One of the often asked questions of my parents generation was, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” I remember hearing my parents talk about where they were when they heard the news that the president was shot while riding in a motorcade. The question for this generation will probably be, “Where were you when the planes struck the Twin Towers?” It was such a tragic moment in U.S. history, that it’s not hard to remember where one was when they heard the awful news.
I was at home, getting ready for work. I was a single mom of a 3 year-old. I woke up early, and as usual, tried to keep quiet around the house as I took my shower, made breakfast and got dressed, while I let Nico sleep as long as he could. When he finally woke up I turned on the TV so that he could stay occupied while I made him breakfast, and got his clothes together. Shortly after 7:00 am pacific time, my phone rang. It was Juan. We had just started dating a few months earlier, so it wasn’t that unusual for him to call me in the mornings and say hello. He seemed frustrated and asked me where I had been and why I hadn’t answered the phone. There was an urgency in his voice. He told me to turn on the TV. By this time the planes had struck both towers. He told me he would be right over, that he was going to drop Erica and Olivia off at their grandmother’s house. Olivia was in the 1st grade. It was her 6th birthday and she was supposed to have a pizza party at school that day, but Juan and Olivia’s mom decided not to send Olivia to school after all.
I hung up the phone and turned on the television, just after the South Tower collapsed. Juan arrived at my house shortly after that. I wanted his company. I did not want to be alone. Nico was still watching television in the family room, while Juan and I watched the North Tower go down from a small television in my room. We weren’t sure if we should report for work. Our office has a command post to call for such emergencies. We called in and were told not to come into work because of the threat level. Juan’s workplace was downtown, while mine was just outside the civic center. We were riveted to the television, watching in disbelief what was happening. I had visited New York a couple of times and I loved the city. I was a native Angeleno and I lived in Southern California all my life, however, at that moment, I was a New Yorker. I felt the horror that those in New York must have been experiencing.
Juan and I sat there all morning, watching the television reports, reliving the horror of those planes crashing into the towers. Around midday we realized that even though Olivia had not gone to school that day, her classmates were counting on their pizza party. Juan decided to take the pizzas to Olivia’s school. I went with him. It seemed surreal to be walking through a grocery store picking up a cake, plates and napkins and getting pizza, on a day that America was attacked. We went to her school and had the party. Olivia and her classmates were totally unaware of what had happened. They were happy to have pizza and sing Happy Birthday to Olivia. Olivia, with her beaming smile, was happy to be the center of attention. Juan quietly told me how sad it was that for the rest of her life her birthday would be shared with such a horrible event.
After her pizza party, Juan and I wanted to do something other than go home and watch more news reports. But we didn’t know what to do. We decided to to a local pub, to be around other people. The pub had some other customers, but it was eerily quiet. Of course, the television was on and we watched more news reports and replays of the planes colliding. At the end of the day we had to go about our routines, picking up kids from school and daycare, and getting ready for the next day at work.
New Yorkers were dealing with the aftermath. The President came on TV and asked us to go about our business. The next day I went to the office. I tried to get on with business as usual. My brother was getting married 4 days later. The bride’s grandparents from Illinois couldn’t get a flight out to the wedding. Some of the wedding guests had to cancel or make other travel arrangements. The wedding went on anyway, but even during the ceremony the priest made reference to the week’s event. Two days after the wedding Juan and I decided to take the kids to Disneyland. We thought those wedding guests from out-of-town would want to go too. It turned out that most guests wanted to return home. It seemed like everyone else stayed home too. Disneyland was almost empty.
Ten years later I can still vividly recall the days events from September 11th. It was a day that changed America, and a day which I will probably always remember. It’s a day we should never forget.
Where were you when you heard the news that a plane struck the Towers, the Pentagon, or crashed in a field in Shanksville?