I had just dropped my mother-in-law off at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and flipped the radio on in my car when I heard the news – a small passenger jet had crashed into the World Trade Center. Immediately I thought of Danny who was flying in the same air space for United Express at the time. But, that couldn’t have been his plane. This had to have been a private aircraft that had somehow gotten into trouble to have made such a navigational error.
Then the news that a second plane had hit the second tower. Now I was worried. What was going on? And could Danny be in trouble?
By the time I had reached my office, it had become clear that these weren’t small aircraft after all, but large, hi-jacked commercial airliners.
My boss had the TV on in his office as I entered and we watched in disbelief as both towers were billowing smoke and flames. We didn’t know what to say to each other and so just watched in silence with the occasional “Oh, my God!” slipping from my lips. I didn’t know if I should go to my desk and just get on with my work, or stand there useless and confused. What was the proper professional response in this type of situation? I started to walk away, but then turned back to see the first tower start to implode upon itself. I don’t think I fully comprehended what I was seeing. It was as if I were watching a movie. My mind never allowed me to think that there were actually still people in the building. I immediately told myself they assuredly had all gotten out by now. Right?
Back and forth between my boss’ office and my desk I wandered, unable to work and desperate to know what was happening now. After the second tower collapsed, and they had shut down all flights, I told my boss I would need to go back to the airport and pick up my mother-in-law and take her home. And then I’d be back. Because, I still didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Was anyone working right now?
And, I had no way to reach Danny to see if he was okay.
I did return to the office, but, by noon, everyone decided it was time to go home. Because, who could work? Nothing seemed as important right now as being with family and honoring our country. So I went home to the only family I had at that moment, my soon-to-be-mother-in-law, who was only supposed to be in town for a short while to help in making preparations for my marriage to her son in exactly two months. Now, she was grounded here in Phoenix with me, for who knows how long, while her son’s whereabouts were yet to be determined.
We sat at my dining room table, waiting for word from Danny, and crying for the loss of life that day, for our country and for the unknown future this would mean for us all. Emotions were at a level beyond words. I remember feeling like a black cloud had enveloped us and was crushing any bit of hope for a return to the America we knew from our hearts. What would tomorrow look like? And the day after that? And after that?
Eventually, we did hear from Danny. He was safe and grounded somewhere in the Midwest.
While it would be days before Danny could come home and a few more before his mom could return to Louisiana, nothing returned to normal after that. Our lives, like most Americans, were changed forever.
September 11th, 2001. We will never forget.