Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Unanswered Phone - Redux

I never knew how much pain was involved in a call not answered.  But for thousands of Americans, the pain of the call not answered will never be over. 

I was running a few minutes late for work that Tuesday morning, and I pulled into the parking lot just as the announcement came over the radio that a passenger airliner had stuck one of the World Trade Center towers.  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 World Trade Center and everyone started searching the web for information and turning on their radios…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 5 hours of my life. 


My son Chris was in New York City on job interviews.  We talked before he left, and he 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.  I tried to stay calm as his cell phone remained unanswered.  I stood with my fellow workers around the computer monitors and watched news film of the towers collapsing, mortified at the massive loss of life.  My fears grew.


Soon we heard that a plane had targeted the Pentagon and that another plane, heading to the White House, had made a u-turn over Cleveland and subsequently crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.  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 being done as we continued to take in with disbelief the events unfolding on the East Coast in real time in our virtual backyard.


Around 2:30 in the afternoon, I dialed for about the thousandth time.  Chris 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.  I just woke up.  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 Pennsylvania.  It was headed for the White House.  I thought YOU were in one of those towers.  Dad and I have been frantic trying to reach you.  Didn’t you have a job interview this morning in one of the towers?”


There was long moment of silence.


“Yes, I did have an interview, but I finished yesterday’s interviews early, so I called the guy at the Trade Center and asked if I could come in right then, rather than wait until this morning.  He said yes.  So I interviewed late yesterday and headed back to Ohio.  I got in around 2:30 in the morning. I didn’t want to wake you or Dad, so I went to Brian’s and crashed there.”


My relief was palpable. 


Chris was profoundly affected by the events of 9-11.  He made a trip to Ground Zero as soon as it was plausible to do so.  I am sure that he still wonders, as do I, about the twist of fate that kept him so far away from a place he was scheduled to be at the exact moment of that most awful catastrophe. As a parent, I experienced 5 hours of the most intense fear I have ever known, but I am eternally grateful that my son was spared on that horrible day. 


And I am haunted by thoughts of the thousands of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers and friends who spent hour after agonizing hour, on that day and in the days, weeks and months that followed, dialing phones that were never answered.