Saturday, September 10, 2011

Memories of 9-11…the unanswered phone

I was running a few minutes late for work that fateful Tuesday morning, and I pulled into the parking lot just as the announcement came over the air that a passenger liner had stuck the first tower. I grabbed my purse, hurried into the building, and raced to my office. I announced to all who would listen that a plane had hit the Trade Center and everyone started searching the web for information…everyone but me. I was dialing my phone, desperate to reach my son. When the second tower was struck, I dialed faster. And so began the worst five hours of my life.
Chris was in New York City on job interviews. We had talked before he left, and he had told me that he was very excited to have an interview at 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning in the World Trade Center. He thought it would be a neat place to work. But as we watched film of the towers collapsing, mortified at the thought of the massive loss of life, I tried to stay calm as Chris’ cell phone remained unanswered.

Soon the stories were coming in from the Pentagon and about the missing airliner that had come so close to Cleveland before heading toward the White House. I watched in horror, but I kept dialing. My husband got through to me around 11, wanting to know if I had spoken to Chris. By that time, I was on the verge of hysteria. Needless to say, no work was getting done in our office as we all took in the horror that was unfolding in our virtual backyard.

Around 2:30 in the afternoon, I dialed for the thousandth time, and he answered.
“Oh my God, Chris, where have you been? I’ve been calling you for five hours!”

“What’s up, Mom?”

“What’s up? The world is ending! Can’t you look out the windows in Newark and see the smoke?”

“I’m not in Newark.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m in Perry. What’s going on?”

“Then you don’t know?  Terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center towers around 9 this morning. They both collapsed, killing thousands. The towers are gone. The Pentagon was hit, too. And a fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. I thought YOU were in one of those towers. You had a job interview this morning, didn’t you?”

There was long moment of silence.

“Yes, I did have an interview, but I finished my Monday interviews early, so I called the guy at the Trade Center and asked if I could come in Monday afternoon instead. He said yes.  I interviewed early and headed back to Ohio. I got in around 2:30 a.m. and didn’t want to wake you or Dad, so I went to Brian’s and crashed there. I just woke up.”

Chris was profoundly affected by that massive tragedy, and I am sure that he still wonders about the twist of fate that kept him far away from that place where he was scheduled to be at that moment.

Though eternally grateful that my son was spared on that horrible day, I experienced five hours of the most intense fear I have ever known waiting for Chris to answer his phone. And I am haunted still by thoughts of the thousands of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, and friends who spent hour after agonizing hour dialing phones that were never answered.