Tuesday, September 11, 2012

11 Years Ago

I can't believe it's been eleven years since "that day that will live in infamy" occurred. Every year at this time, I wake early in the morning. It's as if my body knows what day it is. I roll over in bed, and I hold my husband tight and fight tears of gratitude. Sometimes, I squeeze so hard, he grunts in protest, but I am happy to hear that sound. It means he's here. It means we're still together.

Eleven years ago marks the day that Ty was scheduled to come home from his first TDY (temporary duty) with the Air Force. He had been in Boston for a week and Tristan, Samantha, and I were excited to have him home again. I had dropped Tristan off at school and I was cleaning the house, preparing for Ty's homecoming. I had an Ace of Base CD cranked up and was dusting, scrubbing, and vacuuming like a madwoman.

The phone rang, so I turned the CD player off. It was my neighbor, Nancy, who had become my surrogate mom since I was so far away from mine. She worked at Tristan's school, so I assumed that he needed something. She said, "Are you watching the TV?" I said, "No, I've got my music on. What's up?" She then asked me if I was sitting down. I thought she was being funny. She said, "A plane flying out of Boston just flew into the World Trade Center." I told her that wasn't funny. I still thought she was joking, not that she would be that cruel, it's just that I couldn't comprehend something like that happening. She told me she was serious and told me to turn on the TV. She then said, "I can't leave right away, but somebody will be at your house within 5 minutes. I'll get there as soon as I can!"

Before I knew it, my living room was full of women, most of whom I didn't know. But it didn't matter. I wasn't really aware of what was going on around me. My eyes were glued to the screen. At some point, Nancy showed up. She sat beside me on the couch and help my hand while I watched the chaos on the TV and silently cried. I know that during that time, I called my mom, needing to dial over and over as the circuits were crammed with people trying to call their loved ones. I remember sobbing to her about the planes in NYC and her not understanding why I was quite so upset until I screamed, "I don't know where Ty is!!!" Then she got it and we cried together. I made several calls to people in Ty's squadron, but nobody had any information for me. Tristan was at school, so I didn't need to worry about him, but somebody must have fed Samantha and changed her diaper. For at least two hours, the world stopped for me. I will be forever grateful to those women I didn't know, and especially Nancy for calling them to my side to be my ministering angels.

If I were a good storyteller, I could tell you the exact time that the call came in, but I guess I'm not. All I know is, the phone rang, I answered it, and there, like the sound of an answered prayer, Ty's voice was on the other end of the line. I sobbed, "Oh! Thank God!" and dissolved into tears. I could hear Ty crying on the other end as well. I never though it was possible for one, single day to be the worst day of my life and the best day of my life, all in a matter of hours! But the moment I heard Ty's resonant voice, saying my name, all was right with the world again. At least for that moment in time.

His plane had been diverted to Youngstown, Ohio. The pilot was told to LAND. THE. PLANE. NOW. No exceptions. Nobody knew what was going on, but with hindsight, Ty is certain that if he had looked out his window, he would have seen a loaded fighter jet or two, ready to make sure they went down one way or another! We were unable to afford a cell phone at the time, so Ty had to stand in line behind dozens of other people at the phone banks at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport anxious to call their families. Ty had to dial several times to get through to us. By the time Ty and his traveling companions had had a chance to let their families know they were okay, every rental car in the area was rented. With the all the planes grounded and all the cars gone, Ty and his three travel companions ended up in a crappy hotel in Podunk Youngstown. 

The next few days are a blur. This is what I remember: Ty's squadron really stepped up to the plate to support my little family during this stressful time. One of his flight brothers came to babysit while one of his flight sisters took me out on a "date". (We saw "The Others") I yelled at the TV a lot and cried a lot. Tristan became obsessed with drawing dragons and dinosaurs attacking skyscrapers. I kept my kids as close to me as possible. They slept in bed with me. The only reason Tristan was allowed to go back to school was because Nancy was there. She gave me a sense of security. I also remember that the base was CRAZY! We had always been at threat level A, maybe B once or twice. When I needed to get on base, I could slow down, maybe stop briefly, but the SP would tap my card and let me pass. After 9/11, we were at threat level D. There were military vehicles parked at all gates. On top of every vehicle were huge guns, pointed at the cars queued up at the gate. The SP's were also heavily armed. Every car was stopped so that the SP's could swipe mirrors under it and the dogs could sniff it for explosives. Cars were lined up for miles outside the gate. It took a minimum of 2 hours to get on base! On the flight line, jets were lined up all the way down the tarmac. Instead of the light planes I was used to seeing, these jets had full payloads. It was surreal.

Ty was fortunate to snag one of the flights on the 14th when air travel resumed. I spent the entire day jittery and on edge. I hated the idea of Ty getting on another plane, but I wanted him home so bad it hurt! Flight schedules were basically just a suggestion, what with all the delays and heightened security. He was supposed to be home in the early afternoon, but the sun had set, kids tucked into bed, and my nerves rubbed raw from waiting before I heard the car pull up outside. I flung front door open and flew into my husband's arms. I have never been so happy to see him in my life! I didn't want to let him go. Ever. 

Every year at this time, my heart gains 100 lbs. It is so heavy with the sense of loss that accompanies this day of infamy. So many lives were lost that day, and our world will never be the same. At the same time, I am filled with a sense of pride for our awesome country. As a nation, we truly pulled together at that horrendous time. We gathered in churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques to pray and support one another. We stood in lines at blood banks to donate that life saving gift. People readily thanked soldiers, fire fighters, and police officers, giving them the recognition they have always deserved. Everywhere you looked, you saw flags at half-mast, people dressed in red, white, and blue, and flags tied around trees. The terrorists did not win. They did not cause us to cower in fear and crumble to pieces. Quite the contrary, they united us in a way that we hadn't been for decades! I am so proud of our country. I am proud of my friends and family who have valiantly served the United States. I am proud of ALL those who put their lives on the line for us every day.

May God continue to bless this miracle country!

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