Remembering: Where were you?

Where were you when it happened?

Please feel free to leave your story in the comments.

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Sep 11Liked by Jennifer Lauck

Some days are singular. Days we all always remember--weddings, funerals, the birth of a child. All events bloom in slices and sections of our lives. Individually. But this single event is a shared scar. We all remember where we were because we were there, no matter where we were, every American was right there feeling the heat and breathing the caustic air, some were just a hell of a lot closer.

That very early Reno morning, I was deep in sleep in my warm, comfy bed when my husband burst in urgently requesting that I turn on the TV. It had to be a dream. Brent couldn't stand having the TV on anytime but especially early in the morning.


He walked quickly around the bed while I scrambled to find the remote and lay down beside me fully dressed in his suit and tie, not even removing his shoes. He put his arms around me as I turned the sound up. The strength of his arms braced me. The silent message, Be prepared. Whatever it was, I could stand it, in the strength of his arms. Or so I thought.

Peter Jennings tried to help explain the footage as a plane exploded into the side of the twin tower.

What? Not real. Not actual. Not happening.

Your mind is amazing at assessing and sorting incoming information. Dreams have their own feel, a familiar texture allowing us to fly or fall but in a personal context we survive. Moving pictures automatically come with a level of disbelief. Is this news or a movie contrived to horrify.

I knew even as I watched, it was real. But my mind kept me at a safe distance. It takes time to sort through what could not be real. It was an inevitable bridge I would cross in a matter of minutes, but safe in his arms listening to his heartbeat, I waited to cross.

And then there was another plane and the twin was brutally attacked. Both towers stood mute and stunned as flames gouged and twisted the stacked straight lines into piles of debris changing our landscape forever.

Then nothing but cement clouds hiding the horrors we were not spared but would not be eyewitnesses to. Powder-white figures raced out of the grey and away. Like animals out of a forest fire. They would be the second wave of America's ghosts. But we didn't know that then.

All I knew, all I was absolutely certain of, was my husband's protective embrace.

The horror wouldn't change. In fact, it would deepen, the wound so much worse than we knew in those early hours. It would take weeks to triage, and years to parse every movement and its meaning.

But America did as best we could.

What I couldn't have known then is that in too short a time, I would have my own private 9/11.

I would lose that protective embrace in another singular moment. Mine alone.

But that morning when America was sucker punched, I remember the feel against my face of my husband's worsted wool softened by my tears. And the hard edge of his leather Oxfords cutting into my ankle.

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Sep 11Liked by Jennifer Lauck

How troubling that must have been to be out of the country when this happened. I was at work at Waterbury Hospital in Waterbury CT. Someone heard it on the radio. At first we thought it was a small plane accident but as the news unfolded everyone was just silent. Being a trauma level facility we were on standby. It wasn't until I got home that evening that I could actually see what had happened.

I've been to the memorial several times and the museum in NYC. Seeing where those building once stood and all those names is mind-boggling. Breaks my heart over and over.

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Sep 11Liked by Jennifer Lauck

Like Susan said, I can't imagine what it must have been like for you being so pregnant and in Amsterdam. If I remember right, it was days or weeks before anyone, anyone could even fly again. Time turns on a dime.

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Sep 12·edited Sep 12Liked by Jennifer Lauck

I can only imagine how terrifying this must have been to have been to experience as an adult. Especially as an expectant mother.

I was twelve and in seventh grade at a Catholic elementary school when my math teach burst into our English classroom looking severely and unusually sweaty. He whispered anxiously to my English teacher. The two of them fell silent. Without a word they turned around and flipped the television on. For a long while, the two of them stood with their backs to the class blocking the screen just shaking their heads. I remember my English teachers putrid yellow cardigan, how she crossed her arms as if giving herself a hug, the way she repeated clutched her cross pendant.

Sometime around noon, the principle, called the seventh and eighth graders into the chapel. He stood at the pulpit, head hung.

“We’re not telling the younger grades” he said, “because they aren’t mature enough to handle it.”

