I was working second shift so I had been up late the night before. I remember being distinctly irritated that my sister would be calling at 8am Central. My family knew I worked late. I believe she called a few times before I finally picked up. I knew right away something was wrong. I immediately think someone in my family has died when I hear that tone at an unexpected hour, this urgency that screams something is wrong. She said, "Cat, you've got to turn on your TV. Just do it. I can't even describe it. Get up and do it."
I don't remember any of our conversation after that. I turned on the television while I still had her on the phone but I don't remember saying good bye. The TV was on the last channel I'd watched and I think the Today show was on. They were showing the smoking North Tower with a hole in it and I remember thinking, that doesn't seem right. It didn't seem right that there should be a hole in the side of such a huge building that had thousands of people in it oh, God, there's a plane coming and . . .
I had been standing in the livingroom of my apartment and took a couple steps backward until the backs of my legs found the couch so I could collapse. Almost immediately after I turned on the television flight 175 hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Moments ago they had been discussing the "accident" and no one quite knew what was going on and the next thing I knew I was very, very frightened.
I spent the entire morning on that couch, clutching an oversized decorative pillow, frozen in fear, curling up smaller and smaller as empathy swallowed me whole. I disbelievingly watched as there were reports of another plane hitting the Pentagon (except - so much confusion - a bomb? a fire?), then the South Tower fell, then another plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, then the North Tower fell. Flights were suspended and planes were grounded and military planes were flying. For the first time in living memory, airplane noise into and out of Moline airport slowed . . . then ceased. I never knew how frequently those sounds crossed my neighborhood until they stopped. Later, when I did hear something in the sky, I stood out on my east-facing deck to see several Chinooks fly by, probably going to the Rock Island Arsenal. And what Arsenal personnel did that day after the attacks I don't even want to know. I worked there briefly. I saw things there I would not want pointed at my house. Later, part of the Pentagon fell, then the WORLD grounded flights. But the worst, the absolute worst thing I witnessed that day were the bodies falling from the towers. Not just bodies; people jumping to escape the jet feuled fires that melted metal, knowing that there was certain death either way because there was no way that they would survive the 80 story fall. But it had to be better than burning to death. It HAD to.
I had to work at three. I resented that I had to leave my couch, my haven, to even shower, much less plant a smile on my face for eight hours and pretend that I cared about whether or not Joe Schmoe won any money that day. As far as I was concerned, the earth had stopped turning. By then there were people hanging pictures of their missing loved ones on every available space around the missing towers. There were local reports before I left of gas prices skyrocketing (I was so GLAD when that local bitch who owned the Casey's got busted for pirateering) and lines at the pumps and I thought war, war as I drove to work. Every single flag I saw BETTER be at half mast or something and why wasn't the whole world shut down right now and glued to CNN waiting for the next horrible thing to happen? I stopped to get gas, almost out of spite for the news because the prices were the same and there were no lines. I went in to pay and the Pakistani owner of the gas station looked horribly sad and tired. I bought cigarettes and gave him my money and said I would see him tomorrow, looking him directly in the eyes, already angry that he might lose business or face cruelty from the mouths of the ignorami because of his Middle Eastern descent. I made it through work, still angry that there were people carrying on with acts of recreation. As I drove home that night I thought of not stopping. I thought of dropping everything and driving to Manhattan to dig and dig until I found every last mother, father, husband and wife.
I went home and continued to watch as they "recovered" bodies from the rubble. Because the horror hadn't ended. It didn't end that day or the next. The recovery went on forever. Then we were at war and damn if it still isn't going on.
I responded exactly how the terrorists hoped the United States would respond - in shock and horror and fear. I was angry and scared yet I sat that morning and did nothing but watch those planes crash and the towers fall over and over and over again. I continued to watch for days afterward, depressed and barely moving or eating. This is the first memory I have of being oversaturated by the media as I flipped from one news channel to a network to another news channel to another network. I wanted to shut down and hide. It took me too long to realize that the best revenge was to live my life as I always had, perhaps with a greater respect for my freedom and liberty.
I'm not angry or sad anymore. But to watch any minute of that footage puts my heart in my hand. I don't see it now with a sense that it will happen again. Now I think, those poor people, their poor families. Oh, the heartache of the world is too much. Too much.