I was in San Antonio getting ready to attend a funeral, ironically enough. Little did I know that our entire nation was on the verge of experiencing a grief unlike any we'd ever known before. As my Mom and I were getting ourselves ready for the day, we were watching Good Morning America when they reported an airplane crashing into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. An accident, I thought. But when the second plane crashed, I thought it must be an act of terrorism. Soon, more news of an airplane crashing into the Pentagon. And finally, news of an airplane that went down in a field in Pennsylvania.
I was worried we'd spend the entire day wondering which city would be next.
It didn't take long for the news agencies to announce that America was under attack.
I had moved back to Texas from New York City just two years before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. I still had a lot of friends living there, and as I flipped through the rolodex in my brain of all my friends who might have worked in the twin towers, I couldn't think of any one. As it turned out, I had two friends who worked there. One of them was working in the New Jersey office that day, and my other friend had a doctor appointment that day, so she didn't go into work. Miracles worth counting on a day when so much was just so terrible.
Late in the day, it dawned on me that my former boss, J, worked near the WTC, and I got all teary-eyed at the thought of the possibility that he might be gone. I called him for days and never heard anything back. Finally one day my phone rang and it was him...alive and well. Phone lines had been down in New York City, and it took him and his wife several days to get back to their rural home outside the city to get my message and call me back. He worked across the street from the WTC in the World Financial Center. He felt his building shake when the first plane hit. He went outside to see what was going on, and when he saw people jumping from the towers, he had to turn around and just walk away. He walked and walked all the way home (which was no short distance).
One of the strange feelings I had in the days following September 11th was the distinct feeling that I wanted to be back in New York. I wanted to be there to grieve with my former city. It took me two years, though, before I made it back to NYC, and I was there on the two year anniversary of September 11. I went with my friend to Ground Zero and saw people reading bios of those who perished in that very place two years before.
It was all so much to process. I walked to the nearest pay phone and called Joel at work. I got his voice mail. I just wanted to tell him that I was thinking of him because he was the person I was so worried about that day two years ago. As I began talking on his voicemail, I started to cry, and I was so embarrassed because I couldn't pull myself together. Finally, two years after the attacks on the WTC, I was grieving. Several months later, J called me and told me that he was out of the country when I called, but he wanted me to know that he so appreciated my message. I was so relieved because I thought maybe my tearful message was too much for him. He assured me that he didn't mind my tears at all. In fact, he said he saved the message and replayed it when he was having a bad day.
I call him every year on September 11th, just to tell him that I'm so glad he's my friend, and I'm so glad he's alive.