Sunday, September 10, 2006

9/11: The End of the Innocence

The end of the innocence. 

That is what September 11, 2001 is for me.

Prior to 9/11, just about every other major country has had major acts of terrorism on their soil, whether it was hijacking, suicide back pack bombers, or bombs against infrastructure, like an embassy or hotel.  It is a way of life in some places, and in others, not so common, but a definite part of their reality.

We, as North Americans, believed we were isolated from major acts of terrorism.  Even after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center we were willing to believe that it was a fluke, never to be attempted again.  After all, it failed, right?

Yes, it did fail, but the failure wasn't so much theirs as it was ours.

It should have been a huge wake up call.  We should have known it was just a matter of time before they succeeded, and in a big way.

Our airport security has never been where it should be, if only back in 1993 we decided to take it seriously, like Israel.  If only in 1993 we started to more carefully track student visas and be sure that the students were actually attending college.  If only in 1993 we had extensive backgrounds and security checks done on non-citizens trying to apply for pilots licenses.

If only...  Yes, it is easier to 'if only' now, because hindsight is twenty-twenty.  Instead, now, even 5 years later, we are still scrambling to catch up to where our national security should be.

September 11, 2001 was a gorgeous Tuesday, following several days just as gorgeous.  I woke hubby up like I do every morning and he said he was going to sleep in as he had a sinus headache.  I got the kids off to school.  I returned to hubby getting out of the shower and I tried to convince him to stay home and blow off the day, but hubby said no and left about 8:25 to head into NYC in his company jeep.

I got Hammer up and settled into breakfast and his school work.  I remember I went to the computer and was reading a homeschooling message board, checking out some new ideas for the new school year.

The phone rang, and it was about 8:50 am.  It was my cousin K and she told me, 'Turn on the tv, NOW.  A plane hit one the Trade Centers.  Where is your hubby?'  I told her he was probably just going through the tunnel because of his late start and then I told her I would call her back. 

I called Hubby, and before I asked him where he was and if he knew that a plane hit the Trade Centers.  He told me he was out of the tunnel and almost to his office, traffic was unusually light, and then he said,  'I was on the helix, (a raised loop into the Lincoln Tunnel) and I saw the plane hit the Trade Center!'  He thought it looked small, but wasn't sure.

I immediately asked him about our friend John, and he said he wasn't sure which tower his office was in, but he would be at the office soon, so, Jay would know.  Jay and my hubby had been working together for almost 5 years at this point, and John was Jay's best friend since kindergarten, and John married Jay's sister. 

I remember hanging up with my hubby, my eyes never leaving the tv screen and the Today show and sitting down on the ottoman, kind of shocked, but relieved that hubby was okay and in Midtown.  My mom called and I just told her fast that hubby was fine and in the office not to worry.

Then, it happened.  Right before my eyes, the second plane slammed into the other tower!  We didn't see the plane hit, but you saw the explosion, it was unbelievable!  I was confused... I just kept staring, open mouthed and numb at the tv.

It was as if time stood still.  I couldn't move, I don't remember who  said it but one of the newscasters said it was terrorism.  They were putting NYC on lockdown, and there may be more planes, and more targets in NYC.

I grabbed the phone and called my hubby.  I used my cell phone radio function because calling the cell wouldn't work.  He knew about the second plane and that it was terrorism, they had radios on at his office.  He told me no one could get a hold of John, and Jay was really upset.

I told him to get out now and fast and head up through the Bronx and to Westchester, and to come over the Tappan Zee Bridge.  That was staying open at this time.  He told me they (he and Jay) were already heading for the elevator.  He was going to drop Jay off at his sister's house and then get home to me.

I had to take a minute to get myself together as I had Hammer home with me.  With that, the door from my garage opened and my mom walked in.  I was so happy to see her and we just hugged for a minute and I told her about Hubby and Jay and John and that he was trying to get out via the Tappan Zee.

We both sat down in front of the television in my living room and just stared in a complete state of shock and numbness.  Then, the plane hit the Pentagon.  That is when panic truly started to set in.  I called hubby and told him and again, he knew.  We said our 'I love you's' and hung up.

I remember thinking that it couldn't get any worse... or at least that was my hope.  It was horrific to watch.  People jumping out of the buildings, the Pentagon rent open and the injured spilling out.  It was Dante's Inferno in NYC and DC!  And, how many more planes?  I remember at this point there was talk of about 6 or 8 still in the air.

Next, the news started to talk about pieces of the tower falling, and the concern over a collapse, but from what was being said, the fear seemed to be about just the floors above the plane crash.  Awful enough, that is for sure.

No one, least of all my mom and I, were ready for what we saw next. 

