Every generation has that moment. That one event they all share in common. One that can immediately bond you in conversation, even with the strangest of strangers.
For my mother it was “Where were you when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated?”
The teacher’s room in a staff meeting with a cranky principal.
For me, coming of age in the 80’s it was “Where were you when the space shuttle Challenger blew up?” Hovering in the doorway of a high school classroom where the launch was being shown. I’d seen every launch and I wasn’t about to let something as pesky as an AP history class stand in my way this time.
September 11, 2001, was a beautiful, crisp fall day. I had just returned from dropping my daughter at her in-home day care. I was in my home office filtering through email and to-do lists making a plan for the day. The newsman from the morning show on the country station broke in to 30 minutes of music to tell us that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.
I shook my head. Oh boy some schmuck really did it this time. The music started and I went back to my tasks.
The newsman came back again. Seems he was somewhat of an aeronautics aficionado and he really thought the tail sticking out of the North Tower was too big to be a Twin engine plane as first reported. It looked to him to be a commercial airliner. That’s it, it was time to head downstairs and turn on the TV.
I had no clue. No one did.
Before I could get downstairs, and get the TV on, a second plane flew into the South Tower. Oh my God. This wasn’t an accident.
A friend called just to chat. Turn on NPR I told her. This is bad. She didn’t believe me but obliged me. I watched the TV, she listened soon we were sharing bits of information.
I disconnected from her with a promise to call, her back. I had to tell my husband. I knew he was heading into a meeting. I caught him just in time. My voice broke as I told him the news. It was a small office and they tried to load web pages, but the Internet was brought to its knees by the sheer volume of requests.
We disconnected so he could learn more with a promise to stay in touch. He worked in Boston and by then, we knew that both planes had originated from Logan International Airport. Were we next?
Shortly after that I screamed at the TV as I listened to Peter Jennings babel as the South Tower collapsed. PAY ATTENTION I screamed. It was all happening so fast, I needed SOMEONE who knew what was going on. No one did. No one could have.
Husband called. They gave up on the Internet and were headed to Foley’s, the local watering hole to watch the coverage on TV.
Oh my God there was a third plane and it hit the Pentagon.
There was talk of a fourth plane. But no one could confirm it.
Got my friend back on the phone. We didn’t say much, but occasionally shared bits of data from our alternate sources. I sat in the middle of the coffee table tears streaming down my face hugging a pillow. We were making lists of people we knew in New York City. Hers was much longer than mine.
In what was the only bright moment of the day, my MIL called. Looking for Husband.
“He’s gone to Foley’s”.
“It’s a little early for a beer isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but that’s the only place with a TV.”
“Oh right. I want the three of you to come up here.”
I’m was not going anywhere until we knew what is going on.
Husband called. He was on his way home. Would I pick him up at the subway? Not long after that, the MBTA, announced free service and the Mayor encouraged businesses to release employees to go home to their families.
As I’m made my way to the car, a black thought occurred to me. My husband just got on a subway. We are under terrorist attack. No one knew what is really happening. The military had scrambled every jet on the East Coast. The FAA had grounded all flights. Police forces and Fire Stations everywhere put all staff on high alert. My mind did cartwheels as the possibilities banged around my head. I forced the maybes out of my brain and focused on getting to the station. It was a zoo and I’ll admit, my heart was in my throat as I waited. Finally his blonde head appeared. He was on the phone with his mother, assuring her we’d be up as soon as it was safe.
We picked up our daughter on the way home. By then, it was nap time. We sat on the couch watching the coverage until she woke up. Then, the TV went off and we went for a walk in the local park.
It was a beautiful, crisp fall day.