Never Forget: Looking Back (a 9/11 story)

September 11, 2001. 

The day that changed America.

I know it changed me, and my perspective on the duality of mankind (evil vs. good).

I’m finding it difficult to believe that it’s been eighteen years when it feels like it just happened.  Even now, certain images or sounds still evoke all those terrifying feelings and thoughts I had on that fateful day.

An airplane flying over my house.  A fireman on a street corner.  Any high rise structure.

It took me sixteen years to step back on a plane.  I have flown a few more times since; however I am still unable to shake the uneasiness that disaster can strike at any given moment.

In 2017, the events of 9/11 continued to haunt me so I decided to write a micro-story and eventually turned it into a video, The Bench. In a way, I did this to try and purge some of the feelings of intense sadness and of the anger over what we all had lost that day. I wrote this from a fireman’s perspective drawing upon a specific story I saw on one of the many 9/11 documentaries.

 

 

The actual photo that inspired my story:

(Someone took the iconic picture of a fireman sitting on the bench when he couldn’t find his wife anywhere)

Article detailing his story — Husband and Wife Survive World Trade Center on 9/11

Although his story had a happier ending, I wrote my story with the thought of so many others who’d lost their loved ones. And even worst, never to have their remains found.

 

My Story

 

9/11 had a profound effect on me. For several months afterward, I struggled with depression.

Perhaps in part it had to do with the fact I am from New York state. Born and raised upstate, my hometown was about five hours north of the Big Apple.  I’d spent time among those enormous high rises (yes, including the Twin Towers), roamed many of its streets, and walked along the boardwalks admiring great ships of war.

My husband and I had just relocated from New York to Raleigh, North Carolina in May of 2001.  I’d flew on an American Airline plane back to New York in July for my sister’s wedding.

On that day, a Tuesday, I was a teller working for RBC Centura in one of their branches near REX hospital (only a few short miles from the RDU airport).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annette, another teller, was there initially as we got ready to open the bank. But just before opening, she received a phone call that her grandmother was taken to the ER so she had to leave.

It was a few minutes before opening, Waller, the branch manager, got a call on his cell from his mother to turn on the news.  A plane had crashed into one of the Towers.  We quickly went back to the break room and turned on the small television and sure enough, we could see plumes of smoke rolling out of the North Tower.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our first thought was that a commercial plane had accidentally hit the Tower.

An accident. That’s all it was.

With that, we opened the bank for the day.

As there were no customers yet, I rushed back to the break room to continue following the breaking news when I witnessed the second plane hitting South Tower.

I’d felt like something had knocked the wind out of me as I found myself holding my breath unable to take another.

Oh my god…that was no accident.

When the third plane hit Pentagon less than 20 minutes later, I was thinking, my god, we’re under attack.

My heart was racing. I couldn’t help but wonder – where will they hit next?

Unbeknowst to me at the time, my brother, Rick, was working that very morning at the American Airlines Southeastern Reservation Center in Cary, NC.  He personally knew the coworker who took that agonizing call by one of the flight attendants (Betty Ong) from Flight 11 (the plane that hit the North Tower). But when the call initially came in (between 8 and 8:30am), no one (including him) except for the supervisors knew of the tragic events unfolding.  The coworker was told to keep the call discreet as not to spread panic through the center.  Unfortunately, no one was able to get help in time for her and the passengers of Flight 11.  Rick said that this coworker was so distraught, they had to resigned.

It was sometime before 10am when I began hearing that the FAA were grounding all flights. I also remember hearing that all planes were accounted for…all except for one. That one, Flight 93, crashed in Pennsylvania.

Throughout this whole first hour of being opened, not one single customer came to the branch.  The main phone did not ring. At. All.

I was still the only teller.  Annette was gone.  Remi, the part timer, wasn’t due in for another hour. Throughout this entire building there were only myself and the branch manager.

It felt so eerily strange.

Up to this point, I was feeling a little frantic and unnerved, but managed to keep myself together.

A little before 10am,  I decided to go back and check on the news for any new information and watched disbelievingly as the South Tower collapsed.

 

Oh. My. God. Did I just see an entire high rise crumble to the ground?  How was that even possible?

Less than 30 minutes later, North Tower fell.

There was a loud buzzing in my head as my mind tried to decipher all that had happened. This was such craziness! Who would do such horrific acts?

