Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten years later

Originally posted September 11, 2006

There are parts of that morning I remember, some are a blur. I know my husband was up very early to catch a flight to New England. I can't remember if I was up early to see him off or if I'd slept in. Leaving on a jet plane was familiar in our house. He was always "going to" or "coming home from" the airport each week.

Detroit was a difficult place for my son and me, coming from rural areas and a college town. Neither of us were used to millions of people living in one, relatively small area of real estate. The sounds of traffic at all hours of the day and night on surrounding four-lane “streets” were at the least...distracting. The racial tension was new to us.

We lived in a suburb off of Twelve Mile Road. Detroit proper begins at Eight Mile Road. The only color. Mostly white on one side, mostly black on the other. Otherwise, you could drive miles and not know when you are leaving one suburb and going into another. We learned never to go out alone at dark. Since my husband was traveling most of the time, we stayed home at night. We both remember the day we were out later than we had anticipated and he had to walk home after the sun went down. Rather, we ran home...

We had moved a lot to follow my husband's career. In each community, we would look for something good. (Some towns were easy, some not so easy to find the good things.) Living in Detroit had one very good thing we enjoyed. Within walking distance were numerous neighborhood restaurants, grocery stores, produce stores, etc. It was nice when planning dinner to be able to walk five minutes to the produce store for fresh vegetables.

For many years, we had a family tradition to have breakfast or lunch at a restaurant on the day Dad was leaving for a business trip. Somehow, it made it not so bad. On this day, we decided to have a late breakfast at our favorite neighborhood diner. (It is the place my son still misses from Detroit.) I had briefly looked at the news at home. One of the early morning news shows was talking about a plane having gone into the World Trade Center. At this time, they thought it was most likely a small private plane. It made news but it hadn't interrupted their regular programming.

My son and I walked to the diner and sat at our usual table. Our favorite waitress took our order. There is a unique feature of most neighborhood diners in Detroit. They have at least one television placed where it is easily seen by customers. I do remember my son and I were talking about Dad's trip, how he was being transferred to New England and how excited we were about the transfer. Once in awhile, I'd look at the TV where Good Morning America was now showing the World Trade Center on fire. Speculation had begun that this was more than originally thought.

Then the little TV on the wall showed us a picture that will never leave our minds, the second plane hitting the other tower. The hosts were asking the same question I was thinking, "Did you see that"? My mind could not comprehend what it meant but deep within my stomach was now a heaviness that didn't leave. I'm not certain it has ever left. All of us knew when that second plane hit, this was no accident. My son was only eleven at the time but he knew something terrible was happening. By this time, we had finished our breakfast. We both agreed we wanted to be home, surrounded by familiar "things" in an unfamiliar city.

We weren't concerned about my husband at this time. There was no way his plane would have been involved in those events, or the crashing into the Pentagon later. Then we heard rumors of other planes down. Finally, a report of a crash over Pennsylvania. The timing couldn't have been worse; his Chicago to New England flight would have been around that area at the same time. It wasn't until much later that we would know the flight had originated from the East. We stayed in front of the TV all day. Calls went back and forth between my daughter and me. Had we heard from Dad? Did his office know anything? Hours had passed, where could he possibly be?

Finally...that evening...a call. He hadn't heard about the plane crashing in Pennsylvania so he figured we knew he was safe (what is it about men that they think this way?). The first tower had been hit when he was in the air on the way to Chicago. Everyone leaving that flight knew something was wrong as soon as they entered the airport. Groups of people were surrounding the TVs. Then the flight monitors begin to show "cancelled" for every flight. It took him awhile to realize what this meant. He made his way to the rental car area, along with hundreds of other people. Every rental car was gone. The people at the rental car agency spent hours trying to locate cars for those stranded in Chicago. Eventually he would take a taxi to a town in Northwestern Indiana where there "might" be a car he could rent the next day. He ended up back in Detroit two days later.

In the days that followed, the only air traffic over us was the helicopters providing security at the American-Canadian border. It was an eerie feeling; normally the sky is full of aircraft going to and from the International Airport, news helicopters, police helicopters, private planes, etc. The next weeks and months would have Detroit on a high alert for terrorist activity. I half expected to hear an explosion at any time.

Our world was changed that day, both personally and as a nation. The much anticipated transfer to New England was cancelled. My husband would soon be out of a job. The foreign parent company had decided to close the New England plant entirely and cut back their Detroit holdings due to the economic uncertainty brought about by 9/11. Due to illness, my husband never worked as an engineer again but at least our Dad did come home. There were a lot of families who never received that much anticipated call of safety.


Vee said...

And they say that the more interesting question besides "Where were you that day?" is "How has 9-11 changed who you are?" You've done both with this post. Very compelling story, Brenda.

Mrs.Rabe said...

It is easy to forget that so many lives were affected by 9/11 not just those families who lost their loved ones.

Tim was at work, the kids and I home ready to start a day of school...just about to turn off the morning news...I headed out to the kitchen to get something for one of the kids and my son who was twelve said "Mom, another plane just hit the tower!" I knew we would do no school that day.


Anonymous said...

Some think we need to move on, but we need to remember. We need to remember not only those who perished but also those lives affected by this tragedy. The heroes who gave of themselves for others, parents who lost a son or daughter, widows/widowers, children who lost a parent. So many have been affected by this tragedy. I am a priest in the episcopal church. My sermon last Sunday was stories of those who transformed their lives from experiences during 9/11. Yes, this was a terrible event that happened in our country. But we need to learn from it and have hope and know that God will get us through this. FYI, our church is located on 13 mile road not far from your home in the suburb of Detroit. The Eight mile road border is moving more north. It is not as defined as it used to be. Yes, there are still areas that you do not want to be out in at night, but that could be any large city. I know that in our area between 12 mile road and 13 mile road we take walks in the evening. You just do not walk by yourself. I really enjoy reading your post.