The sky was clear and blue - the sort that makes you stop and take a good long look, a good deep breath. I don't remember what I wore, whether it was short-sleeved or long, and I don't remember what the temperature was outside. I remember that sky, though, and how beautiful it was.
I listened to Howard Stern on 100.5 The Fox on my drive to work, as I did every weekday morning. I would get mad and have to turn it off sometimes, particularly when he was spanking naked women with dead fish, but 85% of the time, Howard amused me. I pulled into the strip mall where our office was located and parked in one of our designated spots just before my assigned start time of 8 a.m.. I was 21 years old, and this was my first office job; I was a "Legal Coordinator" for a company that gave high-interest car loans to people with bad credit. My job was to skip trace the ones who didn't pay, then prepare the paperwork so we could sue them. I also handled all communication between our office and the attorneys who worked for us. I made $8 an hour and thought I was pretty awesome. (Except sometimes I'd be skip-tracing and come across a debtor whose credit report was 5 pages long, all full of medical bills due and owing to oncologists and clinics - my heart broke a little and I moved on to the next name on my list. Those people had enough to worry about without getting hassled by some loan shark.)
I'd been at my desk probably 30 minutes when our general manager came in with Starbuck's for everyone, and casually mentioned that an airplane had struck the World Trade Center. I, of course, was an expert on flying, seeing as how I was sort of on a break with the pilot I'd been dating for the last 10 months, and quickly listed off things that could've gone wrong causing that pilot to make such a terrible error. We didn't have a television in the office - we weren't aware that New York had the same clear-blue skies we were seeing in Kentucky that morning. We talked of weather conditions and instrument failures - and then the GM's wife called his cell phone and told him a second plane had struck the second tower.
"There's no way that was an accident," I stated the obvious, still the flying expert.
We still had no television. We all rushed to our computers, to CNN.com, to whatever web page we could find, desperate for information. Remember how slow the internet was ten years ago? My phone has faster load speeds now, and I compare it to dial-up on the regular. Not only was the internet slow on a good day, but on this day, with the world crashing to a halt, it was useless. Pages wouldn't load, websites were frozen, and the ones you could access had nothing to share other than that same image of both towers with gashes in them and smoke pouring out.
I don't remember when I heard about the plane hitting the Pentagon, but my blood ran cold when the news reached me. Kat. Kat was in the Army, stationed near Washington, D.C. Was my friend safe? I typed out a hasty email - something to the effect of "I know you're probably busy, but please let me know you're okay as soon as you can." I heard back from her pretty quickly; she was on base, which was on lockdown, and she was safe. Sort of. If you call being huddled in a windowless room with your co-workers, scared for your life every time you hear a fighter jet overhead, safe. No one knew who was safe at that point.
I took a smoke break and went out to my car and turned on Howard. He was in New York, after all. There were dozens of reports of planes hijacked and missing; the world was in chaos. There was an order to ground all planes. The towers fell.
Bob. My ex-husband, Bob. He was my sort of on a break pilot boyfriend Bob, at the time. He was in the air somewhere, flying from Michigan to Indiana to Michigan. Was he safe?
Momma. I want my Momma. I called her, told her I needed a hug. I left the office and went to the grocery up the street. The driver of every car I passed looked shell-shocked. The world felt silent. The piped-in Musak in the grocery seemed to have been muffled somehow, as with a pillow. The strangers I met in the aisles all looked at me with the same pleading gaze I had on my face - we wanted desperately for someone to tell us this wasn't real, this wasn't true, this wasn't happening. Everyone was kind and gentle with one another - we were all very scared, we were all very vulnerable, and we were all very conscious that we all felt the same way.
I bought my lunch and went to Momma's office. It was the first time I saw images of the devastation, the first time I saw the planes hit, the first time I saw those buildings fall in on themselves. Momma's co-worker joined us for our meal, and we all held hands and prayed before we began eating. My food had no taste, my body had no appetite.
