Posted by: Christine Johnson | September 10, 2006

My Memories of September 11, 2001

I was driving to work at a small college about half an hour from my home. I’d dropped off my daughters, who were nearly three years old and just barely two months old, with my mother, who would be watching them, along with my four year old god daughter, for the morning while I worked. I was headed off to interpret for a hard of hearing student. Her first class was an art class at 9:30. I was going to be early.

I wasn’t in the mood for the local news that day, and I was waiting to tune into the talk radio station, WDBO, until about five minutes past nine, when Dr. Laura was going to be on. (Or was it Neal Boortz by then? I can’t recall now.) I listened and sang along to Z 88.3, glanced at the clock at 9:04 and decided I’d switch over to the national talk shows.

Unbeknownst to me, life had already changed.

Instead of the tail end of the local news or the familiar music filler that is usually on at that time (as they switch from local to national feeds), I heard a man on a cell phone screaming that “it was like a bomb went off in the building!” Then I heard an announcer, trying to sound calm but not quite succeeding, trying to gather information. I turned up the volume.

“It was another airplane! A second airplane!” the cell-phone man yelled.

I had no clue what was going on, and in an attempt to find out I did what any sane person would do at that moment. Alone in the car, I yelled at the radio.

“WHERE ARE YOU!!!??? WHAT BUILDING???”

Finally, I determined that it was the World Trade Center Towers, and I turned the volume down a bit on the radio again. (I still wasn’t sure who the two men were, but I needed to call my mother.)

I picked up my cell phone and called Mom. When she picked up, I bluntly asked her, “What the HELL is happening in New York, Mom?”

“I don’t know. We’re watching Dora.”

“I think you need to go in your room and close the door and turn on the TV.”

“What channel?” Mom asked innocently.

“Mom,” I answered, “I really don’t think it will matter.”

I heard the door shut over the phone and she was silent for a moment as she turned on the TV.

“Oh, my God,” she said.

“Mom, they’re saying planes flew into the Twin Towers!” I already knew it was terrorists. I just knew it. “But they said it was a small plane, right?”

“Yeah…oh, my God, Chris. But it wasn’t a small plane. I’m looking at the size of the hole. They’re saying on the TV that it was a big one. Oh, my God…This is horrible! It’s terrible!”

I decided after a few minutes that I’d go back to the radio, and she’d check the TV when she could in between Dora, Blue, and the Teletubbies.

I listened some more as they said that it was a clear day, they didn’t think it was an accident. No way could they miss the buildings or misjudge it that badly.

Finally, I was in the parking lot. I was lucky enough to get a space in the lot right next to the art building, so I stayed in the car as long as I could before I finally got out and went into class. The art professor had been away the week before visiting his family in New York City and had only arrived home the night before. When he was late, the students figured that he was just late because of his late travels. I signed with the hard of hearing student and said, “Did you see what happened in New York? Did you watch any news this morning?”

“No,” she answered.

I told her what happened, and we wound up telling a couple of other students. After about ten minutes, the professor’s secretary came in and said that, due to his flight getting in so late, class was cancelled that day. By that time, the whole class knew about the Twin Towers. I was invited up to the dorms to watch TV until the next class I had to interpret. Not feeling that would be all that professional and not completely sure I’d want to watch it right now, I declined. “I’ll listen on the radio for now. Thanks.”

I went back out to the car. I didn’t just want to sit still, so I drove a bit so that I could also move my car to the lot near my last class. While I was driving around, I heard about the Pentagon. Suddenly, I was terrified. Where was this going to end? What, where, was next?

My husband was working in Tallahassee that day, teaching a class. Capitol of Florida. We lived just north of Orlando. I had no clue if anything would happen there. I called and left a message on his cell phone, asking him to check in with me as soon as he could.

I called my mother again. She’d been slipping into her room and watching whenever she could. “Your cousin Lauren works in the financial district. Uncle Bob said that she has been having meetings weekly at the Towers. He’s trying to reach her. Pray for her.”

“Tony [another cousin of mine] and his wife live in New York City. Where do they live? Is Dayna [yet another cousin] anywhere near this? Where is she working her internship?”

We weren’t sure. “Oh, God, Mom! Jordan [another cousin] is in school in DC!” Yet more prayers.

After we hung up, I listened to the radio a little longer, parked the car near the building for my last class, and reluctantly went to my next assignment.

The students who were there were looking more than a bit shell-shocked. The student for whom I interpreted had been watching on TV. We waited a few minutes and learned that this class, too, had been cancelled. I was starting to wonder if they’d just close the campus for the day.

