Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9-1-1

I'm sure the web will be swamped today with remembrances of 9-1-1, of where we were and what we took away with us after that horrific day. Ten years ago. Wow, how things have changed.

I was Administrative Officer for a small agency with US Dept of Agriculture in South Carolina, and that day the boss was in Phoenix, leaving me as acting director in his place. That morning I called in I'd be a couple hours late due to a headache and a repairman dropping by.

Around nine, the repairman pointed at the television I usually ignored. I had to sit down to make sure this was real, not a hoax. I recall my breath catching in my throat repeatedly as reality tried to set in. In that moment, as newscasters spoke of deliberate attacks, I halfway expected to start hearing additional reports, as if the Trade Towers were just the start. Attacks in other major cities, maybe in my own state where we were known for an abundance of nuclear power plants and military bases. I worked in the state capital. Then it hit me. I was in charge of an agency headquartered in a high-rise Federal building, a likely target.

Tossing the repairman out, I grabbed keys and sped to work to leap into our contingency plan. As expected, we vacated. I had to see everyone off the tenth floor, to include a manager who didn't take it seriously and demanded to stay behind and work on a project. I all but kicked his butt to the elevator. He called Phoenix to report my behavior. I didn't care. I grew up military. Not following orders had consequences, some deadly. I never thought I'd be thinking such thoughts.

Building cleared, by now it was noon. My children were in high school. My federal agent husband was on a training trip to Glynco, GA, at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center where they were all on high alert yet ordered to remain on site. I had no one to go home to, and the adrenaline was still pumping strong.

Another manager and I decided to head to a sports bar downtown, noted for the most and biggest television screens, to watch multiple stations and wait . . . for some kind of direction, for signs of more terrorism, for signs of when to run for cover. Deja vu growing up on US Air Force SAC bases during the days of Viet Nam and the Cold War, where they enforced curfews, and sirens sounded alerts for fathers like mine to report.

Everyone in that bar had similar personal thoughts. We could hear them talking, heads together. There was a camaraderie there that afternoon, but tension still hung like a cold fog in the air, amidst the low lighting accented by repeated scenes of crashing towers.

What happens next, and what does this mean to me?
What if I'd been in New York, Washington DC, Pennsylvania?
What about people I know in those places?
Were they safe? Are we safe here?
How do we know where safe is?

My life shifted that day, as if the nine-to-five was frivolous. As the only woman manager in an agency founded on farmers, I still fought for respect. For over two decades I'd climbed that ladder, butting a plate glass ceiling, and now I wondered why I'd tried so hard when it wasn't what I wanted to do, or who I wanted to be.

I'd been writing part-time for two years at that point--FundsforWriters was a young publication. I went home and made a plan.

One year later in September 2002, after paying off bills . . . after building up my writing portfolio . . . after a serious family meeting where we agreed what was really important in our lives . . . I left the job.


D.G. Hudson said...

What a great memory to share, Hope. Thanks. That attack made the western hemisphere see that we weren't as safe as we thought we were.

On that day, Sept 11, we all watched carefully in Canada as well, since many Canadians have USA relatives, or friends. I had heard of the first crash on my way to work, and assumed it was a mistake on the pilot's part. But as I walked into work in a big corporate HQ, I saw the 2nd plane go into the second tower on a big screen TV in the lobby. Those already watching gasped as I did, thinking 'this can't be happening'. My first thought after that was 'where is my family'.

It's a memory that has been burned into a young generation's memory as well, as my daughters were young, but that is one of the things they remember well.

Sioux Roslawski said...

I was in a fifth grade classroom, and we were all watching, transfixed and uncomprehending. At some point, we turned off the televisions and attempted to teach, but mostly it was discussions and floundering for explanations.

I think many people's priorities changed from 9/11. Life is too precious and fleeting to not grasp it and make it as fulfilling as possible.

Thanks, Hope. As usual, a thought-provoking post.

Anonymous said...

What a great story! Yes, I agree many people's priorities changed that day.


widdershins said...

I was living in Australia at the time and I remember thinking, as I watched the towers falling, over and over, that the world would never be the same.