Journal Entry: September 11, 2001 (continued from blog entry #19)
As I pulled into the driveway of our home, I battled the need to vomit. My body was involuntarily shaking, and I felt light-headed. I knew I shouldn't have driven, but I never imagined that this quiet morning drive to take my little daughter to the elementary, just a few blocks away, would be disrupted by a news radio account of live-terrorism on our American soil. In fact, on the car radio, I'd heard a Manhattan caller describe the first tower blazing, and as he was trying to calmly give details about the scene before him as he was looking out his blown-out windows, the second tower was suddenly struck. At that point, the caller lost all remaining composure and it was hard to not crumble at his pained voice that had turned to screams. His panicked voice became a living horror story for all of us listeners.
Initially, the radio station announcer had tried to return to his job and to a sense of normalcy by claiming we had all just personally heard a terrible double-tragedy occurring...a horrendous double "freak" accident. I didn't buy it. It only took moments for the announcer to come to an audible realization that he also contemplated the possibility of this not being some kind of small-plane-off-course accident, x2. However, throughout my short drive home it was also mistakenly thought by the radio station that the two planes involved with striking the towers were small, private planes. It could not be conceptualized by all of us, hundreds of miles away that these planes were commercial airliners. Still, I had immediately and instinctively known, as the second plane flew into the second tower that this could not have been an "accident."
In the driveway, I tried to take a few deep breaths and to compose myself. I turned the radio down, shut off the engine and began to make my way back inside the house on wobbly legs. My oldest daughter was already in school at her Junior High and now my youngest was in her elementary school...so my husband and I would be in the house alone. All of us were far from Manhattan, yet the sadness of the two planes crashing into the towers was palpable.
Because I had been feeling so ill, my husband had taken the day off from work. If we had known how quickly downhill I was about to physically descend, he would not have taken any extra time off. As it was, I was thankful to have him home with me on this nationally historic day. As I opened the front door to the house, I could hear the television in the master bedroom. It was loud. I closed the door and realized that the television was reporting the same scene I just left from inside my car with the radio reports. I shut the door and began running to the master bedroom.
Once inside our bedroom, I stood watching the screen and could not believe my eyes. I squinted. My vision was going blurry again. The large V8 I'd craved and drank early that morning for extra "energy" was suddenly wearing off. As the TV on top of the tallboy chest of drawers was blaring a live newscast, my husband sat on the edge of the bed watching the screen and he was quietly saying, "Oh my God." He was watching a LIVE news report of the towers burning and the repeated reruns of the second tower being struck by a plane. My mouth gaped open as I stepped closer to the TV. They showed it again...one tower was burning and the camera caught a second plane flying directly into the second tower, causing great destruction. Then, a LIVE view would return to show both towers simultaneously burning, and we remained speechless. Side by side, the strong metal and glass sculptures were melting. However, no one could imagine how the towering sisters would soon collapse upon themselves.
My husband and I momentarily looked at each other. We both knew what this meant. Years ago, my husband had served in the Air Force and had been assigned to special duty as an Anti-Terrorist Police. We had lived for a few years overseas while he served his country. Unlike most people who lived in bliss about terrorism...we never had. From a very young age, early in our marriage, we understood these ugly truths. Terrorism training had been my husband's daily job. It was a part of our household. Back then, discussions of international terrorist acts were a part of our own little world that few people back home understood. My husband had been trained specifically in the field of "terrorism." I'd once gone to base in Germany and parked my car so I could spend the day in the library. Little did I know, my parked car had been volunteered for use in a bomb search. It had been rigged with a simulated bomb, complete with the smell of a bomb for the dogs to also use in practice. These days were our "normal." My trip to the library; my husband's day practicing bomb searches. So, yes, I had seen more than the average person when it came to counter-terrorism activism. My husband and I both knew it was only a matter of time before terrorism hit America as it had on the level it had been hitting overseas...as a part of their history. Still, nothing can prepare you for the devastation attached to any act of terrorism.
We stared at each other. For a long while, we said nothing. We simply were too shocked to speak. So, we watched TV as it displayed both towers burning. From the reports and sights, it was clear that the first tower had been hit rather high and the second tower was hit lower which obviously caused much greater, immediate loss of life simply due to the point of impact. Both buildings combined had so many stores which were destroyed by the impact and the stories above both points of impact were, essentially, unreachable.
