September 11th- The 10 Year
Here's a little backstory for those that are reading this for the first time and for those that might not have heard the whole story. I try not to tell it a lot because it still hurts. In this posting, as is fitting for the occasion, I will be going deeper into detail then I have in a very long, long time.
On September 11th, 2001 I was to fly home to Michigan for a month long visit. My then husband was going to Marine Corps training at Bridgeport, in California for one month. That morning, before the sun even rose to reveal a day soon to be shrouded in horror… I didn't want to get onto the plane. I'd never before not want to get on an airplane as bad as I did that morning. It was the first time I can remember of ever being terrified to fly. My friend Ebony Litchard had to force me down the jet way to board my flight. In the journal entries- I call her Ebby. Her husband was going with mine to training.
The following typed up journal entries are in their entirety, the only editing done was spell-check and what I added as fact- which are in parentheses and italics. I didn't change a few names even though the Ex is in these entries a lot. I was married to him at that point in my life, and as far as Rocky, Jane, and Susan, I consider them my guardian angels throughout the ordeal. As you might guess, these entries bring back a lot of pain and fear that I only let myself feel for one day a year, in spite of my forearm tattoo.
To this day- a flawless blue sky above scares the hell out of me.
September 11th, 2001
Sorry it's been so long since I've written- been busy getting ready for this trip. I look out the window and down below me are the peaceful uniform clouds. 79 degrees in Jacksonville, 72 degrees in Charlotte and the pilot just said the temp in D.C. is 64. How low is it going to go?? Heading to a new airport, and part of me is scared; meanwhile I'm totally relaxed and somewhat curious.
Ex left Cherry Point (a large Marine Air Station north of Camp Lejeune. I flew out of Jacksonville Airport) the same time I did, each heading in separate ways. I miss him already, but the promise of what is to come of this trip home already has me on edge. Who am I going to see when I get off the plane in Grand Rapids? What has changed? I've said it before and I will say it again- too many questions without answers.
This is as much as a vacation/ family time thing as it is time to work/ prove myself/ recharge my batteries kinda thing. Batteries that have run all but out of energy. Granted I will miss Jacksonville and Ex, but I need this time away. I always seem to need time away… Maybe someday I'll understand why… Well- we're ten minutes out of Reagan National in D.C. Better pack things up… I'll write more once we get in the air headed for Detroit….
Well- how exactly do I start this? Landed in D.C. Reagan… All the televisions were fixed on the World Trade Towers in smoke and flames. Okay- big fire, right? News worthy yes… But oh well- WRONG!!! (This was in fact WTC Tower 2; I walked away from the television banks minutes before the second plane hit Tower 1.) Four airliners hijacked, two of the first were driven into the upper halves of the towers… 3 hours ago… they collapsed!!! Ten minutes after I landed, a plane was driven into the Pentagon, which wouldn't ya know it is two blocks away from here!!! When you go outside of this airport, you cannot breathe from all the smoke. All you can hear are the people around you screaming and crying, breaking down and the bellowing sirens from all over the city. The radio just said that another plane has crashed outside of Pittsburgh… (Shanksville, PA) I wonder if Ebby knows???
We had to evacuate the airport… I have no clue what do I do!!! I have $30 on me and the cabbies, if they actually get to leave, are charging like $150!! So here I sit, crying, shaking, choking on the smoke and trying to think while I write in this journal… Something should turn out right… I could only get a hold of Grandma before the phones completely shut down and we were told to get out of the building… (She hadn't even turned on her television yet that morning, and I remember thinking- I just killed Gramma. She'll die of a heart attack from worry and no one will know where I am.) I have no clue where my bags are right now… All I have is my backpack and cash in my pocket… Now what???
Been an hour since I've last written… I found three people on a shuttle bus circling the airport parking lot. Rocky, Susan and Jane. He offered us a ride to Alexandria, VA where Jane lives. They offered for me to go with them and sleep on the couch, I took the offer! Like hell was I going to sleep on a bench in this city? I don't even know much more than the airport is two blocks away from the Pentagon. Obviously I'm not going to get far by foot with thirty bucks… A couch is better than nothing…
Just got off the phone with Ebby, Rocky let me use his cell phone… Ex is on the ground in Utah, Mom and Dad know I'm okay. Emotionally- I'm numb. We just had three Tomcats (F-14)'s escort in a plane they had to get out of the air. We were told to get out of our cars and get underneath them in case it was a hijack, but I figured, the minute he hits a line of parked planes, we're all going to die since we're only half a block from the airport, so might as well watch (I lit a cigarette and stood in the middle of the parkway bridge, waiting)… Didn't crash. I'm done- I can't deal with this anymore! I am caught in this ungodly hell the nation has been ripped through today. People were leaping to their death from the WTC to get away from the fires, Tom Brokaw just said on the radio.
I just want to go home! I don't even care which one at this point! Jacksonville or Marne… I just want to be safe with the people I love on either end. If Ex is coming home, I just want to be there with him… I just don't know anymore… I can't think anymore. I'll just take things one-step at a time. I'm going to get to Alexandria then make my phone calls. How do I feel? I'm a great writer and even I can't find words to describe this! This kindness and generosity of these two women and their neighbors is all I can honestly say.
