I was working from home that morning.
My boss had recently approved my request to become an official participant in the company’s telecommuting initiative. Two days a week I got to wake up, roll out of bed, put on a pair of pants and a t-shirt, schlep my lucky-ass to the bathroom for some minimal personal grooming and hygiene, saunter over to the frig for my ritual morning Diet Pepsi, meander my way down the hall to our home-office to boot-up the computer and start working from home for the remainder of the day. Ahhh, man was that nice.
A lot of my friends didn’t like working from home. They found it isolating and difficult to stay on-task, what with all of the diversions that could be found at home, like…not working. Not me. I loved it. My job as a Manager at that time was a tedious one in which I had to harass hundreds of people into complying with their continuing education requirements….
Oh, sorry. I fell asleep there for a second. Yeah, it was that boring. It was constant work in which I had to communicate relentlessly with consultants and update a nasty little program that never worked right every 12 seconds…and well, I got a hell of a lot more done at home than I ever did at the office. I was really disciplined though – and limited myself to sunbathing only once or twice a day at the park along the Chicago River.
We had recently gotten a new puppy. We had a third-floor condo on the far North Side of the city, and while I adored my dog, I wasn’t all that excited about taking her for a walk that morning. She seemed to be okay, not wiggling and barking to go out so I thought I’d assess the damage in my e-mail in-box first before our walk. I looked outside as I clicked on my e-mail and thought “It’s beautiful” and opened the window.
I immediately rolled my eyes at the information contained in the first message from one of those guys who had absolutely no common sense of any kind, shook my head and thought to myself “what an idiot”. I had not turned the T.V. on, and didn’t most mornings at all. It was quiet with my girl laying at my feet. Calm. Birds chirping. Peaceful.
Soon the phone rang. I answered on the second ring with “C.E., may I help you?”, expecting it to be work-related. But it was my sister.
“Do you have the T.V. on?” she asked with anxiety.
“No, why? What’s wrong?”
“I’m driving to work and on the radio they said a plane just flew into one of the World Trade Center buildings.”
“What? Are you kidding?”
“No, turn the T.V. on.”
“Okay, hold on…” and I fumbled around looking for the remote. “What…what kind of plane?” I asked still looking.
“I don’t know, they think it was a commuter plane or something that hit the top of the tower”.
“Holy shit, okay, hold on…”. I had found the remote.
I turned the station to NBC. It was hard to make out what the picture was showing at the time as it was zoomed in and very strange-looking.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Hold on I can’t really tell yet, it looks like paper everywhere.”
“Yeah, wait…” and then the camera zoomed out.
“Oh my God” I said. “That was no commuter plane. It had to be a jet.” I paused. “It looks like a horror movie”.
And she asked me to describe what I was seeing. I told her that there was an enormous, jaw-dropping-gaping hole at the top of the building and smoke and flames pouring out of it. Paper everywhere, like creepy confetti. My sister said she was going to call her husband and we hung up.
I sat down and just stared at the screen with my mouth literally open. It was hard to take in and terrifying to watch. My heart was racing. I was only sort-of listening to the commentators who were only speculating on what happened but were saying the same thing - “jumbo jet sized hole”. What a horrific, horrible accident, I thought.
I called my husband who was at work in Downtown Chicago.
“Are you watching?”
“What?” he asked.
“A plane flew into the World Trade Center in New York. It’s unbelievable”. He said he had just heard someone say something about that and that he’d go to the conference room to see if it was on. We hung up.
I wasn’t aware of how much time had passed at this point, but had gone to the bathroom and walked back into the living room, called my sister back and watched more. It was another tight shot of the gaping hole. Within seconds I saw on the left of the screen a burst of flames. Katie Couric made a stunned comment on it and the camera panned out.
And I stood up and screamed – screamed - “Oh my GODDDDDDDDD!!!!!” as I watched another fireball explode, heard the thunderous kaboom and watched another gaping maw appear in the other tower. More sinister confetti. I kept screaming.
Because that’s when I knew, when Couric and Lauer knew, when everyone knew…that this was no fucking accident.
“What?! WHAT???!!!” she begged.
