Friday, September 11, 2009

Where were you on 9/11/2001?

Times Square New York City August 2001

Times Square New York City August 2001

It has been 8 years and I still get chills thinking about that day. It still seems like a dream but I usually forget dreams within an hour of waking up – even the nightmares.

This nightmare I will never forget. No one should ever forget. I was in New York City just a few weeks prior to 9/11/2001. My first trip to NYC. I was a consultant with a large software company in Islandia, NY at the time.

As a consultant I worked from home (Roanoke) and traveled the U.S. on assignment. This time I jumped at the chance to attend a cybercrime seminar at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Me and a room-full of FBI agents … oh, the testosterone … but I digress.

This last week of August 2001 was hot but I was so excited to be touring the “Big Apple” after a day of cybercriming. Visiting the store next to the Ed Sullivan theater and getting my dark blue “Letterman Show” mug that I still have today. Going to plays and having a ball on the company’s dime. I stayed on West 54th Street just a few blocks from John Jay College. I never made it to the World Trade Center. I regret it to this day.

After NYC I spent a week in the Herndon office and on September 10 flew to Phoenix where I was to attend a class the following day. The drive to Scottsdale was further from the airport than I thought and I had a hard time finding my motel. It was 107 degrees and the outside pool water was hot when I went to take a dip.
I’ve always had a hard time adjusting to timezone changes so the morning of 9/11 I woke early. I heard loud televisions from the adjoining rooms. I put a pillow over my head.
In frustration I finally gave up and turned on my television and the horror hit me in the face. It took me a moment to comprehend the media confusion. Stunned I called the office to see if the class was still on. When someone finally answered I was told the company closed all its U.S. offices but our class would be held as scheduled. Class attendees had arrived from other countries and with flights grounded no one could fly anywhere anyway. Later I learned that the company’s downtown NY office had been damaged but no one was injured.
Sullivan Theater

Sullivan Theater

The last thing I wanted to do was attend a class. We all had our computers tuned to CNN’s website. The instructor seemed oblivious to the catastrophe in NYC. Was I the only one so upset? It seemed so – I just wanted to go home as if it would somehow make it all go away. I wanted to share with someone as affected by it as I was. I wanted to be with friends and family.

As news of the Pentagon being hit came across the news I thought of my friend at the U.S. Office of Government Ethics that I had just seen a few days earlier. I called and he was out of breath evacuating the building.

Several of us in the class were getting nervous about how we were going to get home as flights continued to be grounded throughout the week. We had rental cars but none of us lived in the same place to carpool. I had a car and was going to team up with a consultant who lived in Reston so we could take turns driving. Oh, how I dreaded the thought of that long a drive.

But a reprieve came when the flight ban was lifted by the end of the week. The flight from Phoenix to Pittsburgh was practically empty. The Pittsburgh airport was eerily quiet when we landed. No other movement except our flight at the time.

Changing to the US Airway 737 to Roanoke was even more unnerving. There were only three people on it with me. The flight attendant moved us all up to first class. She talked to us the entire way as if to calm us or maybe it was her nervousness she was trying to quell. We were served anything we wanted.

A quick cab ride home and in the door where I expected to feel safe and then I could leave the stomach-churning nightmare behind me.

Not one bit of solace did I experience. I unpacked and sat down and stared into space for awhile – a long while. I kept seeing relatives of the victims holding pictures waiting for a hopeful word – asking have you seen my husband, wife,  brother, sister, son or daughter. I can’t begin to imagine … just can’t imagine.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Commentary


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