower than the other kids, was being jostled by kids and parents alike. I nearly got into a fistfight with one dad that knocked her off her feet, and in true SuperMom style, I grabbed her up with one arm, holding my still calm, chunky baby boy in the other. I didn't really know WHAT the fuck was going on, but I was getting home pronto. People were acting CRAZY.

Once I hit the house, I deposited the kids on the family room floor with toys and Cheerios and clicked on CNN. There it was . . . . over and over . . . the buildings being ravaged by small airplanes . . . unthinkable. And the builings were collapsing, and I couldn't believe my eyes, but it looked like people were jumping . . . that couldn't be, it just couldn't be . . .

It was just surreal. I was alone at home, with the kids, and I was petrified. What if they had targeted other cities? Atlanta's Hartsfield airport was one of the largest in the world, not to mention Lockheed (where they manufacture military aircraft), the World Congress Center, the huge airbase, and several other wide open targets near my house . . . my mind was clicking away at the possibilities. Watching it all unfold on CNN made it feel close, like it was right in the backyard. It wasn't so much fear as self-preservation that seemed to kick in and I wanted my husband home. NOW.

I called him, and he had no idea. His work area was a bit sequestered, and he had just been immersed in his morning's work. He hadn't been there long, and seemed flustered that I was demanding that he leave that moment and come home. I begged him, asked him to just trust me and leave . . . He didn't want to, he hadn't heard anything. I told him that in 30 minutes, the Atlanta highways would be impassable, to leave now and floor it. By the time he got home, the phone was ringing off the hook, and our family was a mess. Hell, the whole fucking country was a mess.

So, here I sit, 5 years later. The radio stations here are all re-broadcasting the 9/11/01 tapes, I'm not really sure why. Do I need to hear them to remember? No, not really. Does it help anything to relive it? I guess it helps those of us that are here to feel as though we are paying respects to those that died, and those that were left behind by those who died.

Anyway, wierd day. Just thought I would comment and commemorate.

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