Sunday, September 18, 2011

9/ll memoir prompt

The following is a response to a writing prompt.  I had already written a letter to my parents about being in New York on 9/ll/2001. This letter got published in my home town newspaper. I re wrote it a bit to post here.

September 20, 2001

Dear Dad and Mom,

     Now that I am finally home I have some time to write you a letter. The world is a different place now. Words will not be adequate to describe the experience, but I will try. This is a story that I will not forget.
     As you know this was my first trip to New York and the adventure of flying across country was both frightening for this small town girl, and exciting, because not only was I going to see New York City, I was also going to meet Robert’s grandmother who lives in Poughkeepsie, which is about 75 miles north of the city. Back east is so full of history and in the Poughkeepsie area is the home of Vassar, and other historic places, such as the Vanderbilt mansion and the home Franklin D Roosevelt. Both of you would have loved these tours. There is so much to see.  I saw the Hudson River, one of Grandmother Helen’s favorite places. Our stay for those few days was quite pleasant.
     We were scheduled to fly home on the morning of September 11. The mode of commuting is by train and we had made plans to catch the 8:00 train into the city to take in the sights for the day before our flight. At the last minute we decided to take the later train, which, as it turned out was one of those decisions that made a huge difference.
All was going well. I was taking in the sights as we sped along when there was an announcement on the loudspeaker, something about an attack on one World Trade Center tower.  I remember thinking, “oh, some crazy guy, waving a gun, causing trouble, what now?” A few minutes later there was another announcement that there had been an attack by plane on the second tower, apparently by terrorists. Wait, the towers are down? Planes? What on earth had happened?
     To say that this was a shock is an understatement. Soon after the second announcement,  another voice came on the loudspeaker to tell us that none of the trains would be going southbound into the city, as it was too dangerous, but that there would be trains from the city and we could get on one of those to go back up north. So the trains were stopped, midway into New York .Everyone was milling around the train station. No one knew what do to. People were making phone calls and talking to one another. It was so odd to feel so displaced and I realized this was a small glimpse of what people have experienced in history during war.  About an hour later, we boarded a north bound train, free of charge, and went back to Grandmother Helen’s house in Poughkeepsie. If we had taken the earlier train, the story may have turned out differently; perhaps on that day there would have been no more trains out of the city. Maybe we would have been stuck there.
     The first thing I did when we got to Poughkeepsie was to call home and let you all know we were all right. You weren’t at home when I called. I had forgotten, that that point that you two were stuck up in Canada.  It was then that we saw the news on television. Unbelievable. All I could think about was getting home to my family
     We researched different options to get home. Train tickets were $1,000 per person for one way tickets and did not leave until Sunday. We decided to book a flight out on Thursday. Or so we thought.  Thursday arrived. We got ourselves to the station to catch a train to Grand Central Station and get ourselves to the airport only to be told that Grand Central had been closed because of a bomb threat. Back to Grandmother Helen’s we went and she helped us rent a car so that we could drive to JFK. So far so good, we checked our luggage, and were ready to board the plane when we were told there was a delay because of a security threat and that they would announce the status of the flight at a later point.  So we waited. We met a man from England who was now unable to get home. Now by this time the nerves are getting frayed. Does this security threat mean someone is going to bomb the airport, or is there someone with a gun that is going to shoot at people? About an hour later we learned that some men, posing as pilots had tried to board a plane. The airport was closed, and we retrieved our luggage. Ok, so no flying. That was fine with me!
     So now what?  We took a cab back to Grand Central. Our driver was wearing a turban, which of course had taken on a new meaning. That’s the nature of fear. In a situation like that people are suspicious. Everything is surreal. By now it is nighttime and we can see the smoke of the towers. There are police everywhere, and barricades. People, lots of them are milling around. Sirens are going off. We, of course are lugging our bags and getting tired. The feeling to get out of there was strong, so we decided to see if we could get tickets for a Greyhound bus. Anything at this point would do, to start our way back home. When we asked information how to get to the bus station we were told it had been shut down, due to a bomb threat. You can imagine what was going through my mind at this point. I realize now that all things considered we were fortunate to be as far away from Ground Zero as we were because we still had options. Some people didn’t.
     Back onto the commuter train, now a familiar way to travel,  heading north once again to Poughkeepsie to Grandmother Helen’s house, our refuge now, from all this craziness.  It was obvious we weren’t going to get out of the city from Grand Central. We had to change direction. The next morning Grandmother and a friend drove us north to a place called Kingston, were we had dinner and caught a bus to Albany. The 3,000 mile ride home, from Albany, New York, to Seattle took us 77 hours. This is NOT a way to see the country. Robert’s dad picked us up at the station so that we could spend the night before heading back to Arlington.  He told us we looked like we had been through the wringer. Indeed we had.
     I’m sure I’ll be reflecting on this for years to come, as we all will be. Take care, and I’ll be in touch.



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