I was stunned.  I was afraid. Then I became angry.

Whoever was responsible, needed to pay for all those lives lost.

I was so livid, I really wanted to smash something.

Anything.

The phone rang.

It was my husband, Jay, who’s a teller at another bank across town. A former soldier who fought in Desert Storm in 1991, it was his calm voice that snapped me back from the edge I was about to fall from.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

I had to take several deep breaths before I could answer, “Yes.”

After all that had happened up to this point, the bank decided to keep their branches opened; but the rest of the day was a blur for me.  I don’t remember if Remi ever did come in.  I’m sure he did. I do remember the only two customers who came.  One of them took the drive-through, the former owner and CEO of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Everything felt so surreal.  I couldn’t tell if I was awake or asleep. I suppose I was in shock, but I can remember the utter relief I felt when we finally locked the doors, and seeing my husband waiting in the parking lot.

Thank god, I can finally get away from here!

For the next week or so, the skies over us were empty. Silent. The RDU airport nearby was practically barren of all life.  Rick was given nearly a week off before returning to the Reservation Center.

Our lives, everything, had changed forever.

Feeling secured in our country had only been an illusion.

Even today, I can’t help looking over my shoulder every once in a while for the next disaster to strike.

 

What about you? Where were you on September 11, 2001? How did that day change your life?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Monday Memoir: The Matriarch

 

ONE FINAL GIFT

Scatter me not to the restless winds
Nor toss my ashes to the sea.
Remember now those years gone by
When loving gifts I gave to thee.
Remember now the happy times
The family ties are shared.
Don’t leave my resting place unmarked
As though you never cared.
Deny me not one final gift
For all who came to see.
A simple lasting proof that says
I loved and you loved me.

(by D.H.Cramer)

 

 

Not many days pass that I don’t think of my grandmother. I’ve always considered her a kind of matriarch for the maternal side of my family.  Geraldine Anna May Hart Furnia was a slight woman, but her size was quite deceiving because underneath that smallish frame was tremendous strength and courage.

She was born on December 20, 1920.  Her young life was hard as I’ve been told.  She married my grandfather, Paul Furnia who was six years older, when she was sixteen. She married young so she could get out of an abusive family situation.  I never learned what went on though.   Life with my grandfather wasn’t much better,  but she loved him and the family they made together.   Early in the marriage they had four children; then World War II began and he enlisted in the Army and spent part of the war up in Alaska (Kodiak Island). She was left to care for the four children in a home that wasn’t much more than a shack. After the war, three more children were born; one of them my mother.  Grandfather became a logger which he worked till his retirement at the age 67.

They bought a house on Grove Rd next to the Ausable River.  For many years, they grew their own food and didn’t have plumbing until my mother was a girl.  They still lived in the same house while I grew up.

I spent much of my childhood with my grandmother.  I often considered her my surrogate mother as my own worked full-time.  They didn’t have daycare centers during the seventies so family members or friends were often the ones called upon to help watch me (and eventually my brother and sister).

Most of my fondest memories as a girl involved my grandmother.

She was a great storyteller and a self-taught musician.  I literally spent countless hours listening to tales of the past or to the tunes of the banjo or accordion.

She was a devout Catholic and would take me to the Saturday mass each week.

She loved spending time outdoors tending to her large garden, or filling buckets of juicy blueberries.

Most of all, she loved having her house full of family members.  No matter how scattered her children or grandchildren were, we always found our way back to her house a few times a year for huge gatherings.   Storytelling, music and games were the highlights, and each time she was the center of them all.

She was the magnet that kept drawing us back, the glue that bonded us close together, and the heart that continued to beat in all of us while we were apart.

It was heartbreaking to see her pass away on February 22, 1988.   She was only sixty-seven.  Her body gave out long before her spirit wanted to let go.  Emphysema may have claimed her life, but the memories of her will always live on.  Even though we don’t gather together as often as a family, we will always be linked no matter where we are because her heart still beats within us.

Monday Memoir: Unforgettable

 

At the age of ten, I discovered there was another way of intermingling with my imaginary friends, and that was through writing.  A new world was suddenly opened to me where I can create and bring things to life on paper. Because of my hearing impairment, my overall understanding of grammar was a bit lacking to say the least, and I knew this.  And because of this, I kept whatever I wrote hidden away.  I wasn’t ready to share with the world.

