Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My September 11, 2001 story

I am from Colorado and have lived here all my life, but at one point in late summer of 2001, a couple of now non-friends of mine (married to each other) and I decided to move to Pennsylvania. The particulars of why aren't important, but I was promised housing with them and help finding a job. So in late August 2001 we got in our vehicles and began the long trek from Colorado out east.

We arrived on the 28th of August if I remember correctly, where I promptly started bawling after getting to my friend's grandparent's house. The realization of having no family out there, not knowing what my future held, and feeling so alone hit me hard. After some dinner, I started to feel better, but things quickly took a turn for the worse. I was accused of flirting with my friend's husband and although I wasn't and I apologized (the accuser was 4 months pregnant at the time and I understood she was hormonal), everyone stopped speaking to me. So not only did I no longer have a place to live and no job, I also lost the connection with anyone I knew and I had to leave where I was staying the very next day.

Determined to stick it out and make it work, I found temporary lodging at an extended stay hotel in Phoenixville. I found a storage place to put all my stuff and I started looking for jobs through temp agencies. I actually had a job for four hours answering the phone at a drug testing facility. Ironically, they forgot to UA me and so I was told I wasn't able to work for them without a UA.

While the timeline is a bit fuzzy, September 11th came within a day or two of my failed attempt at working again, so it's understandable that I wasn't ever called back to work with everything that was happening.

I remember waking up the morning of September 11th in the hotel room. The TV was already on (it was comforting to have the background noise of voices while I was in the room by myself) and what I saw was the first tower on fire. I had the station on NBC's Today show and was not quite comprehending what had happened as the information at the moment was slim. While I didn't see the second plane go into the tower, I heard the reactions of the Today show hosts. I was then glued to the television as more reports started coming in. As the morning wore on, I kept feeling as though I was in the middle of a "triangle of hell" as I called it at the time. I was two hours away from New York City, two hours away from Washington D.C., and two hours away from Shanksville. I've tried to show everything in relation to where I was in the map below. The "A" marker is Phoenixville, I've highlighted New York to the northeast, D.C. to the southwest, and Shanksville to the east is shown with a red dot.

I remember being scared. Scared of what was happening and not knowing what was going to happen next and scared because I didn't know if I was ever going to see my family again. And I was alone. The people who I had come with were no longer talking to me and I had made no friends or acquaintances in the short time I had been in Pennsylvania. While most people that day had someone to discuss the events with and could be with at least a friend or family member, I had strangers around me. It was the most alone I have ever felt in my entire life. Details of that time are difficult for me to recall. I was in shock, I think. I was trying to protect myself from all that was happening to me in such a short amount of time. I had moved away from the only place I had ever lived, away from my friends and family; the people who I was relying on to help me through the transition abandoned me, and then the horrific events of September 11th unfolded. I don't remember much that happened over the next few weeks. I seemed to be walking around in a fog.

There is someone who helped me tremendously during this time. I had a friend who I had met online in 1996 who lived in New Jersey and I reached out to him. We had never met in person, but only exchanged emails, talked via IM and exchanged a few snail mail letters. I am so very grateful to him. He immediately drove to come see me and he took me back to New Jersey with him for a couple of days and then we kicked around Pennsylvania and for a bit as well. I remember going to a marina in New Jersey where you could see the New York City skyline across the water and I saw the smoldering of the buildings even though it was about two weeks later. It was eerie. But I had my friend. He made me feel less alone and kept me going at a time when I just wanted to collapse in a puddle and give up. I wish I could tell him all of this, but we have since lost touch and I'm not sure intruding into his life at this point would be welcomed by him or not. So I err on the side of caution. Besides, I tried looking him up and can't seem to find him anywhere online.

So that's my story. My memories of that day 12 years ago. One of our country's most challenging times and my own personal most challenging time.

May we all try to recall how kind everyone was to each other shortly after that happened. May we all remember that and try to be those people again. I don't believe the lessons we learned from the tragedies of that day were about national safety and how to better protect ourselves. I think the biggest lessons were that we can treat people better if we want to. We can reach out to people who are hurting and who are in need and rise to the challenge of being our best selves.