The South Tower started started to collapse, and it just crumbled and crumbled down.  It was horrific and surreal and completely mind numbing.  The people, the moms, dads, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends of thousands, gone.  The rescue workers, the people just escaping the nightmare within the buildings, gone.

We watched as more firemen run into the still standing North Tower to help evacuate quicker before its inevitable collapse.  It was almost a half hour later, but it seemed like just a few minutes.  The devastation was just as shocking and horrifying the second time.

I remember feeling so helpless.

I ran out of the house and went to get the kids out of school.  My hubby had suggested it, but now, I needed them here, home with me.  I remember getting to my Fuzzy's school and seeing other moms with tear streaked faces.  It was so strangely quiet, too.  I remember seeing a teacher crying in the hall. I found out that her brother made it out of the Trades and home, thank God.  Two boys wouldn't be that lucky, their dad was an accountant for the Port Authority.  Next I picked up Pumpkin at pre-k and even the toddlers were more subdued than normal.  It was if even they could sense something had gone terribly wrong in the world.

I remember getting the kids home and settled into the family room with television and lunch.  I remember remarking to my mom that 'in the family room it's Nickolodeon, and in the living room it's a nightmare.'

Except that we couldn't just wake up.

By the time my hubby dropped Jay off at his sister's, we knew things were not looking good, but we were very hopeful.  John worked for Silverstein Properties, the owner of the complex, and he was involved with helping to evacuate.  That was all that was known for sure at that time. 

Hubby pulled into our driveway at 2:45 pm.  As you can imagine, anyone in a car was trying to get out the way my hubby did, and the roads were choked with people trying to get to family members all over the NY-NJ area.

He got out of the car and I ran to him and we just held each other.  I had held it together up until that point, but that is when the tears just started.  I don't think they stopped for the next five or six days.

Unfortunately, running outside we found out something else too.  Not only could we see the smoke from the towers looking to the east, but we could smell the smell, too.  It was horrible.  I still smell it in my nightmares.

I was lucky.  My hubby came home.  Hubby had an appointment on Thursday morning with John at the Trade Centers to discuss some possible door work.  If Thursday was the day of the attack, I would not have been so lucky.

John was 6 foot 7 inches tall and pretty wide, too.  He died that day, trying to help evacuate and rescue people.  Thanks to his great height, and the fact that he was well known to many that survived, his family has been able to piece together much of his actions prior to the collapse.

I know that this has gotten way too long, and I am sorry.  Just a bit more, I promise.

I knew coping with 9/11 was going to be very difficult, and that this tragedy would always be a part of our lives, but I have to say, I didn't realize in the beginning just how hard it was going to be.

Watching my hubby go back to work the first day was awful.  I had to learn to cope, and it wasn't easy.  I wasn't ready to be 'rah rah let's show 'em how we keep on going!'  I just wanted my hubby home with me, and screw ever setting foot in NYC ever again!!!  

It is still hard.  I know that life goes on, and that is a blessed and wonderful thing, but, it is still hard.  It is hard because NYC is still, and will always be, a HUGE target.  Due to my hubby's job, he is in and around every possible target in the city, on any given day.  The UN, the museums, Grand Central, Penn Station, Wall Street, the Empire State Building, you name it, and he might be there. 

My coping is an ongoing process.  I do go into the city for my rheumatologist, because they are the best, and we have gone in for some family stuff, too.  Life does, indeed, go on.

It is still heart wrenching just to look at the skyline.  It is all wrong now.  It is missing the Towers, the exclamation points, at the end of the glorious sentence that is the Manhattan skyline.

Now, without punctuation, it is the end of the innocence.

be well,


artloner said...

thank you darlin'.
i can't even start mine.
such a mess in my head.



lurkynat said...

what a striking portrait Dawn!
ummm.... it's hard to say what I mean here but I wish the Best for you and Yours!
lots of love to you and Remember you were there but we are all thining of you!

slapinions said...

Thank you for writing this, it was very moving.


xomywayox said...

After all this time that I have been reading your journal. I never knew that you & yours lived in NY.

This was a moving and heart wrenching entry, it had to be hard on you. But I have to so a big thank you for sharing that day with us.

God Bless America.....Brenda

eml625 said...

Dawn, You remember it like I do. Living in NY its so much closer than a TV screen.
I can remember calling to check on my brother who works for Goldman Sachs, I can remember hearing, watching it live on TV...our neighbors being there. Sending in supplies. Not hearing any planes go over. It's hard for me to write about, but you said it all so well.
God Bless those lost.

sangrialel said...

Wow what an amazing entry.  I am so sorry for the loss of your friend.  Linda

lv2trnscrb said...