Suddenly, I felt as if my legs were going to buckle beneath me, so I went to our bed and sat down. We watched the flames on the towers grow and the black smoke billow outward with greater intensity. Definitely, these buildings were truly towering infernos. It was unbelievable. A few reporters were filming people standing on the streets of Manhattan as they were looking upward at the burning buildings. As debris began to fall to the streets below, there was more panic. Shocked onlookers there at the scene of the tragedy began to run to escape the danger. I found myself occasionally yelling, "Run! Don't stand there! Get away, far away!" Then, I would again realize that the shock from the sight must have been indescribable, yet mesmerizing. So many of those people probably worked inside of the one of the towers or they probably passed by them almost daily. How could this be happening? Maybe some of those shocked onlookers had family or friends or co-workers in one of those buildings and they were standing there waiting for them to run out. Regardless, I ached at the longing inside that I had at wanting everyone to run far away from the burning towers.
Only a short time had passed since I came home, but now there were images on the screen that could never be erased from our mind's eye; people were jumping from the burning towers. My husband rose from the bed and walked out of the room with his fists balled up. I knew he was angry about the terrorists. I sat and cried softly while forcing myself to watch the screen - as if it were my way of paying respect to those who were dying this morning. Untold innocent people had already been murdered and were still dying. The least I could do was watch and be in constant silent prayer. Yes, they had my respect and my love. Their forced braveness would never be forgotten. I would never forget. The nightmarish scene turned darker, at first, the announcers thought jumpers were part of the falling debris, then, to their own dismay, they realized that chunks of debris could not be wearing shoes. This was not a part of Hollywood. These were not stunts. This was happening.
America was no less than stunned and sickened. But, I force myself to write in my journal this evening of September 11th of 2001 because this morning began with such incredible loss of innocence for our country, but it was only the beginning. Soon, news reports gave more information; these two planes had indeed been commercial airliners that had been hijacked to be piloted by terrorists. Each plane had carried innocent passengers. Each had purchased a ticket for a destination; many had loved ones eagerly anticipating their arrival, but they ended up with their destination being death and destruction. Our own citizens were used as tools in a terroristic plan - all of those passengers were simply in the wrong place, at the wrong time. No one is immune from terroristic attacks. The terrorists wanted to use those full fuel tanks as controlled bombs. Quickly, it became very clear that their plan was to hit more than the towers.
David came back into the room and said, "America will never be the same; those are innocent civilians, they are not even targeting military. Typical terrorists...taking the cowardly route." We were both nauseated.
To everyone's continued dismay, the terrorists did not stop with the towers. Next, to add to the images that were too unbelievable to describe, another commercial airliner with innocent passengers, a third airliner, that had been hijacked and piloted by a suicidal-homicidal terrorist had crashed. Obvious to everyone was the terrorist's intent to destroy our icon of military politics and leadership at the Pentagon. They hit their target. Over the day, the Pentagon blazed and its three stories essentially collapsed, but the extent of the damage will not be completely clear just yet. It's too early, but the death toll has got to be high. Everyone begins to wonder outloud, "What is next? WHERE is next?" My husband and I realized that commercial airliners could be shot down from the sky. The possibility loomed. More death. More destruction. How could people become so warped that they could board a plane with the intent to kill? The terrorists must have looked into the faces of children who were with their mothers as they tried to take their seats. Hardened hearts and demented thought processes prevailed. The only message conveyed with this kind of attack upon innocence is one of evilness filled to the brim with hatred. A hatred of life itself.
The morning moved onward. Time has no sensitivity. There is no slowing the seconds of time as we keep moving forward into the hands of life...or death.
Horror-stricken, this same morning, we learned that a fourth commercial airline with beautiful people onboard who were only wanting to travel from one destination to the next had crashed miles from their probable targeted site, perhaps the President's working retreat of Camp David. Perhaps more information will come to light later on. However, for today, as of September 11th, it's not yet clear. It is clear that more people have been murdered at the mercy of crazed terrorists; everyone on board the fourth plane are gone.
From the reports I saw today, four of our planes were hijacked, two from American Airlines and two from United Airlines. This is barbaric terrorism. News reports are already linking Osama Bin Laden to the terrorism. Bin Laden is apparently connected to a highly organized, well protected and heavily backed terror organization. He has many followers. Most people cannot fathom a "name" linked to terrorism, but just as any organization has a leader, so do terror organizations. Even in terror organizations, there are chains of command or a CEO in charge with their "appointed" executives. For the normal person, it's difficult to fathom, but terror organizations exist. Many Americans can remember the terror of the Klu Klux Klan, but some find it challenging to imagine a terror organization that spreads hate more broadly.
This morning was not over yet. Just minutes apart, the towers that had been so huge and imposing began to crater. First one tower fell, then the other fell from the sky down below onto any onlookers, emergency personnel, their emergency vehicles and adjacent buildings were impacted. It is terrible. Anyone left inside the buildings were dashed downward with the twisted, burning wreckage. I am writing this journal entry on the day of the attacks so that I never forget my personal account. I want my children and their children to know what we lived to see. But, we do not yet know the extent of the damage; I can safely gauge that it appears to be gruesome.