Not yet.

In the meantime, I struggled with insecurities, and with the belief that I was inferior to the other kids. I felt I wasn’t good enough in anything.   As a result, I stayed pretty much a loner with perhaps one or two good friends.

Later on in the same school year, one of the school’s teachers, Mr. Hathaway, announced that the school was going to compete in its first (and only) track meet with other private schools in the area. I signed up for three events: 100 yard dash, 200 yard dash, and 400 yard relay.

I’ll need to clarify that my school’s sport program when compared to the area public schools was more intramural at best; especially given the fact that my entire school population had only seventy students in all (grades Kindergarten through 12th)! And because of the small size, most of our sports were played with co-ed teams.

You get the idea.

Photo Credit: Acclaim Images

 

I was excited, and I was also nervous. I’ve never done track before. We had no coach, or any training. I wondered just how bad I was going to be.

The track meet was held on a warm spring day at another private school (almost as small as my school); the school’s parking lot was converted into a track.  For my first event, the 100 yard dash, I found myself competing against girls who were two and three years older than me, but age or size didn’t matter as I flew past them and finished in 1st place.  The same thing happened in the next event, the 200 yard dash, where I again finished in 1st place. In my last event, 400 yard relay, I was put in as the last runner, and as a team, we placed 2nd.

I never thought that running and competing could be so much fun.

Summer came and my parents placed me in a summer day camp which was sponsored by one of the local public schools. None of the kids from my school were there, but that really didn’t bother me. The kids that were there were from other public schools, ages that ranged from five all the way up to sixteen. I kept to myself as always while occasionally conversing with a few who were close to my age. One whom I do remember was Kari Lynn Nixon. She was a few months younger than me, but I was amazed by her. She was pretty, outgoing, and popular. I can remember one particular day when she involved me in one of the activities she led: how to put on makeups.

Here I was, eleven years old at the time, a tomboy learning how to apply lipstick and blush to my sweaty and dirty face. I must have been a comical sight when I got home later that day.

I remember one specific day over any others though.  It was late morning when one of the camp leaders announced that there was going to be a race.  Anyone who was interested was to come to the baseball field and stand in a line next to the home base. I didn’t think.  I just went. As soon as I stood in that line with at least twenty other kids, doubts filled my mind and butterflies jumped in my stomach.

What was I doing?

Most of these kids were athletes.  A few of whom I actually knew were  star baseball and softball athletes.  What kind of chance would I have against them?  A girl like me who went to a small private school against these other kids who went to schools that were at least ten times larger.

I must be insane.

I seriously considered stepping out and away from the line, but that would mean the entire camp would see me chickening out.  There had to have been about one hundred kids sitting in the bleachers behind me.

I had no choice, but to compete.

Must of the race was a blur to me.  I remember running as fast as I could.  I remember this one boy athlete racing right along beside me.  Then I remember seeing the home base ahead of me as we rounded the last section of the field.  I could hear the kids cheering in the bleachers. I can remember my legs feeling like rubbery leads.  You know what was amazing about that race?

I finished first.

I finally found something that I was good at. Something that apparently I was better than many of the kids from the local public schools.

It all felt quite surreal.  I never had so many people cheering for me.  Congratulating me.

It felt good.

I almost felt…normal.

 

Run With the Wind

Cool breeze sweeping by

the landscape all but a blur

my feet take me home

#ThursdayThoughts: The Idea of a Memoir (Part Two)

 

Now that I’ve decided to write a memoir, I need to decide on a “theme” for it.  Since I’ve experienced so many losses, I will do my first memoir around them.

Writing poetry has been so therapeutic in helping me deal with those losses, I’m thinking of including a number of poems in the memoir.  In fact, I’m inclined to open each chapter with a poem, and then delve into details around a particular loss.

The title I think will be Life: Tears in the Rain.

Monday Memoir: Darren

 

I learned how fragile life could be at a young age.

