Do you still remember every.single.detail?
Where were you? What were you doing?
On THIS day, thirteen years ago – do you remember? I don’t remember all the details – time goes by, memories fade. My heart, though, will always remember. My heart never forgets.
I remember the feelings – Disbelief. Terror-filled Fear. Worry. Heartache. – with a memory so vivid, like it happened yesterday. The “What the hell just happened?” feelings, too.
All of it. THAT I remember.
I was home that morning because I was only working part time. I had taken a job as an After School Director because, for reasons I didn’t fully understand, when I interviewed for a job there in May of 2001, I just KNEW that I had to have a job at THAT school. Being the After School Director was the only position available at the time, so I accepted that position as well as the job of “substitute teacher as needed.”
I happened to turn on the TV some time after the first planes hit and so clearly remember that image on the screen – the World Trade center was on fire and it was bad. So very, very bad.
At the time I was watching the TV, no one was for sure why the plane hit but then, there was the 2nd plane. I watched the plane fly right into the Tower.
And it was so apparent, in that moment, that this was no accident.
THIS was on purpose. After all, it’s not an accident that TWO planes fly into the The World Trade Center.
It’s not an accident that a plane flew into the Pentagon.
And, as we later learned, it was only due to the heroic efforts of passengers that a flight crashed in a field in Pennsylvania
My husband was in the United States Marine Corps at the time and, although on leave that day, happened to go to work. I called him and now don’t remember if I immediately spoke with him or he called back but I do remember that the conversation had a lot of “I don’t know” peppered throughout sentences of questioning and trying to figure it all out. His end of the conversation was short and terse – not with me – but because he was in his “mode” – that “mode” the USMC had trained him for so well.
He was focused on his job. Not that he didn’t care about me, but he didn’t have time to answer the hundreds of questions his brand-new-to-military-life wife had at that moment.
He had more background knowledge in things of this nature than I did. His whole life has been that of the Military. I do not come from a “military family”. I just married into it, only 4 months earlier. People used to joke with me after we were married saying I hadn’t just married the Marine, but also the United States Marine Corps.
I never truly understood what that meant until the events of 9/11.
While watching the news, I got a call from the school – can I come and sub? One of the teachers had a family member who was working in the World Trade Center that day. She had to leave. Of course, I went. I was to be in the Middle School – with kids who are just on the edge of still being innocent – little kids and yet will suddenly become very hormonal and more grown up in the coming months. Kids who will watch the news and hear about what is happening but not fully understand everything. Kids who are expecting ME as the adult to know answers, to be strong and tell them that everything is going to be OK.
But everything was not OK. How was I to provide any sort of explanation when I couldn’t comprehend the situation myself?
I prayed so much on that short drive to the school. There wasn’t a whole lot of educating going on by the time I got there. It was more just managing. Parents were coming early to get their children. We had to stay in the classroom, the kids could not leave the room without an adult. So many precautions put in place to ensure safety that I am sure was not in ANY student or staff handbook. The priority was the safety of the kids because no one knew what was happening.
I transitioned from being a sub to being the after school director and when my job was over, I went home and turned on the news. By this time it was after 6pm and there was so much more information and yet not enough information. When my husband finally arrived home that night, it was only for a brief time. His orders had been given:
Pack a bag, the Marines are deploying to New York City.
“But, you are not supposed to leave for deployment for a few more weeks”, I said.
“My orders have been given”, he said. “It’s Marines FIRST, then everything else, remember?”
Yes, I remembered. His job was priority over everything. I learned that when we got married. We had to relocate our wedding just a month before the big day because a training exercise my husband was involved in got extended and he couldn’t leave town.
Moving a wedding, however, is not such a big deal given the gravity of THIS situation. In that case, we were moving TO him. Now, he is being given orders to go away. The Marines are needed. My husband is a Marine. He must go where he is needed, to any place at any time. No matter what.
“We haven’t finalized our selection of pictures for the wedding album”, I said. (Clearly, the situation we were dealing with negated all sort of rational thought)
“You’ll have to call the photographer and explain the situation”, he said. “I’m sure he will understand”
My Type A (strong Type A) personality doesn’t deal well with sudden changes in plans or routines. I also don’t deal well with not knowing all the answers. THIS event, this day was a “perfect storm” of all things a Type A doesn’t deal with well.
Unexpected events. Sudden change. Change in routine. Total and complete lack of control.
I NEED answers – Where are you going? How long will you be there? What will you be doing?
When are you coming home?
The only answers he can give me are New York City, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know and
I don’t know.
Prior to 9/11, his Battalion was scheduled to go on a routine deployment to the Middle East. It was “routine” because they did this on a schedule, roughly gone 6 months, home 18 months, etc. My husbands job was logistics – “beans, bullets and bandaids” they call it. His job was to ensure everything the Battalion needed while they were gone was on that ship.
“Are you still going on deployment?”, I ask.
“Probably”, he says. “But maybe not to our original destination.”
“Will you go to NY, come home, and then go on deployment?”
“I don’t know.”
Then, it hit me, the very reality of the situation. The very real, strong possibility that my husband could leave the following morning and be gone for a very long time. The reality that he would go to NYC and then leave straight from there to go on deployment.
The reality that, by the time morning arrived, I would be sending my husband off to “who knows where” for “we don’t know how long”.
The grave reality that I when he leaves, he may never return home.
Trial-by-fire initiation to being a Military Wife.
On September 12, 2001 we left in the early morning hours to make the drive to his base. By now, we know from the media that there are plans for the US Military to retaliate against the enemy. Because we all woke up that morning knowing for real that this was an act of terror. At some point, it occurred to me – not only did I not know when my husband was coming home
I didn’t know IF he was coming home…
This is part one of a three part series. Click here to read part 2, “Goodbye, Hello, Goodbye”