THE DAY AFTER
September 11th, 2008 has come and gone once again. Each year we seem to get a little more distant in our remembrances of that day. I felt that the best way to express my feelings about that day is to offer an excerpt from my book that chronicles MY September 11th, 2001.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was sound asleep when my girlfriend (now wife) woke me up. She said something about a plane crash. I wasn’t planning to wake up for at least another hour or two, so I only processed about half of what she was saying. I asked her what she was talking about. She told me that an air plane had hit a building in New York.
In my half conscious state of mind, I rationalized it this way: This was bound to happen. I assumed that a plane had gone off coarse in a fog bank, and hit a building. I new I would see the news footage when I got up, so I mumbled my theory to my better half, and fell back asleep.
A few minutes later, she came back into the bedroom and demanded that I come out to the living room and see what was going on. By the tone in her voice, I new something wasn’t quite right. I sat down in front of the TV, and...as someone who is not a professional writer, I must admit, it’s hard to put into words what I saw and what I thought about it, but this is what I’ve come up with.
I sat down in front of the TV, and tried to compute the images that my eyes were relaying to my brain. I remember thinking; That looks like the World Trade Center, but it’s on fire. That can’t be real. I double checked the channel indicator, and started changing stations. She said she had already done that and it was on every channel. I asked her what happened. She said that she was watching her morning show, when they broke in with this bulletin about an air plane that had hit the World Trade Center.
She said "that’s when I tried to get you up the first time. Then a few minutes later, while they had the cameras on, another airplane hit the other tower."
I asked her if she was sure that there were two separate airplanes. Before she could answer me, they ran footage of the second airplane hitting the other tower. At this point, I rubbed my eyes, and looked around. I wasn’t totally sure that I was awake. I have always had extremely realistic dreams, so I wanted to be sure I was really seeing this. I was.
Darlene asked me how this could happen. I didn’t exactly know what to say, but I was sure it wasn’t an accident. Even though I had just woke up, I could see that the sky was crystal clear. I knew that the odds of two planes, running out of fuel at the same time, and hitting the same set of buildings were probably impossible to calculate. I told her that I had a feeling that someone did this on purpose. She asked me why someone would do that. The only thing I could think of was "religious wackos". Then, I thought back to the first attack on the Trade Center, those guys were members of a crazy Muslim outfit. I thought we took care of those guys a few years ago. Apparently not.
The question she asked me next, still replays in my head from time to time. She asked me what was going to happen to the people in the buildings. As I mentioned earlier in this book, I have a kind of knack for mechanics and engineering basics. On this day, I considered this to be a curse. I didn’t want to upset her, but I didn’t want to sugar coat it either. We were both adults.
On the TV screen, I pointed to the sections of the buildings under where the fire was visible. I said, "Everyone under this point should be OK for the most part, as long as they can get out of the buildings before the fire spreads to the lower floors." Then she asked, "What about the people above those points?". It took me a second, but I said, "They’re gone."
She suggested that we pray for them. I’m not a very religious man, but I didn’t know what else to do. My wife is a great person, and she knows that I am very private about my religious beliefs, she respected that and went back to bathroom to get ready for work. I did as she suggested.
My brother works for my Dad, and they don’t have a TV at the garage, they rarely listen to the radio either, (my Dad doesn’t want to offend his Mennonite customers). I knew they would want to hear about this, so I called the garage. I told my Dad everything I was seeing and hearing on TV. He said that he would run up to his house and check it out. He only lived two blocks away at the time.
After hanging up with Dad, my wife came out of the bathroom, it was time for her to go to work. I didn’t feel too comfortable about her going to work, but I didn’t want to scare her. Still, I wanted her to be careful and stay alert. I explained to her that things were going to change in America from this day on.
I told her to go strait to work, and come strait home. I told her not to stop for anything, or anyone. I reminded her that she worked for a large financial institution, and I told her to pay attention to her surroundings at work and to follow whatever security procedures that they use. She started to cry.
I didn’t know what to do, I knew that I would be going to work in a few hours, and I didn’t want her to get in trouble for not going to work. I had to assume that the Trade Center was the end of the attack. I couldn’t imagine that anything else could happen after something this major. I assumed that she would be OK at work. After trying to calm her down, I suggested that she go to work. I kissed her goodbye, and she left.
