September 11th, 2001, was just an ordinary Tuesday. It was four days before my wedding, and only about ten days before my honeymoon to Japan. I was hoping the day would go by quickly, I had a lot to do.
Sadly, I had to go to work – back then I was still working full time during the day in the call center, working my way through full time college evenings and weekends.
I don’t know if I had class scheduled that evening. If I did, I know for a fact I didn’t go.
I was listening to the radio, probably on a Walkman-like device since these were pre-iPod days, quality checking how a pile of paper applications for car insurance were processed.
Suddenly, on the radio, there was some confusion. Some talk about something happening in New York. No one was really sure what was happening. They cut to commercial.
Eventually, the radio station would go silent, and be replaced by the news.
Unlike most ordinary Tuesdays, my memories of that day are very, very vivid.
Going To The Cafe
The call center had a cafeteria where we could grab snack, breakfast, lunch, coffee, etc. It also had a television in the corner.
The room was crowded, but silent. Everyone was staring at the TV.
When I looked at it, there was a video of a plane hitting one of the twin towers playing over and over again.
I remember watching for a while, not knowing what was happening. How did a plane hit the towers? They were so big, I don’t know how that pilot missed it and hit the buildings.
Even the newscasters didn’t know what was happening.
Eventually I needed to get back upstairs to work. But slowly the day devolved into chaos. Rumors were flying around about what was happening. Another plane hit the Pentagon. Was there a fire in the White House?
People were crying, panicking. We were not far from New York. We all knew someone who worked or lived there.
We didn’t have access to the internet – not that there would have been too much to see on the internet in 2001. There were no smartphones. The only way to find out what was happening in the world was to listen to the radio, or sneak downstairs and watch TV.
They put TV’s out in the lobby, because the cafeteria was too crowded. Every scheduled break was spent trying to see what was going on in the world. There were silent crowds, just watching.
School started to close, and parents had to leave to go get their kids. People who had family in the military, or family in New York City, also left. Not that many people were calling with questions about their car insurance while this was going on.
Call centers never close. But ours did, eventually, around 3:30 in the afternoon. We were still getting a few sporadic calls from people who wanted to ask about their car insurance.
“HAVE YOU TURNED ON A TV?!?!?!” I wanted to shout at them.
Getting Home and Needing Company
So I got home. My then – fiance, now husband, was not let out of work early and in fact had no access to TV or a radio. I waited for him to come home, watching the news.
By that time, most of the news was the same images over and over again. The towers being hit. Collapsing. The Pentagon smoldering, the plane crash in PA. The recovery efforts underway as day turned into night.
And endless reporting on the rumors of what on earth had happened.
Finally my husband came home and we watched the TV together. A friend, whose parents had recently moved away, came over to be with us and ended up sleeping over.
None of us wanted to be alone.
There were no planes flying in the entire US.
This was going to be a problem for guests who were supposed to be flying to our wedding in four days.
And for flying internationally for the first time in just ten more days.
But on that day, none of that mattered.
The Chaos That Followed
My memories of the days that followed are much more scattered, but no less vivid. After all, I was getting married. And the world was in chaos.
I remember calling my travel agent (yes, those were still a thing) to ask what the heck we should be doing about the flights to Japan. While the planes were still grounded, the first thing she said to me was “no refunds”.
My brother in law had been flying that day. He was in the air as the planes crashed into the towers. Eventually he was grounded over in PA and my in-laws drove hours to pick him up.
Relatives from CA were totally unable to come.
My sister in law from FL was supposed to fly up – and she couldn’t. In our wedding photos, she’s represented by a brick-sized cell phone listening in on our vows.
My mother made small flag-colored pins for us all to wear during the ceremony. The country was pulling together, particularly as we all came to know what had actually happened. We all wanted to show our support for the country, even in a small way.
If you were young on 9/11, or don’t remember it, you won’t know just how much the country really came together. Kids were selling lemonade to raise money for those who were lost. People were sending in so many donations they had to call for them to stop. Everyone just wanted to DO something, and felt so helpless.
Coworkers Lost Relatives
I have two former co-workers who had relatives lose their lives in the towers.
One lost her twin sister. One her brother-in-law, a police officer.
Over the past eighteen years, I’ve met so many people who had close calls, or known people who had close calls. Some were next to the towers, some were in them. Some were supposed to be in them.
But the deaths stay with me, and even though I didn’t know them, I light a candle every 9/11 in memory of them and that day.
In fact, when my husband and I visited the 9/11 memorial in NYC (which I highly recommend if you’re in the city), I found their names.
Guns In Airports
Traveling internationally a week and a half after 9/11 was… interesting. The Army was in the airport, in full uniform, with very large guns.
There was a giant, floor to ceiling tarp hung where the TSA now is. Makeshift security kept people from walking up to the gates. Our luggage for our ten day trip to Japan was hand-searched.
The plane had around five or ten people on it. I was able to nap across the entire middle aisle.
Watching the new in Japan was surreal. We could see the recovery efforts proceeding while we were halfway across the world. The president visited NYC, and we were able to see it all unfold translated into Japanese.
On the flights back to the US, ten days later, we met many people who were JUST getting home from the original grounding of the planes on 9/11. Those planes were packed full as people got home to their families and friends.
Reflection and A Reminder
Today, I hope you’ll take some time to reflect on and remember all those who were lost on this tragic day. I know I will.
And please remember that the unexpected can happen to you, your loved ones, and those you know. If you’re not already prepared for an emergency, today put a reminder on your calendar to start to take steps to get prepared. When the worst happens, you don’t want to be worrying about money.
Readers, what memories do you have from that day? Share in the comments.
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