Darren and I were born one month apart.  As cousins, we were constant playmates. I can remember us spending a lot of time running around in the back yard of our grandparents’ house.  In their back yard was a fairly large garden that they kept planted almost year round; usually full of tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. On a particular overcast day, we were playing near the garden when Darren started to yell, “Snake! Snake!”    I looked and sure enough, a shiny black snake was squiggling its way through a patch of tomatoes.  But, wait a minute, it wasn’t alone as I started to see another one emerge, another one, and yet another one.  There had to have been at least a dozen black snakes slithering through that garden.  With the sight of so many slimy snakes, I froze.  One particular snake writhed towards me; but, Darren saved my life (from a kid’s perspective, mind you) by grabbing my arm as he dragged me back to the nearest porch of the house.  We were about five or six years old.

This memory still makes me smile, and chuckle.

That incident was the last real memory I have of us playing together.

My next memory was being at his Daddy’s (my Uncle Harold’s) funeral. I remember as I watched the adults congregated among themselves when someone said that it was probably for the best that he died suddenly.  I couldn’t understand why they could say such things.  My aunt was now left alone to raise three girls and a boy.  I couldn’t possibly see any good in that.

It wasn’t too long after that I noticed Darren falling more and more often.  Then, he needed help to get back up to his feet each and every time.

A short while later, he was confined to a wheelchair.  At first, we made good use of that wheelchair as I enjoyed zooming him all through our grandparents’ house like a car in a NASCAR race.   It was a cool race “car.”

We would spend hours sitting at a table, and play card games such as Go Fish and Slap Jack.   At some point, he wasn’t even able to do that as he grew so weak he could barely lift up his arms or hands.  Then, he couldn’t even keep his head up.

The wheelchair was soon replaced by a hospital bed in his own bedroom.  He could no longer go to school.  All he had to look forward to was watching the little television on a dresser in front of the bed.  I can remember how depressed he would get; especially since he could no longer play or go to school with kids his own age.

I can remember Darren lying in that bed, his body full of tubes that were connected to all kinds of machines.  Machines that helped him to breathe, to pee, even to eat for him.   The only things that he could still move were his eyes.  Heck, he couldn’t even talk anymore.

Mom would take me to visit him every Saturday.  I would go right into his room, take out his collection of Star Wars’ action figures (other times it would be race cars) and spread them out on his bed. Since he couldn’t play for himself, I played for him as he watched.

Eventually we didn’t go over to his house anymore.  His mother had placed him in a hospice.  A few months later, he got sick with pneumonia, and died one night in his sleep.  One month shy of his fourteenth birthday.

His funeral was held on a cold, rainy day.  It’s still a blur to me.  I can remember hearing my cousins crying for their brother beside me.  I don’t think I cried at all.  I just felt numb.  Empty.  And, lost.

He was my best friend.

Now, he was gone.

He had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

Monday Memoir: Silence

 

Will start a new series (plan to post on each Monday) called Memoir Monday.

 

Silence

 

I was a 70s child, and spent the entire preteen and teen-aged years during the 80s.   There are some things to be said having grown up in the heart of Adirondack mountains during this period.

One, you only got four channels on the television, if you were lucky.  So, I didn’t experience MTV until much later in life.

Two, really good doctors were few and far between.

I was born seemingly healthy, in all appearance-wise that is. By the time I was about two years old, it became apparent to my parents that I wasn’t developing normally.

I startled easily.

I wasn’t responding to stimuli like a “normal” child would.

I got frustrated over the simplest things and threw frequent temper tantrums.

My speech development was on par, for an one-year old.

For the next few years, they took me to see various specialists across New York and Vermont, but no one could tell them what was really wrong with me.  One particular specialist blatantly told my parents that I had serious behavioral issues and should see a shrink.

On I went to Kindergarten.

It was probably a few months into the school year when the teacher, Mrs. Siglin, pulled my Mom aside and said that I was practically unteachable.   I wasn’t listening to anything she was saying during class.  I was abruptive, and rude to the other kids.

Mom, in tears, had to pull me from school.

As a last resort, my parents took me to see an audiologist, Ms. Audrey.

She put me through a series of tests, and then had me sit in a sound-proof room, with a headphone on. She then amplified the sound of my voice.

Something happened that hadn’t happened before.

I began to jabber incoherently at first, and then my words grew clearer and concise.

Ms. Audrey turned to my bewildered parents and explained that I had moderate hearing loss in both ears.

Nerve deafness. 

I was almost six years old, and for the first time in my life, I heard the sound of my own voice.