I'm so sorry about the loss of your friend, John.
(((Dawn and family))) Like I commented in Ellen's journal; you guys lived in; we just lived it through TV, but you were there in person. I can't imagine all you dealt with (deal with) living so close to it all


lifesabench6 said...

I am so sorry for your loss, and those who lost so much that day.  You're very incredible.  Thank you for your such personal thoughts.  Carolyn

sdoscher458 said...

((Dawn)) I sit here with tears streaming down my face.  Your words took me back there to that day.  You have captured the feelings of many people on that horrific day. I can understand just how difficult this was to write for you...but thank you for writing,   Sandi

plittle said...


wfhbear said...

The memories of one person are the memories all many people. Thanks for sharing your day with the rest of us. Regards, Bill.

happywifetoj said...

(((((((Dawn))))))))) I still don't have words for this. I was getting ready for class and flipped on the television to see the weather adn watched the second plane hit. An image that will never leave me.

I can't even imagine what it was like to be that close...

Love you,

cacklinrosie101 said...

Dawn, you've put tears in my eyes.  I can't imagine how it must have been to actually live in the NYC area all your life, have your husband and friends work there and have him leave for work that day.  And then to have to view the skyline every day of your life thereafter has to be a constant reminder.  I'm not sure how in the world you come to grips with that. Or how in the world the 2,996 families are coping. Thanks for sharing your story.  HUGS  Chris

sazzylilsmartazz said...

Although it's been five years ago,
Our hearts are sad - the tears still flow
And on this solemn day September
We promise always to remember.

Beautiful entry Dawn and my heart breaks for the loss of your friend.

bpslider45 said...

The tears thing... me too!

I'm here via AWV & Paul and 9/11 has always been surreal and abstract.
I knew what had happened was real and horrificly tragic but it was never personally attached to me.
Now in a way it is.
That's worse, but overall better.
Thank you.

dawngepfer said...

Dawn...  oh, my - you really brought me to tears.  I'm so sorry for the loss of John.  Today everything is coming back so fast, so distinct about that day.  I remember leaving work early and driving home almost solo on the highway.  The sky was crystal clear and a beautiful blue...  but deathly silent.  No planes overhead.  So strange for a city with an international airport.  Nothing on the radio but Shepard Smith - on every channel - giving updates and play by plays.  The drive home seemed endless.  After I picked up my son from daycare - with much the same sense of somberness you experienced, Dawn - we came home to catch the television coverage.  My son, only 3, asked if we could watch "firemen" (his nickname for the movie Backdraft) and altho I couldn't fathom the thought of NOT watching the news, I agreed and he and I snuggled on the couch.  He watched while I cried.  And cried.  And cried.

luddie343 said...

This 5th year into the attacks seem more like open wounds than any remembrance before.  Thank you Dawn, for sharing your story.  Can there ever be enuf time to heal ... my tribute may not be understood right away, but it felt meaningful.  CATHY    

valphish said...

Dawn, this must have been so hard for you to write.  Thanks for sharing.  It must have been so much harder for those of you in NYC that day.  Wow.  The families that were uniquely affected, who lost lives, only know the kind of pain of losing a loved one.  Then there are the ones who experienced it as your family did.  My brother was in the Pentagon that day.  Nearly lost his life and had to do clean-up.  He has had major depression ever since.  The plane that went down in PA is pretty close to where I live, too, so I thought it was coming near my home!!  So, it is a little different for those IN it.  Yes.  I agree that NYC doesn't look the same.  How sad it is that you have to see it as often as you do.  This was a very beautifully written piece, Dawn.  Thanks for sharing!  Love, Val xox

bruno64056rs said...

You were correct in your thinking about the security measures in place on 9/11/2001---WHAT IF WE HAD DONE THIS, INSTEAD???, etc. Our nation got "cocky," you know, "They wouldn't DARE mess with us, the U.S. of A.!" We forgot the lesson we learned at Pearl Harbor years earlier, and that is to never underestimate the power of your enemies, regardless of how extreme their mission seems to be!

dornbrau said...

Dawn, I sat with Steve last night watching the tributes and special reports on the 5th Anniversary of the attacks.  Watching the planes crashing, and the towers crumbling like sandcastles in the sea still takes my breath away every time I see it.  It was devastating then and still is.  The human tragedy cut clear through to my heart.  But I did not personally know anyone who worked in any of the buildings or planes so I was spared that degree of heartache.  I am sorry you and your loved ones had to bear such sorrow.  Dorn

plittle said...

I didn't have any words to say when I came by yesterday, but I just wanted to tell you that this was a well written entry.

adlessor said...

Sorry about your loss of a friend.  So many tears and heartaches.
Thanks for sharing.      Dawn
A Couple of Nomads