I went back to work. By now it was considered official that some assholes in the Middle East were responsible for this, and that meant gas prices were about to sky-rocket. My boss sent us each one at a time to the gas station up the road, where we waited in line for 45 minutes to fill our tanks for whatever the price was that day - $1.35 or some other unbelievably low number. We didn't work a full day.
The small suburb in which I grew up, Jeffersontown, hosts a festival every year called Gaslight. The county-fair-like rides are set up the Saturday before, then there's a parade on Thursday, and the festival kicks off at noon on Friday and goes through Sunday evening. On my drive home that afternoon, a sign on the edge of a ballfield announced that Thursday evening's parade was cancelled. It struck me as odd at first, but then I understood, and the enormity of what was happening rolled over me again.
The gas stations I passed on my way home displayed prices as high as $5.35. A year later, when the Gaslight Parade did happen, flyers were passed around, listing all of the stations that had raised their prices immediately after the attacks and publicly shaming them for gouging their fellow Americans. Most of those stations were out of business or under new ownership before the next year's parade.
Eventually I talked to Bob. He'd been forced to land in Ft. Wayne, IN and was staying at a motel across from the airport until the no-fly restrictions were lifted. He'd finally gotten in touch with his mother, and she'd driven to his apartment to rescue Jack, the Jack Russell/Rat-Terrier mix Bob and I had adopted "together" 6 months before. I later learned Bob, who had somehow managed to convince himself that he was really good at hiding from his parents the fact that he was a pack-a-day smoker, had left an ashtray out on his coffee table, and his mom had seen it. She said to him, "I'd rather you smoke marijuana than smoke cigarettes." Of course, that was convenient, seeing as how he was a pilot and all, and they are drug tested like every other week. Bob was stuck in Ft. Wayne for 3 days, without a change of clothes or underwear, without cash, without the ability to cook a meal, without a toothbrush. He washed his socks and boxers in the sink in his room; the hotel supplied missing toiletries; strangers made sure he ate.
I didn't watch much television coverage. My Momma was glued to the TV. I remember how proud I was of her when she called and donated $50 to the Red Cross.
I stood outside. It was so quiet. No planes. Very few cars - everyone who was able huddled in their homes with their loved-ones. I went to the bar. Commiserated with my other drunk friends. Tried to get a buzz, but couldn't. It was just too horrible.
We wore red, white, and blue for the rest of the week. I bought a magnetic American Flag and affixed it to my car trunk.
When the flying ban was lifted and Bob was able to get back to Michigan, he hopped in his truck and drove straight to my Mom & Dad's house. He arrived Friday afternoon, right after I got home from work, and told me to pack a bag and we went to a hotel for the night. The next day, he went through my phone and we fought because of a name he found there. He got on his knees in front of me and, with tears in his eyes, asked me to move to Michigan, to live with him, to share my life with him. I told him I would, but only if we married within a year. I moved to Michigan the next month, and married Bob at the beginning of the following summer.
I make rash decisions when I'm emotionally vulnerable.
It's hard to remember what the world was like before. I didn't fly commercial back then, so nearly all of my airport experiences have involved taking off my shoes and being randomly selected for additional screening. What were the major political talking points, if they haven't always been terrorists and wars? Did I really only pay $0.98 a gallon for gasoline?
And that's just my sheltered little life. When I try to imagine what this day must mean to women my age, living in a war-torn country on the other side of the world...how their lives surely have changed, because of something they did not cause and could not control and cannot stop...
I don't. I don't try to imagine it, because I'm terrified of it.
My TV is off today. I can't immerse myself in the awfulness.
Today, I'm making crock pot potato soup and laundry detergent and homemade Febreeze and dishwasher detergent. And I'm going to go visit my brother. And then Stacy's coming over for soup and I'm going to try this sopapilla cheesecake recipe I found on Pinterest for dessert.
Today, I'm going to spend my time doing things I enjoy with people I love. I'm not letting the terrorists win.