Today, in Manhattan, you could see billowing smoke and floating debris as it blanketed the entire city. It was a terrifying sight. As the first tower fell, black, thick smoke began to travel down the streets of Manhattan as if it were a nightmare come true. It rolled through the streets like an uncontrollable beast and swallowed all who were in its path. With the blackness came sadness and a despair that can't be explained. It engulfed everything in its path. After the first tower fell, within short minutes, the second tower fell. The sky had been filled with the majesty of man's determination, intelligence and hard work. Mankind builds and mankind destroys. At this point, I don't know if it's true, but it's reported that some sort of "mash" area in which hundreds of injured people were taken for emergency treatment was destroyed by the second tower collapse. A horrible truth is that many trained people who could have helped in this dire situation were lost in the tower's dismantled pieces. We couldn't believe both towers had disappeared from the skyline. It was as if there were an orchestrated implosion taking place. Early this morning, both buildings had opened for business as they began to bustle with worldwide business transactions; late this morning, both buildings would disintegrate before our unbelieving eyes.
All of that man-made glory is back to rubble; all of it unraveled by evil in a flash.
As the day wore on and all of us felt weary, we heard about a woman on one of those planes who used her cell-phone to call her husband to tell him that her plane had been hijacked by at least a couple of men with box cutters. She told her husband that they had already injured some of the flight attendants. Repeatedly, she was asking her husband, "What do I do?" Over and over. That conversation would be the last ever held with her husband. He would always remember her desperate desire to do something that could stop the maniacs, but she was defenseless and he was helpless.
On another flight, a man was in the bathroom calling 911 and pleading for help as their plane had been hijacked. A call to no avail. All of these personal stories will be coming to light over the new few days, weeks and months. A lifetime of stories to be revealed. So many stories of heartache, courage, love and remembrance. Surely, we wish such stories would only be fiction, yet this day will be a part of our history. It is our reality. Years from now, we will continue to recall this day, and we will mourn. Truly, America will never be the same. I pray that we will be better.
Today, it seems as if we are surrounded by destruction. It's difficult to see anything else, but I will try. That's one thing that the terrorists did not count upon ---- the American Spirit. It can't be defined and it can't be snuffed out. Through adversity it only grows stronger and more determined. This reminds some people or teaches others that old saying is there for a reason, "Freedom has never been free." Today, we see that anger and the desire to punish those who enjoy Freedom's reach. But, there are defenders of Freedom. Those brave ones will continue to sacrifice so that the rest of us may savor every moment of Freedom. Let it ring.
Current Day Entry & Addison's Disease Recollections during 9-1-1:
After the kids got home from school and their own shock at the day's events were discussed, my husband and I fell into bed exhausted. During the day, on multiple occasions, I had nearly hit the ground from losing consciousness. I chalked it up to being very stressed about our homeland being attacked by cowards. How could I complain after seeing the destruction and the suffering that had taken place in America today? I ignored my body's warning signs. I made excuses. Throughout the day, again, I had lost all appetite, but I doubt this was a day for any kind of normal feasting in America. But, I had actually vomited a couple of times and could not shake the weakness that flooded my body. Actually, I had become accustomed to these afflictions, but I continued to blame my body's reaction and weakness on the stress endured with the rest of the nation. By evening, I was very sick. A voice in the back of my mind was telling me that there was something really wrong with me, but I couldn't imagine going to an emergency room on such a day as this. No, I would crawl into bed and try to sleep.
Sleep escaped me. I would start to drift off and would wake up gasping for air. I would awaken, not be able to breathe and I would jump to my feet and would desperately try to pull in a breath of air. It seemed to take an eternity for my lungs to refill with air and to start working again. This began to happen regularly, two to three times per night. Sometimes, my husband would waken before my body realized I wasn't breathing. He'd shake me and have a terrified expression and I'd hear him yelling, "Breathe! Breathe dammit!"
Yes, I told the doctors what was happening. Doctor after doctor had no answer. They would look at me and remark about how "healthy" I looked and about what "great shape" I appeared to be while adding that I was so "young," so there could not be anything terribly amiss. They were terribly wrong. Now, with 9-1-1 changing our world, I made a dangerous decision to try to ignore my warning signs. I wanted to be as normal as possible. For short bursts, I could pretend to be somewhat normal and not let anyone know how often I was vomiting or that I could barely stand upright any longer. I was a speck of dust on the earth. Depressed, I wondered...Why should I go to the doctor when thousands are dead? I think many people felt deflated on September 11, 2001.