“Oh my God…another one. Something just hit the other building. Holy shit…oh my God. It’s on purpose…”
I put my hands up to my mouth covering it, but kept whimpering “ohmyGodohmyGodohmyGod…”. We hung up so she could call her husband and her boss; she very suddenly, instinctively felt as if going into work was not a good idea.
It felt kind of like time was standing still. I was pacing feeling increasingly uneasy, like maybe the world was collapsing around us. I called my husband again and told him he should leave the city, because by now T.V. commentators were saying it was another plane and wondering aloud if more planes were headed for more skyscrapers in more cities. I told my husband to leave work.
It honestly felt impossible to grasp the pictures I was viewing on the screen. Now they were showing in slow motion, instant-replays of the ghostly image of a jumbo jet flying directly into the second tower. And by now my puppy desperately needed to be taken outside.
I put her leash on, grabbed my cell-phone and in a daze walked down the stairs with her. It was indeed beautiful outside. Crystal-clear blue sky, perfect balmy weather – but now it somehow seemed cartoonish, surreal.
I walked West on my block which dead-ended at the North Branch of the Chicago River. Before I got there, my cell phone rang. It was my Dad.
“Where are you?” he asked with all the paranoia of a parent needing to know that his child wasn’t somehow in New York.
“I’m walking the dog. Dad……” I said with utter despair.
“Honey, they just hit the Pentagon.” He sounded out of breath, scared, disbelieving.
“What? What!? What do you mean?? Dad…what’s going ON??????” and I stopped dead in my tracks and started to cry.
We all have a story about that day; the “where were you when you heard” story. Such a phenomenon – the indelible, never-to-be-erased imprint of a moment in time into your psyche which can be called upon at a moment’s notice at any point in your life…bringing with it all of the raw emotions and images as if it were recorded and played back for you.
When I watched President Obama tell the world that Osama Bin Laden had been killed, my mouth again literally fell open. I could not believe it.
I was so, so, soooooo fucking…happy.
The next morning it still hadn’t really sunk in. Instead of Sponge Bob for the kids while I got their things ready for school, I put on the news. My kids were annoyed. They really, really, really like Sponge Bob.
I had recently talked with my six-year-old son about 9/11, in a very generic way; that something very bad had happened on that day almost ten years ago and that a really bad man had made it happen. My son is in kindergarten, and he’s always coming home from school and in the two minutes walking from the bus to our house he manages to ask me things like “What happens when you go hunting? What does God look like? Will Dad lose his job like Timmy’s dad lost his?” Kids talk. A lot. About things that you never think of the answers to until it’s on you like white-on-rice. I wanted to be prepared this time. I knew that very likely kids on the bus and at school would be talking about Bin Laden being killed, even if they did not understand the gravity of the fact.
As we were in the bathroom brushing our teeth and hair, I fairly nonchalantly began to…explain. I asked him if he remembered talking about 9/11 a few weeks ago, about what happened that day, and about the man who had caused it. He said yes, that’s when some planes flew into some buildings and killed lots of people. I said, yes, well…last night President Obama went on T.V. to tell us that Osama Bin Laden was dead, and that our soldiers killed him, and that Bin Laden was the very, very bad man who planned the awful things that happened on that day a long time ago. I told him that he might hear kids talking about how happy they are about him being dead.
He asked…”Are you happy he’s dead, Mommy?”
My stomach flipped. I hadn’t prepared for that question. I figured he’d ask about how he was killed, what happens when you die, what did our soldiers do, why did Bin Laden do bad things…but not that.
“Babe”..I said brushing his hair, “It’s never nice to feel happy that someone has died. What we should feel happy about is that the very, very bad man can never hurt anyone ever again”.
What a liar-liar-pants-on-fire answer. I honestly felt guilty about doing the right thing in sugar-coating my response.
But some day I will tell him the truth. I will tell him that yes, I was happy. I was happy to hear he was dead, killed, and killed by our guys.
And I will tell him that sometimes when people are so bad, so evil…we can’t count on justice being served in the hereafter. We have to make sure it’s served here.
It’s a frightening , sad feeling…to feel relief and joy at the death of another human being. But right or wrong, it was another indelibly imprinted snapshot in time for me.
I’m just thankful my son won’t be able to bring up the instant-replay. Either of them.