I went back to my car and turned on the radio again. The same two men (finally, I figured out that it was Peter Jennings who was announcing things) were talking, but now we were going back and forth with a third correspondent in Washington, DC. As I was listening to Jennings talk to the guy in New York, the New York correspondent suddenly cried out, “Oh, my God! The building is falling!” The first Tower fell. Moments later, I saw a young woman rush from the building in front of me, lean over a railing from the stairs, and as her friends came out behind her, she threw up. I started to cry, realizing that she probably just lost someone she knew. I couldn’t believe it. The Twin Towers were going to be gone.

Back in 1999, I’d gone to a cousin’s wedding on Long Island. The day before the wedding, Hubby and I spent the day in the City and waited in line to go up to floor 82 at the Empire State Building. It was a pretty clear day, and we could see for about 25 miles all around us. I’d grown up in New Jersey, down the shore, and I’d never been in the Empire State Building before. We looked towards downtown New York and saw the Twin Towers.

“Want to go there, too, before we go to the hotel tonight?” he asked me.

“Nah,” I answered. “I’m getting tired from all the walking. Besides, it’s not going anywhere. We’ll go there next time.” The next time I was in the City was just before Christmas, 2002.

I heard at this time that there was another hijacking. A plane was going the wrong way. Fighter jets were being scrambled. It looked to be headed to Washington, DC. The entire government was being evacuated. But before anything else was done, it was reported that the plane had crashed. Since it was a pretty rural area, they picked the biggest city nearby, which was Pittsburgh. Great, I thought. Hubby’s cousin and his new wife lived in Pittsburgh at the time. I called my mother again. “That plane in Pennsylvania…where exactly did it crash?” She assured me that it was rural, nearly 80 miles from Pittsburgh.

It was time for a lunch break, so I grabbed something to eat and returned to the college. Finally, someone decided to close the campus, so I headed home sometime around 1:30. On my way home, I cried and thought of my children. I thought of Little Girl, just born in July. What kind of world did we just bring her into? I wondered.

I arrived at my parents’ house about 2:00, and we ushered the children off to play with Little People in the other room. I was finally ready to see the news. I watched the replays of the second plane hitting and of the Twin Towers falling. I could not believe my eyes. They were gone! I remember when they built the Towers! And now they were just gone.

I sat and cried with my mother. We knew that Tony, Dayna, and Jordan were safe, but we were still waiting to hear if Lauren was okay. It would be 4:00 before we learned that she was on the other side of town that day. We’d lost no one. I was grateful, but still felt guilty in some way. So many were lost…so many. And this act was so EVIL.

Things changed that day. My outlook on life has never been the same. I have been collecting things that commemorate those attacks, and I have a box of magazines, articles, and books. I’ll share them with my children, gradually, as they are old enough to see. I have the 9/11 documentary (the one CBS is showing this year), but that will have to wait a while for them to see it. For a while, I really hated those people. I didn’t want to admit it, but I did.

But something interesting happened to me one night. I’d saved Flight 93 (on A&E) on my DVR, and watched it, as well as the show they did on Flight 11, the first one to hit the Towers. It was late, and Hubby was on a business trip that kept him away overnight. I was so angry afterwards, and I decided that I’d pray the Rosary to calm down and get to sleep. (I often pray the Rosary when I can’t sleep; usually I fall asleep while praying, but I usually also ask that my Guardian Angel be allowed to finish it for me.)

This night was different. I prayed the Rosary, and somewhere in the first decade, I felt compelled to pray for the terrorists. Something told me I needed to pray for their souls.

I know this wasn’t from me because I had NO desire to do this. I actually stopped in the middle of the prayer and said, “No. How can I pray for them?” (I did this out loud.) I tried to continue. The compulsion actually became stronger, and I practically heard a voice say, “Pray for them!” I started to cry and said, “No…” but I only felt more compelled than ever.

So I lay in bed that night, praying my Rosary for the terrorists’ souls and crying. Oddly enough, by the time I was finished (and I managed to stay awake for the entire Rosary for once, despite the fact that I started it sometime after 1:00 a.m.), I actually wanted to pray for their souls. God is so good, you know. He’ll give you the desire to do good when you submit to His will. Sometimes, when that feeling of hatred comes over me again, I look to God for the grace I need and I say a prayer, even if it’s a short one, for the souls of those men. I also pray for the conversion of the world more often. After all, who’s ever heard of a Catholic suicide bomber?

Tomorrow, at 8:46 a.m. Eastern Time, the president has asked us to pause for a moment of silence. In our home, we’ll do that, and just after that, we’ll pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for everyone who died that day (including the terrorists).

May God have mercy on us all.

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