I've been thinking a lot about how to go about this post.
It's hard. And it's long, and I don't apologize.
I'm sure everyone has heard every view inside and out about September 11th. Should I add my housewife's version to all the rest? It's hard to wrap my head around my own experience. Let alone share it. (My husband was truly the one who was there). I was safe all tucked up in my sweet little New Jersey-ian suburb. But I was freaked out and seriously scared all the same.As I mentioned in an earlier post, we only had one cell phone. It seemed decadent having it at all, much less considering having two! He commuted into the city via NJTransit everyday and it was ideal for him to make work calls while on the train. And to call me on his way home letting me know he was on his way, or when there was a delay and the ETA.
Every once in a while, I needed the phone for some mom thing, and he would leave it with me for the day. No big deal right?
I needed the phone on that particular Tuesday, because that night it would be my turn to drive around to several neighborhoods picking up young girls for a church activity. I had to take my kids with me, and it was hard to find a place to park, and then get the kids out and knock on (usually apartment) doors. Having the cell phone, was fabulous for just such an errand.
Let's rewind to the morning of Tuesday, September 11th.
We don't usually watch TV in the AM, and my husband apparently did not listen to the radio that morning driving to the train station. He generously left the cell phone behind (at my request) and left around 9:15AM, to catch a 9:30AM train.
I grabbed my grocery list and left soon after to take my then nearly 4 year old to pre-school. Again NOT listening to the radio. I dropped off my kid and another mommy grabbed me and asked: had I heard about the plane? The what, I replied? She said, it's on the radio, some sort of small plane has crashed into a building in Manhattan. A plane? That's crazy! I checked the radio. And sure enough, that's exactly what they were reporting. A small plane has crashed into a building in the city, no more details than that? I didn't know what to think, and not that I didn't believe it, it sounded tragic, but I still needed groceries, right?
Fairly nonchalantly I meandered over to the grocery store. (It seems so crass in hind-sight, I know). By the time I got to the store, the reports on the radio were growing quite a bit more intense, and there were clear updates that for sure the small plane had in fact hit one of the twin towers. Okay, now THIS got my attention. My husband did not work in the World Trade Center, he worked way up in Midtown, practically right on Broadway. But his train, the one he was literally on at that moment, traveled directly UNDER the towers!! I sat in my car for a long time listening to the radio. My younger kid was getting agitated sitting in her car seat.
I finally got out and attempted to do the shopping. Remember now, I AM THE ONE WITH THE CELL PHONE!!! I have tried several times to call his work, to leave a message. But the lines are jammed, you know that awful fast busy signal? And I'm not the only one. There are all these other zombie mommies walking around the store with a toddler in the seat and no groceries in the cart, talking or attempting to talk on their cell phones. We kept looking at each other with these questioning stares, wondering...
I gave up, and bought the few things that miraculously landed in my cart, I certainly didn't remember putting them there. My drive home takes me up over a little hill before dropping back down into the valley that is my town. And while on the top-most part of the hill, in the not too far off distance, I can see the Manhattan skyline. And there is a thin trail of smoke at the southern end of the island, right about where you can clearly see the two towers. Only the smoke is too thick to make them out.
This completely does me in. I loose it, right there in the car. I'm all tears and mushy, and still don't have any real information. My baby is blissfully oblivious, but confused at crazy mama. The radio by now has gotten some better information and they are letting us in on the gruesome realization that it was NO small plane, it was a huge and very packed jetliner, with a full tank of jetfuel! Remember I still haven't seen any television footage, most Americans at this point know more than I do. They are describing how people are being evacuated. Evacuated? From a hundred and ten foot building? How is that going to work out??
I make it home and my home phone rings. Praise be, I think, he's calling me finally! But no. It was a close friend, calling to see how much I knew and whether my husband had checked in. I caught her up on what I knew, which was nothing. And she let me know that she too couldn't contact her husband who had taken a much earlier train. She sounded much more upset than I was, and I agreed to drive over to her place for a while.
This is where I first watch actual television footage, now I am totally and completely horrified. AND the news about the second plane, and the one in Pennsylvania and the one at the Pentagon start filtering in. Should we pack up the kids and start driving West? North? Where? Without our husbands!? I still can't get hold of my husband and my friend was more under control. I decide to go pick up my preschooler early, because it is truly freaking me out not having my whole family right with me-- right that second.
Soon after we get home again the phone rings. I remember this being around 11AM, but the details are way fuzzy for me, it's all smushed together. The person on the other end of the line is someone I don't know. She is apologizing that it's strange for her to be calling, but that she is calling on behalf of my husband (Thank God). She is the secretary of a friend of my husband's who is an attorney at a totally different law firm than my husband's. I don't care who she is, she's my new saving angel and I love her. Her message was that he was not able to get into his building at all, as they were evacuating it. But he was fine, and working on getting home. That's all the news I get. I don't hear directly from my husband for 3 or 4 more hours.
The activity for the young women, was of course canceled. I never needed that horrible phone at all. And it would have made such a difference for him.
He caught a train from Penn Station to Newark around 7PM that night. He was stranded in NYC, (never did get into his building), for no less than 9 hours.
I leave him to tell his side of the story. (I'll post it, if he's willing...)
For several weeks after that day. People were...different...nice. You'd wave to people you didn't know (a rarity there), you'd ask strangers directly if they had lost anyone. There was no honking on the streets (truly odd). I remember the first time someone honked at me in annoyance, about 3 weeks after 9/11, and I was totally upset. Didn't they know? The rules? The new rules? We are genuinely concerned for everyone, we don't honk, because it's possible that person you just honked at, might have lost their husband to a terrorist attack in our own back yard.
Please pardon my multiple tenses in the post. It's still all sort of real and current for me, and I'm having a hard time placing this story wholly in the past?