What will I go home to? Will people look at me differently or will life be back to normal? (Once we got to the condo in Alexandria, Jane's neighbors gave me a carton of cigarettes and a fifth of white label Jim Beam whiskey. Alexandria is a twenty minute drive from D.C. On September 11th, it took up a little over 6 hours to get there. I called my father and he sent me a couple grand through Western Union for me to live off of, since neither of us knew how or when I'd be getting home.)
6:05 PM- Afghanistan has been bombed. This has got to be the beginning of WWIII. Hopefully, I'll get to see Ex before he goes, if he goes. I miss him so much right now. I need someone to hold me and tell me everything is okay and then I'll wake up from this nightmare and be safe at home with my husband…
11:35 PM- I've drunken an entire bottle of Jim Beam and have smoked almost the entire carton of Winston cigarettes that Jane's neighbors had given this afternoon and I feel none of it. I'm not drunk, not sick... Numb. That's all I am. I haven't even tried to sleep and probably won't until I get home, whenever that is.
September 12 and 13, 2001
I don't know if I'm leaving today. Northwest said I have a flight at noon but National doesn't open until 3pm. I just want to get home and right now I really don't care how I get there. (I actually got my luggage from D.C. National, only after a body cavity search to gain entrance to the airport; National didn't re-open for flights for another month after the attacks.)
I'm so strong right now. All the pain and fear is locked up deep inside of me, and something else inside of me is keeping me for feeling in. Someday this will break free and consume me, I know it.
(Once I got to the Greyhound terminal in Springfield, VA- I purchased a bus ticket. First being told it would cost over $300. When I tossed down my military ID that all Marine dependents carried, the price dropped to $80. In the corner of the terminal near the ticket counter, sat a man rocking back and forth in his chair. Chanting "They lost my luggage… They lost my luggage…"
I crouched down on the floor in front of him, "Sir? Greyhound is really good about getting lost luggage back to people. I'm sure they will find it and ship it to you…"
He shook his head violently. "Not, Greyhound. The airline. The airline lost my luggage…"
At this point his lifts his head enough to look me in the eyes. I saw that same terrified void in his eyes as I felt inside my soul. He continued, "No… I don't pee on airplanes. Claustrophobic. I missed my flight… My luggage is in the Pentagon… I had to take the bus…"
I choked down the vomit in my throat, patted him on the shoulder and went to have a cigarette. I was told by the ticket agent that there might be a rush to get on the bus there at Springfield and that it would be better if I could get on in D.C. So Jane and Susan drove me to the Grey Hound station in downtown Washington D.C., dropped me off and headed back to Alexandria. I still hadn't slept since the night before my flight out of Jacksonville. It was the first time I never slept a wink on a bus ride.)
I have a bus ticket! I leave D.C. tonight at 9:30pm!! I hate buses but given the alternative of who knows when I'll fly, I'll take it!
September 14, 2001
Got to Cleveland this morning and missed my bus (by a pathetic 5 minutes), now I'm stuck here! The guys aren't flying yet so they are busing them to Bridgeport and that's all anyone knows for sure right now. Two of the companies never left Lejeune. I just hope that whenever I actually get home I can get this all out of my system and resume a somewhat normal life, whatever that maybe from now on…
I got home, actually to Grand Rapids around nine tonight, Mike and Dad picked me up and took me to Perkin's for dinner… I'm home, I definitely safe now… Think I'm gonna just put this thing away for a few days and breathe….
(My little brother drove home from the Maritime Academy in Traverse City, still in uniform, just to see me get off the bus okay. September 14th was the first night I slept. For two hours before the nightmares hit.)
Real time 2011. I look back into that journal and the next entry is Halloween of 2001. I've lived with these memories, this point of view for ten years now. For ten years all this pain and fear has been inside of me, cracking the surface now and then. Usually for one day a year is all I'd let it. Earlier this year- the anger I've felt vanished. The night I sat beside Hubby on the couch, weeping and sobbing, watching the coverage of the death of Osama Bin Laden. The one man I truly hated with a vehement passion for ten long years. I didn't know how to feel other than empty- when all that hatred was stripped away by the knowledge that the organizer of the 9-11 attacks was killed by the hands of United States Navy Seal Team Six.
I will never again be the girl that was scared to get on an airplane and didn't know why. I will never again be that girl that knew nothing of Bin Laden or Al Queda or wasn't afraid of cloudless blue skies. She looks at me from the other side of the mirror once and a while, but she's a living ghost of the girl I used to be. September 11th ripped me apart and changed my into the woman I am today. Which may not be all bad, after all I am in a loving marriage to a wonderful man now. But I wish I could just see her in myself once again- to wish her good-bye.
I will never, EVER forget 9-11. I hope now that my healing can truly begin now that I will no longer take a day to mourn. From now on I will celebrate who I am because of that day and pray that something like this will never happen again.