Where were you when the world stopped turning?
It’s the name of an Alan Jackson tune.
It’s about 9/11.
September 11, 2001.
That day is irrevocably entwined with Chuck for me. It’s part of how I miss him.
He was at McGuire AFB, in NJ, working a civil service job.
I was headed to Sea Girt, a military beach a little north of the base, and had just reached the turnoff for the base when I heard about a plane hitting the Towers.
Something in me instantly knew that I had to return home. This wasn’t just an accident.
I returned home in time to turn on the TV and hear about the second plane. The phone was already in my hand, calling the base, trying to reach him.
All attempts were unsuccessful. All communications into and out of the base were shut down. The gates were closed, no entry, no leaving.
I was certain that McGuire was on the hit list for the terrorists. It was a major East coast base.
And I couldn’t call him to ask if he was okay, if we were safe, what had happened…nothing.
The rest of my day was, as it was for so many, a day filled with fear and confusion and anxiety, calling loved ones, calling friends, and always, the TV on in the background, watching as the world turned upside down.
Chuck came home that night, around midnight. And then started working 12 hour shifts as our country prepared for war.
A few months later, I went up to Liberty State Park, as a volunteer. I’d spent the previous months training in emergency response.
Liberty State Park was set up to assist and support survivors, their families, the families of those who died that day, with numerous support organizations at individual tables. Kind of a one stop shop.
Each of the volunteers was companioned with a survivor or family member; we guided them through the process of applications for emergency assistance, made sure they stayed hydrated, got snacks for them, and, in the midst of that, provided a listening ear, an open heart, and shoulders to lean on.
Large round cafeteria style tables were arranged in the middle of the room. On those tables were snacks for everyone, bottled water, and thousands of letters sent by kids around the country, to the first responders, to the survivors, to the families. We’d read them on break.
Outside was the Hall of Remembrance. Well, it was that…remembrance…but the frames that wound their way down the middle of the hall were filled with posters that asked us have you seen this man, this woman? He or she worked in the North Tower, the South Tower. I haven’t seen them since that day but I can’t believe they’re dead. They just didn’t come home. Have you seen them?
My heart broke continually up there at Liberty State Park.
I heard stories from survivors that curled my hair and made me sick to my stomach. I heard about the tires from the planes seen down on the ground. People impaled on iron fences after falling from the skies. Near misses as a man was helped from the basement cafeteria by 2 nurses seconds before the building exploded.
I watched as a firefighter who survived the day, but lost so many of his mates, came into the great hall, found “his” therapy dog, sat down on the floor with his arms wrapped around him, and wept heartbreaking tears. Then got up and left without saying a word to anyone.
I went up to Liberty State Park 3 times, to assist in whatever way I could. I figured if they…those people who came for assistance…could bear to be there, so could I, to bear witness to and for them.
On the way back home, after an 11- hour day, my team and I would debrief. We’d cry and be in shock and talk some more and, basically, emotionally vomit those 11 hours.
And then I’d get home and Chuck would have a cup of chai waiting for me, with a light snack, because he knew my appetite was nonexistent on those days, and he’d sit down at the table with me and listen to me vomit the pain. We’d sit and he’d listen to me til I couldn’t speak any longer, and then we’d go to bed and he’d wrap himself around me and I’d feel safe again.
Where were you when the world stopped turning?
I was married to a man who served his country, who understood things that I didn’t about what went on behind the scenes, who reassured me, in a world gone fucking crazy, that it was crazy but I wasn’t and we had each other and we had our Love.
Chuck was the man who stood with me in life, through that day in September, and all the other days for 24 years.
I felt safe with him in my world.
I don’t know why I’m thinking of that September day, on this night. What I do know is that Chuck is linked to every memory I have of that day, and the missingness bubbles through my veins. And I miss him even more as it bubbles.
He was my strong shoulder, he was my reassurance, he was who walked through it all with me.
And my world is not anywhere near the same, without him~