Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 11, 2001

“Nobody would EVER do that!!!” uttered this dumb American to anyone in my vicinity on September 11, 2001 as I was on board a jet flying over the Atlantic Ocean. Greenland to be exact.
I had lived in Switzerland for the past yearish, and was coming home for the first time since leaving. Switzerland was a blast and I met so many great people, one in particular who I married in 2005. It felt weird to leave him, but I think I knew that I would see him again so it didn’t really bother me. I just didn’t know when.
I had a sweet Swiss Air flight where each seat had its own video screen on the back of the seat in front of them to watch what we wanted. It was a packed flight with all different ethnicities. We were flying into what would be early morning in America so just as we were over Greenland the sky was nothing but blue and I had a window seat. The pilot came on the intercom and announced that we were flying over Greenland and you could see the mountain peaks perfectly. Since looking out the window to catch a glimpse of what could potentially be a crash landing sight is not my thing, I stayed seated. But other people were crowding every window they could to get a glimpse. 
Then the plane dropped. I mean it DROPPED and my stomach was in my mouth. It started to make a hard turn so much so that I felt I was sideways in my seat. If this were the new anxiety filled, control freak Rhonda, I would have screamed. I felt like screaming then. We straightened out and all of a sudden the little plane icon on my very own screen was pointing back to Europe. ‘Um, what about my other flights, I am gonna miss them.’ That was ALL I was thinking. What a tool I was, and I would have more of those moments as the day unfolds, selfish thoughts.
After feeling like I was going to plummet to my death subsided, I was calm and went back to my book. Pretty sure it was a Harry Potter book. It was hard to pay attention because people were in out of their seats, asking about flights, and wanting answers. All the flight attendants would say was that the air space in the USA was closed and we needed to return. Swiss people don’t like being late, and it is HILARIOUS to watch them pace, look nervous or get angry if their schedule is interrupted, so I was having a ball watching that since the majority of passengers were Swiss. Finally after about 2 hours some cranky lady, (probably me in 20 years) demanded answers. To the people that were still wanting answers standing around, in my space, she said, “We think someone bombed the Pentagon.”
Huge eye roll in Rhonda’s seat. And that is where I loudly proclaimed, in my best American voice, those amazing words: "NOBODY WOULD EVER DO THAT!!" and went back to my book. Dummies.
I promise you, I am not cold or unsympathetic, but I honestly did not think once that America or its people were hurt after hearing that. It did not cross my mind until I landed. I was worried about more selfish things.
So I sat there doing the math and realized we would land back in Zurich right when every living soul I knew in the area would be in German class. Dreaded German class where it is verboten to have your cell phone on, even just vibrate. Frick. I have no one to call, no way to get a hold of anyone to pick up poor Rhonda from the airport. Those were the kinds of thing crossing my mind. I was worried about me and knew I would have to use lots of money for a taxi because Zurich is crazy expensive.
Our plane landed and I took my time. Like really, really took my time. I was the last person to get off, last to get my bags, and last to walk through customs. I had nowhere to go so what was the rush?
If any of you know Gerard well, you know that he is the most easy-going guy you will meet. More importantly he is the type of guy to put his girlfriend on a plane, drive back home and fall asleep for the day. He balances my neurosis. So the chance of him knowing of the news, or double checking to see if my flight was following its path was slim. I underestimated him.
I came through customs and there was Gerard leaning against the huge wall of glass looking worried and looking for me! Weeeee! Looking for me! I don’t know why but right then, right where I stood when I saw him, I knew he loved me and I loved him and I was going to marry that guy. I was in real, honest and true love for the first time in my life. He told me he knew he was going to marry me long before that day ever happened.
He told me that 2 planes crashed into buildings in New York, 1 into the Pentagon and 1 that crashed somewhere else, he didn’t know. I was partially right…it wasn’t technically a bomb. (Those are the words I plan to say to redeem myself to those who heard this overly confident American say the other stupid words I said if I should ever see them again)
We got to Gerard’s place, flew in the door and watched on TV. The North and South towers had already fallen of course and I don’t remember seeing anything except debris and smoke on the screen. Gerard and I did not speak, we just sat there. I wonder what he thought?? Then around 1:15 am Zurich time the third building fell because of the damage the North and South towers had done to it (7 WTC). That was the only live crisis I saw. Up until then, I thought it was over and it was just rescue mission time. Stupid I know. Friends have told me they saw live footage of the 2nd plane hit, the towers fall and people injured. All I had seen was smoke. Seeing a building fall live, made everything VERY real for me all of a sudden.
Not one to sensor what I feel, usually, I will tell you what I felt. I remember thinking over and over again, ‘How could this happen? How could our government let this happen? This is their fault.’ I was so angry. And I felt that way for a few days. I just could not believe something like that would happen in America.
One week to the day I took the exact flight I had been on before. This time there were 16 of us. This time, the airport was bare in Zurich and guards had weapons held high across their chests. No one was chatty, no one was talking. Everyone walked with their heads down to their gates. This time, it didn’t feel weird to leave Gerard, it felt wrong.
I don’t claim to have THE story to tell about 9/11 but in a time of uncertainty for almost every American, I had clarity. And 10 years later, I still have Gerard.
This week, my default news pages are flooded with 9/11 news stories and pictures. It should be. The photos are so upsetting. People jumping from the buildings, people crying, fire, dust, people posting signs of someone they lost who has not been found, and then the services – where more people are crying. The photos of the planes heading towards the towers before impact haunt me.
Everything has changed.
I hope every single person who died or lost someone that day can someday find peace. And I thank every single person who has protected or continues to protect America.


Melanie said...

I have heard parts of this story before but not all of it. It's like one of my favorite stories. I might ask you to tell it to me again. :)

Anonymous said...

I also remember that day so well. I saw live footage on TV of the plane flying right into the 2nd tower. I remember thinking "my God, that plane is headed straight for that building!" And in the next instant, it flew right into it. I was living next door to my parents at that time and I ran over and got my mom and we watched it awhile and my sister came down and we got on the computer to track her daughters plane, which was flying to the US. We could see it heading back to Europe. The 3 of us held hands and prayed for her safe return to Europe, which the plane did safely. Such a horrible day for all the people who died and their families. It will NEVER be forgotten and shouldn't be.

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