Like so many of us who witnessed the attacks that September, I will never forget my experiences on 9/11 even though ten years have past. My husband and I were living in Mountain View, California. He had a conference overseas and had left to fly to Paris, France, early that morning from San Francisco. It was around six that morning that our phone rang and woke me up. It was my mother in Oklahoma. She was very calm, didn’t say hello or anything. All she said was “Where is Bill?” Having just woken up, I must have said something incoherent because she asked again and I told her he was on a plane to Paris. She was quiet for several heartbeats and then she asked me where he was connecting through. I told her it was a direct flight. The entire time I was asking why she wanted to know and she wouldn’t tell me, but I knew something was wrong. She asked what time his flight left and his flight number. I told her and she figured out that his flight should be almost to Paris at this time. At that point, she told me what had happened in New York. I immediately turned on the TV and started watching what was happening. The second plane had not hit yet.
My mom was saying things to me, but I didn’t hear her. I was transfixed by what was happening in New York. A small voice in the back of my head was telling me, “He wasn’t on that plane, you would know it somehow, wouldn’t you?” I don’t remember any more of the conversation with my mom that morning. Shortly after, the second plane hit the other building while I was watching the TODAY show. As everyone knows, details were very sketchy at first so I had no way of knowing which flights had hit the buildings. I did know, however, that my husband was on a United flight.
Shortly after the second plane hit the building, I remember getting off the phone with my mother and immediately dialing his hotel in Paris. The call went through and I heard his voice say hello. I broke into hysterical sobbing. It took me awhile to calm down enough to tell him what had just happened in New York. He flipped on CNN and we sat there, on opposite continents in shocked silence, watching the horror of that day unfold. We spent a bit of time on the phone, mostly him reassuring me he was in fact okay and me wanting him home. He promised to call me again in a few hours. The rest of the day was a blur and I don’t remember much.
The next few days were surreal as I am sure they were for many people. We spent lots of time on the phone and sending emails. His conference was canceled but he couldn’t get a flight home. He ended up being there for about 6 days and then was able to get a flight on Air France. Air France removed all people from their flights so that Americans could get home as soon as possible. My husband remembers the flight attendant telling a French couple that she was sorry they had booked their flights in advance, but their priority was getting Americans home. When they landed in San Francisco, he said the whole plane cheered.
My husband and I were going to college in Norman, Oklahoma, thirty minutes away from downtown Oklahoma City, when the Murrah bombing happened. I was working with a child and thought I heard thunder. I remember looking out the window, noticing it was sunny, and thinking that was odd. Later I found out it was the bomb. My college graduation was in a building just a block or so from the Murrah building, just a month after the attack. The shell was still up at that time and our family went and spent a few moments before going in to the ceremony. This attack was horrible and I won’t forget it either, but I think 9/11 changed us as a people and as a nation in a way that the Murrah building bombing didn’t.
It is hard to believe it has been ten years. In some ways it seems like it just happened. In other ways, it seems like a long time has passed. We are not the same country we were and we are not the same as a people. None of us who lived through what happened will ever forget it, and it is up to us to teach the future generations where the path of hatred leads.