As I heard her get into her car, I called my Mom. I knew that she would be at work and most likely she was listening to her Christian music CD collection. So I thought that she might not know what was going on. I was right.
I told her to turn on her radio and tune in a news channel. I tried to describe to her what I was seeing on TV. "Both towers of The World Trade Center are on fire", I told her. I explained to her how it had happened. I was describing the massive amounts of smoke and debris coming from the upper sections of the buildings. As I was talking, they were shooting footage from a helicopter, that’s when the first tower fell. All I remember saying as this happened was "no, no, no,...Mom, one of the towers just fell down!" I never even considered this as a possibility. Somehow, I pictured them slowly burning to the ground.
I figured that there would be a long battle with the fire, but it would eventually burn itself out. After all, once the jet fuel burns off, the firemen could get closer to the fire. I never thought the tower would fall. After the tower fell, I was still trying to give a play by play to my Mom. I described the giant cloud of dust that was covering the city. The more I talked, the harder it got to find words.
Finally, I told Mom that I was going to hang up and watch the news. A few minutes later a different picture came on the screen. It was the Pentagon. It was on fire! I called my Dad again. I said "They just took out the Pentagon, I think were being attacked!" As always, he sounded skeptical, but he humored me. He told me that this was bound to happen, and to keep my eyes open at work tonight. The conversation was very short. Talking to my Dad takes patience and skill. This subject was so serious and unusual to both of us, that discussing it was not an option. I said goodbye.
I called my Mom back, and told her that the Pentagon had been attacked too. She told me that she had heard on the news that a plane went down somewhere near Pittsburgh and that one might be headed for Camp David. Now, I was starting to get scared. What do you do when your country comes under surprise attack? They forgot to mention this in grade school, or maybe I was out that day. My Mom was in no position to offer any advice either.
She did offer me and my wife a space at her and my stepfather’s mountain retreat in the event that this was going to be a full scale war. At first, I thought she was overreacting, then I looked at the TV screen again.
My Mom is prone to overreacting, we usually just make fun of her. Today I wasn’t laughing. I actually considered her offer. I thought back to the previous year when her and my stepfather were so concerned about the "Y2K bug", that they fortified his hunting cabin with months of supplies and ammunition, just in case anarchy ensued. We ripped on her for a long time after that...now it was looking like a viable option.
Having no idea when this was going to stop, who was going to get hit next, or what other methods of attack were going to be implemented, I did the only thing that a Pennsylvania good ol’ boy could think of. I got out my .45 semi automatic and started cleaning it. I didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t worried so much about meeting up with a terrorist, I was more concerned with how we would react.
Would there be panic in the streets? Would there be looting? Would I be able to get to my wife again if this all got out of hand? Looking back now, reaching for my gun as a first impulse may have been a little presumptuous, but think about it. Unless you were around on Dec. 7, 1941, you had never been in this situation before.
What did you do on that day? Did you just blow it off as something that didn’t concern you? Did you hide in the closet? Maybe you pretended that you were watching a movie, and smoked another bowl. Did you consider your family and how to defend them if necessary? Whatever you did, you did not know for a fact that you were safe, I don’t care how detached from reality you are.
On that day, the most productive and practical idea I could come up with was to clean my gun. For you city folk, understanding someone’s desire to carry a firearm may seem a little foreign, but in the country it’s not much more unusual than carrying a Palm Pilot. We’ll get into that later though.
As I was sitting on the couch, cleaning my gun and watching the news, I watched the second tower fall. I just couldn’t believe that this was happening. I started feeling something inside of my chest, it was anger. Someone was attacking my country, the only home that I have ever known. A spark of liberalism shot through my mind, I tried to imagine how other countries felt as they saw a US tank coming over the hill in their homeland. I almost considered the idea that maybe we have been asking for this. That concept faded into oblivion as soon as I looked at the screen again.
