Walk Don't Run 9/9/15

Everyone has their story; mine won’t be much different than most others in this part of the country. At nearly 2 a.m., during the very early hours of September 11, 2001, I was just crawling into bed. I worked late and slept later during that time. I had just graduated from high school and turned 18 exactly one week earlier. I had never really given the terms “terrorist” or “Al Qaeda” a second thought. In fact, I’d probably swear to you that I had never heard either term before that day. That night I was going to bed in the only world I had known; the only world any of us born before that day had known. It was what’s now referred to as, pre 9/11.
My son, nieces and nephews will never know that world. But so many of you do. I was born in 1983 after the Vietnam War and I was too young to be scared during the Gulf War, aka “Desert Storm.” So when I went to bed early that September 11 morning, I didn’t know war and I never thought about the world being a scary place. I wanted to travel all over this amazing world and see it all. I wanted to take several Dramamine and fly to exotic places. I wanted to live in Venice or Ireland. The only fear I had of travel was getting sick. I had flown for the first time the previous year and in the four planes I boarded, fear was never a feeling dealt with. I barreled through airport security with no problems and to my friend and me, the creepy guy who sat with us from Little Rock to St. Louis in the black trench coat, holding onto a box as if it held all the world’s secrets, was comical. He made us a little uncomfortable but we didn’t really fear him or side eye his behavior as we would now. Four planes and I never removed my shoes and got to keep my snow globe and nail file tucked away securely in the bag under my seat.
Your world, my world and our outlook on life and the people in it quickly changed about seven hours later.
The phone kept ringing and ringing. When you’re 18, you don’t really run down a list of bad things that could have happened to keep someone calling over and over on a random Tuesday morning. I rolled over and mumbled some curse words and put the pillow over my head. The phone continued to ring, and ring and ring. Finally I was so mad that I walked into the living room and answered with an attitude that only an 18-year-old girl could pull off. My mom was in a panic and told me to turn on the TV right now. I huffed and asked why. Again she told me under no certain terms to turn on the TV NOW! I grabbed the remote and as I turned on the television, the first tower fell. I couldn’t tell you if my mom and I discussed it or if she let me draw my own conclusions but I was confused. I didn’t understand what “possible terrorist attack,” was. I assumed it was an accident because I was young and naïve. I saw the world from innocent eyes, something my son has never been able to do. Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer explained for what I assume was the 15th time to a shell-shocked nation, that this was no accident. We were under attack. Soon came the second tower and more detailed reports of the Pentagon and Shanksville, PA.
We were under attack. We were under attack?! I believe I mumbled these words over and over to myself as I tried to make sense of what they meant by “We are under attack.” Should I be in the basement? Should I find a gun? I had no idea what that meant.
I was in Dawson, Nebraska: a town so small it’s considered a Village. I should have nothing to fear in the world, but I did. I couldn’t look away from the TV, yet I couldn’t stop walking from the door to the window and back again. I was like a caged animal. I wanted my mom; I needed someone to tell me that everything was alright. Here nearly 14 years later, I have never wrapped my mind around the fact that I watched thousands of people lose their lives in real time. We watched the murder of so many innocent people play out in front of us. I don’t believe the human brain has the capability to handle that kind of sorrow.  A few hours later a friend came by to see if I wanted to head out to Six-Mile for lunch. I said I would but only if we called ahead to see if they had a TV. We did and we walked in to the most baron and quiet restaurant you’d ever seen. A few older gentlemen kept their eyes locked on the TV as images of the plane hitting the second tower replayed over and over again. I remember how scared their faces made me. I wasn’t hungry but sat as my friend finished his meal. The air was heavy and the only talk was that of shocked reactions. These men who were probably in their 70’s kept saying “My God,” over and over to themselves. These men who had been alive during the Kennedy assassination, the Korean and Vietnam Wars and every war since then were still in shock at what they had just witnessed. They had seen the blood and violence of war yet they still couldn’t handle what had just seen. At 18, I hadn’t seen this kind of destruction and death. All morning tears had welled up in my eyes but were choked back. In that moment I had to leave. I wanted to be home, in my ‘safe place.’
When I walked in the door, I fell onto the couch and sobbed. I cried for the confusion I felt; I cried for the lives lost and destroyed; I cried for the fear that now engulfed me like a heavy blanket. The days after were dark and quiet. Everyone walked around like zombies bumping into each other. On Friday, September 14, 2001 the Richardson County Fair was going on as planned, though everyone walked around with blank expressions talking to anyone who would listen about the last few day’s events. I wanted to get my sister and a few of her friends out of the house, so I drove them over to the fair. That drive and their faces will forever be etched into my memory. The radio played Lee Greenwood on a loop and everyone was trying to prove they loved America more than anyone. We wore ribbons, flag pins and stickers. We sat quietly the first time that song played during our 13 minute drive. The second time we sang along. This time I listened to the words of the song I knew by heart. I truly was and am proud to be an American but the freedom I knew, was gone. I was no longer free, I was now a prisoner of “The Terrorist,” the one who can take away the life I know in a second. I had lost my sense of freedom, safety and innocence. I grew up on September 11, 2001 with millions of others. I saw the world in a new scary light and each year Brian and I mourn the loss of so many wonderful people. We watch all the stories of courage and sorrow. We can’t look away from this defining moment in our Nation’s history.
During this time of year I also quietly mourn the life I thought I’d live and bring my children into. A life of innocence; a life where we could be free; live wild and have no fear. A life where we would never know the horrors of 9-11. I pray for the life that will never be, not just for me but for all of us.