It struck me as odd that although I was supposedly just over this invisible line of maturity, neither me nor my classmates seemed to feel as weighed down or stunned or solemn as our teachers. It was awful, sure. Shocking. Confusing. But looking back I don’t think we had the depth of experience to understand what it meant or could mean.

As the day dragged on, parents pulled their kids from classes. Around 2 my mother showed up. We swung into the nearest grocery store and stocked up on water, cans of pickles, beans, pasta, etc. The whole time she barely said a word. I remember wondering what the big fuss was, how planes hitting a building thousands of miles away meant we’d soon need extra groceries. I remember telling her I thought she was maybe freaking out just a little too much. Years later, I learned that both of her parents, my grandparents, had spent a sizable chunk of WW2 in Polish and Russian prison camps. So while to me war was this abstract thing that happened elsewhere, to her I imagine it was something defining that she had escaped from. Only now it was happening again.


Edit to say one thing: After I wrote this I remembered that many of my neighbors saw United 93 make an unusual turn over Cleveland (where we were) before it headed to PA. I can't even imagine how awful it'd be to have that engrained in your memory.

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Sep 12Liked by Jennifer Lauck

Thank you all for sharing your stories. The Disney channel has a new documentary about 9/11 after years of putting together all of the recordings, video and audio from that fateful day. I just watched the first episode and it's very powerful and heartbreaking.

Tuesday mornings we held weekly staff meetings at our Cedar Hills CPA firm to the west of downtown Portland just off Highway 26. The meeting was uneventful, we spoke about new clients, IRS regulations and next Monday's upcoming corporate filing deadline. We adjourned for doughnuts and coffee in the break room. Everyone returned to their offices and cubicles, ready for another workday.

Carl had a TV on in his office as he was a news junkie and the big boss. An announcement was made over the intercom that everyone should go to Carl's office for important news. I heard loud sobs and exclamations of Oh My God on my way there. Did someone get fired? What happened?

I squeezed into Carl's office and on the TV screen was the horrifying image of the Twin Towers with smoke billowing out over the New York skyline. The newscaster did the best he could without much information. Airplanes flying into the World Trade Center. Our country was under attack. Debbie, a senior CPA, said they did it on 9/11, like for an emergency call - 911, and it made sense.

Dazed and numb, I wandered back to my office thinking I may do some work. I called my wife to tell her to watch the news and that I loved her. I called my sister in California and she cried over the phone. Who could work after news like this?

Carl went from office to office, cubicle to cubicle checking on each staff member and told them they could go home if they wanted to. Most did, some didn't. I gathered myself after an hour or so of chatting with fellow coworkers and went home. Our world was shaken to the core.

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My dad still lives in the same house, on Durrett Street in the treelined hills of NW Portland. The floor in his living room is hardwood now.

It was carpet then, the off-white, eggshell color that white carpet turns to when it's been sat and walked and lived on long enough. Medium length, certainly not shag carpet, but not the short, balled-up stuff either. It came about halfway up my fingernails as I worked them into its soft fibers and stared at the screen where live video showed clouds of smoke billowing from the first of the towers. Black smoke against a perfect blue sky.

My older sister knelt by my side, one hand on the arm of the couch, one on the ground, frozen. Dad sat on the couch behind us murmuring into the phone. This is where we were when the second plane entered the frame and shot into the side of the second tower with a long sideways flash. An explosion. A slow understanding that filtered across the globe that this was not an accident.

A collapse.

A cloud across the sky that ate full city blocks in Manhattan.

Those same people that Patricia saw, all powered white, sprinting from the ash and rubble like fleeing animals, raced across my screen.

My fingers in the carpet began to tick as I counted. I can't remember what I counted. Maybe just numbers. Maybe just a way to remind myself that I was there, in a living room in Portland.

We watched all morning until Dad had to go to work. Then we listened to it on the radio in the car. We watched it in Mr. Lipson's math class and in Ms. Dickey's Homeroom and then in Mr. Bailey's Social Studies.

Like Skylark, I remember a sense of wonder and confusion, that I was being allowed to see it all unfold. If it had been a movie, would all these adults have thought it too much? But it was real. A threshold. A boundary crossed. I imagine no one knew exactly how to explain the inconceivable to a room full of children other than to let us see.

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