We didn’t deserve this. Those people jumping from the top of the building, just to get one last gasp of fresh air never asked for this. They just went to work one day. I remembered that America is the good guy. We don’t invade countries for no reason. If you see a US tank coming at you, it means that we are trying to free somebody. It means that we are trying to help. I tried to think of a country that we invaded and claimed as our own in the last couple of hundred years, I couldn’t think of one. Pilgrims invading the new world doesn’t count because we were fleeing an oppressive country and we would have shared with the Indians, but they weren’t the sharing type.
As I watched our country come under attack, I new that things would never be the
same. I knew that our enemies would be exposed and our allies would help us. I knew that our attitudes would have to change.
I had big ideas about how our nation would join together and rise up to fight the evil bastards that did this to us. I assumed that there would be lines around the block at the recruiting offices. I just knew that everyone would be on the same page from now on. I thought back to all the times I said, "War is never the answer." After today, it was clear that pacifism was not an option. How could anyone disagree with that now?
Looking back, I know that I was being too idealistic. I don’t think I was being naive, I truly believe that was how it should have happened. Of coarse I was wrong, but one thing was for sure, September 11, 2001, was the day I woke up. From here on I was a different person. Those terrorist killed more than thousands of people that day, they killed the liberalism in me.
The day went on. I went to work just like every other day, except this day every one was different. Usually I get to work early to socialize with the other drivers before we head out on our runs. We joke around, and talk about the latest company gossip or current events.
On this day, everyone was very subdued. There was no joking around. We all had the same look on our face. To this day, it’s hard to describe that look. I imagine it’s the same look you might have if your doctor just told you that you have cancer. A look of disbelief, helplessness, shame, and anger, all rolled into one. We talked about what happened that morning, and how it was going to effect traffic in Washington DC, as well as the effects it would have on our job in general. We kept the conversation simple. We didn’t plan it that way, I think we just didn’t know what to say or how to say it. We all just wanted to be home with our families, but we had jobs to do.
My run was to be a "back-haul". A back-haul is when you are dispatched to a warehouse or factory to bring a certain product back to your distribution center. As I was walking out the door with my paperwork, another driver was coming in from his run to DC. His face was lit up like a Christmas tree. He was talking as fast as he could, and you could tell he was shook up. He had been on the road all day and was only able to hear about the attacks on the radio. He told us how he was sitting on the DC beltway, when a group of jet fighters buzzed his truck. He said the sound of the jets coming up on him without warning scared him to death. He said that he could see the smoke from the Pentagon from the highway. The more he talked, the more animated he became. I went on out the door to get my assigned truck.
For me, the safest place in the world is behind the wheel of an 18 wheeler. This is where I am the most comfortable, but that day I just wanted to be home with my wife. I was worried about her and hoping that she was doing OK at work. I didn’t feel safe at all. I still had no reason to believe that the attacks were over. I still hadn’t found out about the rumor of the plane going down at Camp David. I only live 30 miles from there. DC isn’t that far away either. If I was allowed to carry my gun in the truck, I may have felt a little better.
My destination was also no real comfort to me either. I was to pick up a load of detergents in Camp Hill PA, which is right next to Harrisburg PA. There is an international airport there, not to mention Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant. Would a nuclear power plant be considered a target? I tried not to think about it too much.
As I made my run that day, my ears were glued to the radio. Again, AM stations were proving to be the most informative. You could definitely tell that the press was also shook up. The reports were many. No fluff pieces, no commercials. Some of the FM stations were still playing their boxes of records. I found out later that most of them didn’t even activate the Emergency Broadcast System. I guess they felt that an attack on our country didn’t justify cutting into a Motley Crue tune for a news break.
I got to my destination ahead of schedule. I had to wait for a while until a forklift operator was available. I went to the driver’s break room to get a soda. In the break room was a television with a crowd of truck drivers around it. Again, the images of destruction were in vivid color. It was unusual to see big, surly, truck drivers with such a sobering look about them. I got a soda out of the machine and watched for a while. It seemed as though the attacks were over, but no one on the news would risk saying that yet. By this time, more footage was coming into the news rooms and making it’s way onto the TV screen. None of it was pretty.
Eventually, a forklift operator was available, I was loaded, and then I returned to the distribution center...I was glad to be going home.
My wife was there when I got home, we were both relieved to see each other. That night we held each other a little tighter.