Where Were You?

After a couple days hitting the parks, Saturday was spent relaxing. We slept late and had a hardy breakfast. We all enjoyed some quiet time at home just reading and relaxing and visiting. Our trip to the pool was cancelled due to a thunderstorm that never materialized. But by the time the clouds cleared and we realized the storm had blown past, it was dinner time.

While my blog posts typically run the day behind with today’s blog usually being about the previous days events but  I feel remiss not acknowledging that today is September 11th. In fact it is the 15th anniversary of September 11th. The news has been filled with stories and retrospectives. The children of those lost are now beginning high school. Monuments and memorials are being built. Documentaries are being made that further expand on the events to include the events in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. A generation of children are beginning school that will learn about the events of that day because they weren’t born yet.

It is an emotional day for our country. Personally, the day holds its own set of emotions. Those emotions heightened by the fact that the family we were staying with lost a family member and quite a few friends on that day. When discussion September 11th the question that is always posed, in some way or another is: “Where were you?”

Everyone that answered has such clarity of detail. They remember the day in such minute detail as if it was just yesterday. I am one of those people. I can’t remember what I wore but I remember that I was in geography class. I had arrived on campus and made it to class; my fellow classmates were all whispering about the news huddled together. We started to talk thinking for sure that class would be canceled. Classmates were calling parents and friends that worked in New York.

Surprisingly enough our professor did not cancel class. I like to think that it wasn’t any ill will but rather just a complete and utter lack of comprehension of the magnitude of what had happened. Perhaps because we had all lived through the bombing in 1993. And the bombing in Oklahoma. While those were tragic events and rocked the nation, they were no where near the scale of the events of that morning. There was no realization that the world as we all knew it was irrevocably changed.

At the exact moment the second tower was hit we were beginning the lesson on San Paulo and South America. I often wonder what that day would have been like if cellphones were as much a part of our being as they are now. Would we have known sooner what had happened? Would the images that so horrified us as we gathered after class in the student center been seen sooner? Would there have been tweets and posts and status updates? Instagram photos with filters?

What would the experience been like other than a group of 15 girls anxiously awaiting the end of a laboriously long lesson so that we could get to our friends and talk about what happened. While we didn’t know exactly what had happened, we sensed that this time was different. We were frustrated that our professor didn’t feel that same sense of urgency.

When class ended we quickly left the classroom and found a large group in the auditorium that was down the hall from our class. On the large screen was projected CNN. The room was packed with all seats and floor space taken up. There were silent tears and loud sobs. But in that moment there was a closeness. A camaraderie. I had never been so grateful to attend a small college. It was in the shared spaced that we learned that there had  also been other planes.

There was fear that there were more. There was fear that the military base that is located near the college would be a target. As a tactical location for communications and biological warfare, the base was a possible target.

That year my Mom and I had moved from our long time home after a painful divorce and taken a small apartment down the street from the college. Between the apartment and the campus was my mom’s job. I left campus and made my way to the store where Mom worked. I spent an hour as the entire staff huddled around a radio listening to the horrified news. They had yet to see the images that I had seen on the news.

After hugging Mom and all her co-workers, because for some reason we all felt compelled to hug, I made my way to the apartment. I realized quickly that I should have walked since the half mile drive took me over two hours. The military base, which was literally feet past the entrance to our apartment complex, had put up a barricade which blocked the entrance to the apartment. The combination of the blockade and the base personnel that had been called into duty resulted in traffic that moved so incredibly slow. Though despite the waiting, everyone sat patiently. There was frustration but there was no horn honking or gestures. No yells of “hurry up”. None of the activities that one would expect during a traffic snarl of such magnitude.

I briefly thought of turning around and parking my car at mom’s store and then make the trip on foot but I realized the traffic on the other side of the road was almost as equally slow due to the major high being shut done. Frederick is situated literally in the middle of multiple military installations and roughly 45 minutes from Washington, DC and the White House. Also, we are a little less than an hour from the site of the Pennsylvania crash. Our little sleepy down was for lack of a better term on lock down.

bal-baltimore-9-11-lookback-pg-018Once I made it up to the barrier it took me an additional 15 minutes of explaining to the solider that I lived in the apartment complex they were currently blocking. It was only after showing my registration, licence, student ID and pointing to my balcony that overhung the street was I finally permitted to enter. Once in the apartment I stepped out on the balcony and waved to show the soldiers that I was in fact a resident. I will never forget the fear of seeing two tanks literally parked in front of my house manned by soldiers with large weapons.

I called Mom and said when her shift ended not to drive home that getting into the apartment was a nightmare. Even as a pedestrian she had to show an ID but it was less time and explanation to make her way in than driving. Our apartment manager tried in vain to have blockade moved back just the 5 feet needed to enter and exit; but due to safety protocol the blockade stayed in place for several days. It was frustrating but reassuring all at once.

Personally, I remember what a troubling time it was setting aside the events of that day. Mom and I had only been in the apartment for a couple weeks after having moved from a large home with a yard to a small urban apartment. Our lives were in such upheaval already that the events of the day added an even greater sense of fear of the unknown.

We also realized that sense of upheaval we were feeling when combing the days events with the previous personal events was so incredibly minute compared to the lives of thousands of others.

It is strange that after 15 years I can’t adequately put into words the feelings that day invoked, and continues to invoke. It was such a frightening time that was followed shortly by the Anthrax attacks. That was made even more unsettling because the originally accused scientist lived in the building next door to ours. After finally settling down and no longer having tanks in our front yard, we then had FBI agents going through trash and camped out in our parking lot. Additionally, the military base that ran the testing was the very same base that was outside of our apartment.

I believe the entire series of events shook the world I knew and felt safe in to the core. I think like the trauma of injuries, your brain never quite allows you to remember the incident, my brain has somehow protected me from fully delving into a place in time that was so fraught will pain and anxiety.

While my experience was so small compared to the rest of the world, but yet I still feel as if I may never fully be able to express the enormity of that time in our history and the events that followed, but it is a day that I will always remember the grief I felt for my country while also feeling pride that we joined together as a nation. I will always remember the fear that followed but also the strength the resulted. But most of all I will remember where I was and how grateful I was to be surrounded by so many friends.

Peace and Love,
JJ

 

 

 

 

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