Twelve years ago today, I swore at the alarm, dragged myself out of bed, showered, got dressed, ate, and hopped into the car and hit the highway. I was working at, ironically, the National Trade Centre in downtown Toronto. The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is held there each November, and I was up to my neck in the planning and marketing of it all.
I was 24 years old – feels like a lifetime ago.
I had about a 45 minute drive from the suburbs into the city, and I always liked to listen to the news on the radio as I drove in. Nothing of note that day… it was sunny and beautiful, a day just like today. I listened to the traffic report, and the sports, and then I lost reception as I always did when I pulled into the underground parking lot. It was about ten minutes to 9, and I was just happy I wasn’t late. I bolted up a flight of stairs and waved hello to everyone as I walked into the office. I settled in at my desk, and was just about to turn on my computer when I heard a gasp from the cubicle next to mine. “Oh my god. Oh my god.”
I loved my job at the Royal. Like REALLY loved it. It is the best job I ever had, and to this day I regret that it was only a three month contract. I had an absolute blast booking the vendors, creating promotions and running all over the one MILLION square foot space in anticipation of what his surely this city’s premier showcase of agricultural and equine products and events. I had a walkie-talkie, and I was constantly in motion. I’d never been busier, and I loved it. It had been a difficult summer for me that year. I’d broken up with a guy I’d been living with, and he could afford to keep paying the rent on our place alone but I couldn’t, so I had to move out. It was heartbreaking and scary and I felt defeated moving back home. We had spent a few months doing a bit of the “back and forth” that exes tend to do, and I was kind of floating around in limbo. So having a job that I loved and kept me busy was perfect. Once the fair started and the galas and horse shows commenced, there were days that I arrived for work at 8am and didn’t leave until midnight! I was exhausted but happy, finally.
So that morning, when I heard my co-worker’s voice, I could tell that something was VERY wrong, and I immediately went over to her desk. She was reading from the CNN website, and said that a “small commuter plane had crashed into the World Trade Center”. I wasn’t even sure what a small commuter plane was, but I figured that it likely held 2 – 6 people and had unfortunately experienced some trouble while in mid-flight. I knew that the people on board were likely either hurt or dead, and that there was a good chance that someone inside the building had been injured as well. “Crazy..” I thought, “how do you accidentally crash into a huge sky scraper like that?”
I went back to my desk hoping that everyone was okay.
Minutes passed, and I heard Jill frantically yelling again. “ANOTHER PLANE HAS HIT THE OTHER BUILDING! TWO PLANES!” I will never forget what happened next – my boss came out of her office and looked at us sternly, “No, you’re wrong. You’re reading the same thing twice, Jill. Get back to work now, you’re WRONG. There is no way that TWO planes have hit BOTH towers, that’s just ridiculous.” But then phones started ringing, and suddenly the office was buzzing as if it was charged with electricity. Someone rolled out an old television from the A/V room – remember the kind you watched in class at school? This was 2001 – there was no Facebook, no YouTube, no smart phones. I BARELY used the internet back then, and CNN’s website had crashed by this point anyway. So, we all gathered in one of the offices, and we watched the events unfold.
No one even thought about terrorism. In our innocent “pre 9/11” minds we would have never conjured up such horror. We watched in stunned silence and fear as the news showed thousands of people running while the buildings burned. We all covered our mouths in shock and cried as we watched the first tower fall. No one spoke, not one word. It was the saddest, most awful thing any of us had ever witnessed, and to watch it live on tv was just unreal.
Our silence was only broken when someone suddenly said, “Oh my gosh, the second tower is falling!” Ever the skeptic and obviously still in denial, my boss said “No, you’re just watching repeat footage of the first tower falling.” I finally spoke up… “But then where is the second tower? They’re both gone.” It was then that people in the room really started to cry. We all began calling home, checking on our loved ones. I called my ex, waking him up after a very late shift the night before. I remember him sounding annoyed that I’d disturbed him. Eventually, the police arrived at our offices and we were evacuated. Our building was only two stories high, but being called the National Trade Center was enough of a concern to clear us out. I gladly grabbed my things and left. The highways were gridlocked, nothing was moving. People were wandering around downtown Toronto crying into their cell phones, listening to hand-held radios and crowding in front of electronic store windows to watch the news on the television screens. I decided to head to my former apartment, since it was just moments away. My ex and I sat on the couch for hours, just watching the horror and the aftermath. Another plane, another crash. It was so surreal. Eventually I went home, and I felt like I never wanted to leave.
Do you remember how loud the silence was in our skies that day? I remember sitting on the deck in my mom’s backyard and noticing the absence of the planes. It was nothing short of eerie. What was even stranger, though, was the first flight that zoomed overhead a week later. I will never forget how for MONTHS after 9/11, I would cringe and feel almost sick every time I heard that roar of a plane engine. Sometimes even now, I find that the sounds takes me back immediately, and in my head all I can see is that second plane take that hard last minute turn, and the incredible noise that it made before we all watched it tear a hole through that building.
September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. The following Sunday, my ex and I went to church. I am not a religous person, but my need to go that day was strong. I needed to gather, I needed to grieve. The church was filled to the rafters, literally. There was standing room only, and we slipped in and just stood against the back wall. It was hot, and packed, and I was so emotional. I wasn’t sure I would last in there for the entire mass, and then the opening “hymn” began…
“O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain.
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.”
Yes, mass began at this Catholic church in Toronto, Ontario was “America the Beautiful”. I will never forget that moment as long as I live. I stood at the back of that church, and cried with those around me. My heart broke from the fear, and the violence, and the sadness that we were all feeling. The mass that Sunday closed with “The Star Spangled Banner”, and the sound of everyone’s voices rising up together was so moving.
I still watch the specials every year. The documentary done by the French brothers is just incredible. I believe wholeheartedly that it was fate that brought them there that day. They were sent to capture the events on film, and unite us all to mourn the dead and praise the incredible, selfless heroes. What a gift they have given us.
I’ve wanted to write down my memories of 9/11 for a long time now, and today seemed like as good a day as any. Time is passing, even though it feels like it was yesterday. It wasn’t the leading story on the news this morning, and while moments of silence will surely be observed, it’s nothing more than just a part of history for most of us now; something that our kids will learn about in school. It’s really so much more than that, though, isn’t it? Our world really changed that day, and I don’t think that is an exaggeration. My kids will never know a “pre 9/11” existence, and I’m sad for them. That morning as I sat at my desk, I struggled to comprehend how such a coincidence could occur… how TWO separate planes could crash into both towers just moments apart. How naive we all were, and how sad that our children will never know such naiveté.
Where were you on that awful morning? Work? School? Or did you sleep in and wake up to a changed world?
I hope and (in my own way) I pray, that someday my children will know a world where only peace exists.
You might say I’m a dreamer… but I’m not the only one.