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Remembering 9/11: Where Were You?

It's hard to talk about 9/11 without telling our own story. Recalling where we were when we heard and remembering our initial reaction and the minutes, hours, days, months and years that followed.

We'll never forget the events of that horrific day, and we'll never forget our own story. Still, 10 years later, the events that unfolded that morning and the weeks following are as fresh in my mind as they were 2 days after 9/11/2001.

It was a stereotypical day in southern California. The bright September sun was coming up, and I had a full day of sightseeing planned. I had just flown into Orange County the day before, Monday, September 10, 2001. I had spent so much time in southern California as a software consultant but never had time to truly enjoy free time there. I absolutely adored the area and always wanted to explore it, but by the time I had gotten out of the office at the end of the day, it was just too late, too dark.

About a month prior, I decided to head to Cali for a little R&R for a few days while the Hubs would be in Orlando for a corporate meeting/event. We agreed to meet up in Las Vegas after our respective trips for a few days of fun together. We had no idea how much our travel plans would change...

As I always did, I woke and looked out the window of my hotel in Newport Beach, California. Yep. Another fabulous day was dawning, and I was ready for it. I turned on the TV and immediately tuned in to Good Morning America, my fave morning show. It was 7:10 am, local time. It was 10:10 NY time. The image on the television screen was horrifying, terrifying. The image was of smoke billowing from the Twin Towers. I collapsed on the bed and listened intently to get the story. I was immediately filled with fear.

I was travelling alone. Alone. Diane Sawyer had just told viewers that all air travel was being suspended indefinitely. I was stuck. In California. Alone. I had always wanted to be stuck in California, but not under these circumstances. I was scared. I was shaking. I was crying. I tried to call the Hubs, but couldn't get through to his cell phone. I called my mom on her land line. She answered. I cried to her for 15 minutes. I don't remember what I said to her. I don't remember what she said to me. But she calmed me down and helped me get my wits about me. We hung up and promised to talk in a few hours.

Finally, after trying relentlessly for 45 minutes to reach the Hubs, the call finally went through. He answered amidst complete chaos in Orlando. As I was sitting in a quiet hotel room, he was dealing with a polar opposite situation. Employees were in a panic and going completely crazy. He had a huge situation on his hands. We talked briefly. He assured me that I'd be OK. It was just too soon to know how it would play out.

Over the course of the next day, I walked around in a haze. Everything was closed. I made the best of my situation. I hopped in my rental car and drove. And drove. And drove. I drove north. I drove south. I had to revise my entire sightseeing itinerary. All the places I had planned to visit were on lock down. So, I did the next best thing: I took in all the beautiful California scenery. I drove up and down Pacific Coast Highway, visiting the gorgeous beach downs the dot the coast of California. But it just wasn't the same. I was surrounded by such natural beauty but struggling with the cruel and ugly events of the day.

I worried. How would I get back to New Jersey? Would I get back to New Jersey? Would LA be the next city to suffer an attack? Days passed in this vain. Slowly businesses opened and I was beginning to see some semblance of normalcy, whatever that was. Would anything ever be normal again?

On Thursday, September 13, I was on the first post-9/11 flight out of John Wayne airport. My short, 45-minute flight, would land in Vegas at about 10 pm. As excited as I was to fly to Vegas to be reunited with the Hubs, I worried about flying. It was hard not to be worried about it. I landed in Vegas, took a cab to the hotel, and waited for the Hubs to arrive. Finally, he walked into the hotel room at about 2 am. We clutched each other for 20 minutes, refusing to let go.

During that weekend in Vegas, we learned that we were pregnant with our first child. It was a blessing in the midst of madness.

We returned to New Jersey six days after the attack. We learned of victims in our town, in surrounding towns. We were shielded from the personal stories while out west, but now that we were back home, a mere 50 miles from Lower Manhattan, it was hitting home. Every day brought another story of a neighbor, or a friend, or an acquaintance, who lost a husband, wife, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, child in the senseless attacks.

So, it is with a heavy heart that today I reflect on the events of that day. I pay tribute to all the service men and women who have sacrificed to keep this country safe. I grieve for those who lost their lives and for the families left behind.

May you be blessed to be surrounded by your family today and everyday.



1 comment

Caitlin Knight said...

Oh Sheila! How horrific to be alone and stranded on the other side of the country at a time like that! It was hard enough to cope surrounded by loved ones at home. Thanks for sharing your story. I did the same thing on my blog today.

We'll never forget.