12 September 2005

Where Were You on September 11th?

I was quite busy yesterday - funny how Sundays end up that way - and never found any time to sit and quietly reflect on the events of September 11th. It is a shame that things like this are such indelible landmarks of time instead of laughter and joy - but for me, a child of the 70s and 80s, in the same way I remember the day Elvis died, the day President Reagan was shot, the day the space shuttle exploded, and strangely the day Michael Jackson's head caught on fire while filming a Pepsi commercial (I laugh to think that I wouldn't drink Pepsi for years after that!), and many other such happenings - I will NEVER forget the day of September 11th and how it relates to me personally - what I was doing, and the innocence we lost as a country on that terrible day.

My friend Carol and I had rented a beach house from a friend of mine at church in Dewey Beach, Delaware. We both homeschool, and decided we would much prefer the beach after the Labor Day holiday and all the other kids went back to school, so we rented this cozy little getaway for that second week in September.

All summer long there had been an unprecedented number of reports of shark attacks in the news (not that there were necessarily more attacks, but more reports of them on the news) and Carol and I were truthfully a little anxious about letting our kids near the ocean. The morning after we arrived, after leisurely waking and having coffee, and talking a bit about what we would do that day, I took my three children, and Carol's daughter Brenna (ages then 10, 9, 8, and almost 4- Kullen turned 4 that week!) for a walk on the beach. In hindsight the beach was strangely quiet and deserted. I don't remember seeing much of anyone - however, I credited that to our smart planning of coming after school began. The kids were looking at shells and splashing their feet in the water. I looked out for the dolphins we had seen when we were at that same beach in June with my husband for a weekend - and as I did, out on horizon was a ship. This was not a yacht or a boat - but looked like a navy aircraft carrier I had seen once. I know this will sound crazy but my first thought was relief that they had the coast guard out patrolling for sharks - and maybe the kids weren't in any danger getting in the water. Little did I know!!!

I will never forget the first moment the horror or what happened hit my brain. I had come back to the beach house, and we were about to go grab some lunch and groceries. While everyone was getting ready, I called around to a couple of places we found in the phone book of activities we thought the kids might enjoy - putt putt, water slides, and a horseback trail riding place. When I got on the phone with the trail riding company, I thought I was speaking to a mentally ill person. She kept rambling on and on about a cousin she had in New York - saying I may have to go and pick her up - we aren't sure yet - and honestly what I heard was blah, blah, blah - and what I thought was that this woman needed some Ritalin - and all of a sudden when I'm thinking these unkind things about her - how I certainly hope she wouldn't be the one leading the horses with my children on them, etc. etc. she breaks into my thoughts loudly and says, "Oh my God! You don't know do you???" And I said, "Know what?" I don't remember the words she used, but slowly the world started to spin. I don't even remember saying goodbye to her - but got off the phone quickly and told the kids to go outside so Carol and I could talk alone. I have no idea what I said to Carol but told her everything I knew - and we decided somehow we wanted to know more without letting on to the kids what was going on.

I remember trying all that day to call my husband who was working in D.C. - perhaps at the Pentagon - and Carol trying to call her husband. I was so stressed and anxious. We eventually knew the kids had to know. It was a crazy time. We didn't know whether to go home or to stay, and heard eventually that the roads leading in and out were shut down because we were near a military base. (We never cofirmed this.) Both husbands told us to stay put because driving home would take us right back through the Capitol.

We continued on with our vacation fairly normally. One strange thing I remember that happened was that when we took the kids to have the traditional old-tyme photos done, as we sat on the bench outside waiting for our pictures to be printed, eating Thrasher's french fries (with vinegar!!), a guy walked buy with a huge boom box on his shoulders, like the ones everyone carried around in the 80s - and heard a one-liner "....and the Pentagon is in flames....". Carol and I looked over the tops of our children's heads - I'll never forget her facial expression. Something about our country changed that day forever. It was so surreal - like watching a movie unfold slowly before your eyes, but in the end you don't fold your seat up and toss your candy wrapper and walk away. This had marked us forever. Our lives would really and truly never be the same again.

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