I haven’t posted this since it was titled “Five Years Ago.” Yet the story hasn’t changed.
Nine years ago, I worked at American Republic Insurance, as a technical writer for the financial department, reporting directly to the CFO. We were counting down the days to our annual rating review meeting with A.M. Best. I was in charge of writing the report, complete with charts, that would form the basis of the rating. The report was due to go out via Fed Ex in a few days. I went to work early, to give myself some time to make the changes that I knew my boss Sarah would have left for me, she being a night person and me being a morning person.
We had our morning meeting, as we did every morning in those weeks before the rating meeting. Me, Sarah (the CFO), and the heads of Accounting and Financial Actuarial. They had some new numbers (yes, new numbers came in up to the last minute), I had some questions, Sarah had some verbiage she wanted changed. We still needed to get some feedback from the CEO. Last minute stuff.
Right before that meeting, I got a phone call from Randy, who was working late hours at the time (10-6). He was home, watching FoxNews. A plane, looks like it hit the World Trade Center. Hm, I said. I can remember it like it was yesterday, I said probably just some yahoo who doesn’t know how to fly, but I have a meeting, is this really that important? Randy guessed not.
During our meeting, we were interrupted by another phone call, this one from Sarah’s husband. A plane, looks like it hit the World Trade Center. Yes, Sarah said, we already know. No, he said, another one. He had just heard it around the office, it turns out, so we wrote it off as gossip and misinformation.
An hour later, meeting over, I returned to my desk. I had a report to finish and I did not want to work nights or the weekend. I didn’t answer the phone much that day. I had a report to finish. The FoxNews website wouldn’t load, but our IT folks intermittently banned news sites, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. Sarah went down to the other end of the hall, where they had pulled a TV into the Board room. Sarah, she said, this is a big deal, you should go check it out. My phone rang and it was Randy, reporting that both towers had collapsed, he had watched the whole thing on TV. And I didn’t believe him. Surely it just is obscured by smoke or whathaveyou from the airplane, right? No, no, they really really fell.
And I had a report to finish. Because it really hadn’t yet dawned on me that our world had just fundamentally changed. To heck with that, it hadn’t even dawned on me yet that there would be no Fed Ex plane delivering that report to New Jersey in a few days, and that A.M. Best, located just outside the NYC metro area, would not be able to entertain taking any meetings for a while.
So I did go check out the TV. I wandered down to the other floors of the building (I was on the sparsely populated Executive level) to see that pretty much everyone else was standing talking, or staring, or listening to radios. But I had a report to finish, darnit. So I went back up to my desk and cranked out a report, complete with charts.
Part of me wonders if I knew, inside, that I would not be able to function if I took the time to let it sink in. That I had to filter it all out for a while. Because, in reality, that report did still need to be finished, planes flying or not. And if I had taken a half hour to watch the news, I would not have been able to go back to the report and do a good job.
So I worked all day, avoided conversation, and did a darn good job on that report. I did take one memorable phone call from my sister. Did you hear that President Bush flew here to Omaha? I’m so worried!! I, missing the obvious, said Oh, honey, I’m sure he’s very safe! Her response was No, you dummy, I’m worried about ME!! If he’s here, and someone wants to get him, they’ll get ME in the process! Oh, said I, you’re right. Hm.
I needed gas. I really truly did. I was driving on fumes to get to work and had planned to get gas on the way home. Yeah, like everyone else in the country. I wanted to protest at the gas station – but look at my gauge – I really DO need gas!!! I’m not being alarmist!! I just need gas!!!! I was at the gas station for a full hour. (I shut off my engine so I wouldn’t have to push the car to the pump and settled in with my Accounting homework.)
Then I went home. And turned on the TV. And we didn’t turn it off for three months. We were too scared to.
And I still can’t think about it much. I can’t. I cannot deal with the emotions. Anger, grief, sadness. Too much.
I remember walking to work the next day, looking up at the Principal building, the tallest building here, which would have been dwarfed by the Trade Towers. Tried to imagine a commercial jet flying into it. Couldn’t.
I remember how creepy it was to look up at the sky and not see a single airplane. I remember being outside the day that they let planes fly again. That was creepy, too. I remember, for years afterwards, being overly sensitive to how airplanes sounded in the sky. Heck, I still cringe if a passing airplane sounds particularly loud or low.
I remember, the day of the memorial services, I left work early and cried the entire afternoon.
I’m not sure what my fascination is with 9/11 retrospective TV shows. I can’t not watch them. Part of me desperately wants to forget. Part of me knows, just as desperately, that we cannot forget. We cannot. The fear, the horror, the vulnerability we all felt that day. We can’t forget it.