Friday, September 12, 2008


I realize it's one day after the anniversary and that this post may have been more appropriately-timed 24 hours ago, but yesterday I just couldn't do it. I just couldn't let my mind go back to that day. Sometimes there are memories still too fresh, too you have those, whether about 9/11 or anything else, where you feel you just do not have the emotional reserve to allow yourself to visit those memories? That's how I felt yesterday. Any time my mind drifted to the idea that it was a somber anniversary, I found myself quickly pushing it away, trying to ignore it. Our morning had already started off on a depressing note, as my in-laws beloved family pet of over a decade had passed away...I just couldn't do more. In fact, I think I did everything I could to avoid the obvious date. I did laundry, cleaned the bathrooms, took the kids for a long bike ride, and even went out to dinner with some girlfriends. But it was after dinner. After the sun had gone down where the day finally caught up with me, in the silence of a house with three beautiful children sleeping upstairs--safe and free. I turned on the television and what did it happen to be on? The History Channel just as it was starting it's "102 Minutes that Changed America" program. Basically a minute-by-minute account (in real time) assembled from audio and video taken by professionals and amateurs on that fateful day. Watching it made you feel as though you were New York...a bystander witnessing history and tragedy. I was tired and it was late, but I couldn't turn it off. I was taken back to my own experience that day. Everyone has their own that will never be forgotten. Here's mine. It's not a pleasant read, how could it be, but someday it will be important that my children read it and realize what we all went through that day.

I was pregnant with Halle--in fact, she was born on Tuesday, September 25, two weeks from that very day. At that time, I was working for SkyWest Airlines and had recently transferred from the airport to their training facility downtown Salt Lake. Following my morning routine, I flipped on the TV so I could listen to the Today Show while I got ready. But as soon as the screen was lit, the television aired dramatic images of smoke that had me frozen in place. I sat, kneeling on the floor, for probably ten minutes as I tried to take in the shock of it all. Brett was on his way to class at the U and I remember thinking, "I've gotta call Brett." My other thought was that my job was going to probably be busier today as I knew air space over New York was restricted, and anytime that happens, no matter where in the country, it affects every airline in some way as passengers have to be rerouted, etc. I called Brett and told him about this terrible "accident".

Just as I was wrapping up my phonecall and getting ready to turn my back to the TV, a motion on the screen caught my eye. A burst of flames and audible gasps from Katie Couric and Matt Lauer. I recall yelling into the phone that there had been an explosion and Brett was asking me "What happened? Calm down! What happened?" I kept him on the phone as I watched and within a minute the news had rebroadcast the footage and it was very clear. A 2nd plane had flown itself into another building. It was now obvious to everyone that this tragedy was no accident, but rather something deliberate and full of hate. I immediately began to cry and told Brett I had to get to work, that I knew there would be complete chaos at the airport. I got ready as quickly as I could and drove to the TRAX station. On the way I called my mother-in-law because I knew my father-in-law was back East on business and was supposed to fly home that morning. I was in a panic as I could not reach him myself and wanted to make sure she knew to tell him to NOT get on the plane. She said she had already spoken to him and as expected, all planes were grounded. Next, I called my boss and asked her if she wanted me to go to the airport to help the ticket agents. She told me that actually, at the moment, they did not need help as they were not yet rescheduling passengers, since no one knew when to reschedule them for. How long would planes be grounded? Did airports need to be evacuated? Did all luggage need to be rechecked for security purposes? All of these questions were being presented to airport personnel. Instead, I was needed downtown to help get our crews home. That's when it hit me.

The flight crews. Rumors had already spread that the two planes had been hijacked, likely the most terrifying scenario a flight crew could face. Of course, I did not know the flight crews of those planes personally, but like most jobs, people that work in the same field feel a sense of brotherhood or in the very least commonality. Here I am, standing at the TRAX station, and I've started to sob because I've had a mental picture of what the morning must have been like for them. Starting out the day like any other: putting on their uniforms, packing their small carry-ons with the brightly-colored plastic "CREW" tags attached to the handles. Kissing their loved ones goodbye if they are leaving their home that morning, or taking the elevator down to the lobby from their hotel room if they were doing a stand-up shift. Arriving at the airport, they would have checked-in with Crew Scheduling and participated in a briefing about an hour before take-off, overviewing the flight plan and doing their preflight work. They may have experienced what I had many times when I worked Flight Operations at SkyWest...they may have stopped into Operations and enjoyed a bagel or a cup of coffee as they joked and visited with the ground airline employees. As they entered the aircraft, they would have said hello to the ticket agents who were working their particular flight. That brought a whole new range of emotion to me as I thought of that. The ticket agents. I was a ticket agent. What if you were that ticket agent who had personally exchanged conversation with those terrorists, checking them in, asking them how they were doing that morning, checking their ID, which appeared to be valid, and then taking their ticket as you bid them a good flight? Closing the flight and walking the manifest to down to the flight crew. That would stay with you the rest of your life. And even though you had done your job, the guilt that you would feel. And what about after take-off? The horror and pain the crew and the passengers went through in-flight. A lot of people may joke about flight attendants being glorified waitresses, not crediting the months of intense training a FA endures before their first flight. Their first and foremost duty is the safety of the aircraft cabin and its passengers. I suppose we'll never know every detail of those flights, but I felt physically ill as months later we heard of the audio reports from the black box of United 93 where in the background a FA can be heard pleading for her life, the pilots lay dead or dying. So many people were murdered that day. People in the towers, people on the ground by the towers, or the heroic rescue workers running into the towers when everyone else was running out. People in Washington, D.C. serving our country at the Pentagon, and all the passengers on board the planes. But the thoughts that consumed me the most at that moment were the kind of people I worked with everyday. The Captains, First Officers, and Flight Attendants, who had simply gone to work, not realizing that their "work space", their aircraft, would be their vehicle to their graves, as well as missiles used to kill thousands others.

The rest of that day was spent trying to find hotel and travel accomodations for the many SkyWest crew members who were now stranded in cities, unable to fly home. I was at the front desk but I could hear coworkers in the copy room watching the news on an antenna television with poor reception. At one point, I could hear from that room my coworker Amber stifle a scream. She came out seconds later sobbing, "They're jumping! Jumping out of buildings. I saw them jump, holding hands!" That night Brett just held me as we both watched the TV and cried. Eventually, he said we ought to turn it off, that it wasn't doing us any good to keep watching the footage over and over. I cried myself to sleep with my husband's arms around me, and all I could think of were all the spouses who's arms were empty.

Looking back into the days and weeks that followed, don't you find it interesting that at that time, no one objected to public prayer or public expressions of pleading for Diving Intervention? Flags were everywhere. Patriotism was everywhere. So was God. And everyone felt so desperate, felt a need for a God, that nobody objected. Nobody protested or felt their rights were violated.
How soon we forget.


Megs said...

I too, will never forget this will stay with me forever. And yes, how sad that it takes such a tragedy for people to come together and be so outwardly patriotic and religious. In the midst of such turmoil, it was a time I was so proud of our nation...if only we could be so proud now. Thanks for the post!!

LaFawnda said...

We all shared that day, as I'm sure the same way others felt about Pearl Harbor, but I still get that gagging lump in my throat.
I will blog also about this.
love ya

Tif said...

Very touching post. Thanks for sharing. I too know it is a day that I will never forget.

"The democracy will cease to exist when you TAKE AWAY from those who are willing to work AND GIVE to those who would not."

Thomas Jefferson