Through the fog of memory, I know I was driving a 1985 Toyota Corolla – a trusty, rusty, brown sedan with standard transmission and a bazillion miles on it. My seven-year-old son had just scampered out of the back seat and into the line of students meandering and shoving their way into school that morning.
My daughter, 11 1/2, turned down a ride in favor of the school bus to get a few extra minutes socializing with her friends instead of a boring ride with mom and her baby brother.
The radio still worked, and WLS 890 Chicago crackled in the background. I sat stunned in the parking lot listening to the news. A plane had flown into the World Trade Center. Was it an accident? Was it an attack?
I drove home determined to check some things off my housekeeping list instead of collapsing on the sofa in front of Oprah. But first, I turned on the news to see if there were any updates. One of the first things I saw was footage of a plane flying into the World Trade Center.
A replay, I thought. But why was the other building already . . . no, this was a second plane. My first reaction was to call my husband, a carpenter, at work in one of the office buildings in Chicago.
I told him I’d dropped our son off and our daughter was probably already at school. Should I go pick them up? Bring them home? The urge to have them near was overwhelming.
Instead, he suggested they’d feel safer, more normal if we left them at school with their regular schedule and friends to distract them. He didn’t think the teachers and administration would bombard them with news images. If there were an emergency close by, he reasoned, the school would be notified before we were.
So, home alone, I sat in front of the television and watched both buildings collapse. Or maybe it was only one. The truth is, what I mostly remember is sitting in the car, listening to the radio and then calling my husband and wanting my babies at home.
Later that day, my husband would call again and tell me he was working in the suburban Chicago AON building off the tollways. They had offices in the top floors of one of the Twin Towers. He said he’d never forget the looks on people’s faces as they talked on the phone with coworkers in New York who knew they wouldn’t make it out.
I remember Alan Jackson’s poignant, thought-provoking song. I remember the endless news cycle carrying dusty white images of the horrified bystanders and those fortunate enough to escape.
Saturday Night Live with the Mayor and the Firemen looking uncomfortable, sad, maybe even a little embarrassed – wondering what they were doing standing on stage. David Letterman giving everyone permission to laugh again.
Not much of a story. Just one memory of one woman in the Midwest wondering what the hell had happened to our crazy world.
I’d mostly stopped watching televised news by this time, thanks in large part to the 1994 incident when a mother drowned her own sons after falsely claiming she was carjacked. I thought there was no reason to subject myself to that kind of evilness on a nightly pre-programmed basis.
Somehow, I always manage to stay abreast of current affairs. I seek out multiple points of view on various topics of note. I research, I look into things. But I have continued my boycott of tragedy and horrific images as entertainment.
But I watched as the world watched that September day.