A Day No One Will Forget

photo by Jane M. Sawyer
September 11, 2001
We all have a story about that day.  We all remember exactly where we were and what was happening. It's like it's etched into our minds.  My story of that day and the few days following isn't anything really noteworthy, but I'll add it to the thousands even millions that will be told...

Earlier that morning, Christopher had come home from work. He worked the night shift at the store, setting ad signs and stocking shelves etc. He got the girls up and sent Corina and Rhiannon off to school. Corina was in 4th grade and Rhiannon had just started Kindergarten.  Faelyn was still at home and in bed, being only 3 years old.  He'd gone on to bed, and I was still asleep. Nice peaceful morning.

The phone rang and woke me up. It was my sister in law, Colleen. She said the country was under attack and to turn on the TV. She'd figured it was a horrible accident after the first plane hit, but then there was the second and when the one hit the Pentagon, she called to make sure we were awake and knew it was happening and told us they loved us and to stay safe. I got off the phone and sat on my coffee table staring at my television. I was in shock.  I thought surely it had to be some trick.  A TV movie, special effects... something to make it not be real.  I tried waking up Christopher, but he was exhausted.  He did wake up enough to watch a little, but went back to sleep. So, I sat there watching it alone.

I watched the towers fall, live on TV.  You know the rest.

I did call my co workers at the shoe store, the two little old ladies I worked with.  They already knew and had been listening to the radio.

I remember a couple hours later, I went outside and looked up. It was truly one of the most gorgeous days. Barely any clouds in the sky.  Just the pretty white wispy ones here and there. And not one single streak from a plane. We live in the flight path of the commuter planes that go from the Tri Cities airport to Atlanta, and likewise the larger jets flying from ATL to New York fly above us much higher up, but still, their exhaust streaks always criss cross the sky. But not that day. I probably wouldn't have even noticed their absence normally, but that day it was so obvious.

But not just the sky. Everything seemed eerily quiet.  No TVs blaring soap operas or talk shows down the street, no music, no cars. Nothing. Everyone was inside glued to their TVs and hugging their loved ones, or on the phone desperately trying to make sure their loved ones were safe.

I didn't worry about my girls. I knew they'd be OK at the school, and didn't want to disrupt them by going and getting them out of school. The coming days were surely going to be strange and disruptive enough.

I'd grown up during the Cold War.  Health class was film after film of how to prepare for nuclear attacks and take care of people with radiation poisoning. But since we'd been married and had our kids, that feeling had finally gone away. The cold war was over, and there were no big bad evil guys anymore.
Everything had been ... almost fairytale.   Peaceful times overall, prosperity, almost like the 1950s Ward and June Cleaver or Mayberry times again. But that morning in September changed everything.

I remember a couple of days later, I went to a new bank to open a new account that had free checking, and there was a man in line ahead of me. The next teller that opened up was a young man of possibly Indian or Arabian descent. He had a thick southern drawl, but the features were there.  I actually was thinking how cute he was and how friendly he seemed, when things got surreal.  The man in front of me started calling the teller all sorts of vile names and said he refused to be waited on by him and demanded a white person. He was shouting and making a spectacle of himself.  I felt horrible for the teller. He looked shocked and actually had to leave the main room. I thought the man in front of me was just an idiot and an arrogant ass. But over the next few days and weeks.... it became painfully clear that racism and paranoia was still alive and well in this country.

I also recall vividly going to the airport to pick up my friend from England who decided to brave customs and possibly interrogations to come visit a few months later. There were soldiers walking around this small regional airport with guns.. I don't know if they're called machine guns or rifles or what,.. but they were scary. Even growing up during the Cold War, I'd never seen anything like that. It always seemed so far away.

It's been ten years and the paranoia and fear and uncertainty seems to be the norm now.  Even average Americans often choose not to travel by air... not because of fear of a hijack, but because of the anti-terrorism things that have been set up, making us feel like criminals just for wanting to fly to visit family. But that's a whole other blog topic.

I wonder if we will ever have that truly peaceful, trusting Mayberry or Cleaver family feeling again. I can only hope that my girls feel that it's that way now, and that they do not feel fear or paranoia or racism. I know some of the bad guys are gone now, but I know there will always be more. I just pray that my children get to live the longest possible of happy lives without ever seeing anything like what happened on that morning ten years ago.

My thanks go out to the police, firefighters, 911 emergency folks, paramedics, doctors, nurses, clergy, hotline operators, and just average people who did extraordinary things that day and who still do every day.

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