It’s an interesting story that I have shared hundreds of times, but never in this space. It happened so long ago, and the extent of my “suffering” is nothing in comparison to the multitudes who lost so much. But, it’s my story and, in honor of the date, I thought it was time to share.
I always struggle with a post like this since, when I started toying with the idea, I thought it had nothing to do with running and therefore questioned the validity of it in this space. But, as the story unfolded in my mind though my fingers, I realized there was a connection after all.
In September of 2001 I had an extremely different life. I was 26 years old, had not yet met my husband and was not even a runner.
I had just recently moved home to Connecticut from Los Angeles and was devastated to have made such a ridiculous choice. I missed California, my friends, my job and my west coast life. I came home for my family, for which I have no regrets, but in those early days of being back to the east coast, doing marketing work for an investment firm, and living at home, I would cry every.single.day. I’m very dramatic.
When an opportunity came for me to travel to San Diego for my job, I of course, jumped at the chance.
I flew from Hartford, Connecticut to Dulles in D.C, to San Diego, California, on September 10, 2001.
I was already suffering from extreme anxiety and fear of flying but, my fear stemmed (and still does) from plummeting from altitude and crashing to a fiery death, not from terrorists. In fact, I distinctly remember that flight being one of the best I had. I popped two Xanax at Dulles and didn’t wake up until we were landing in San Diego. I thought it was a perfect flight.
September 11, 2001 – San Diego, CA
I woke up the next morning, headed down to the lobby and bought a coffee. I noticed people were crowding around a huge television and I caught a glimpse of the picture – one of the twin towers appeared to be on fire, with massive plumes of black smoke billowing into the otherwise blue sky. As I walked closer to get a better look, I saw the second plane hit and some people surrounding the television actually screamed. The news anchors were scrambling to find the right words and the scene around me, as well as the one on the the TV, erupted into chaos.
I ran to the elevators. I had to talk to my dad.
My father worked (and still works) in New York City three to four days a week. I had no cell phone and the elevator ride back up to my hotel room took an eternity. My whole body was shaking as I finally entered my room and dialed my dad’s number. He answered. I literally dropped to the floor and started crying.
My dad was crying too, while telling me he was ok but that he knew so many people who worked in the towers. He was shaken and we were both scared. He told me he wasn’t in the city.
About a week later, I found out he lied to keep me from worrying.
By the time I gathered myself and checked my messages and email, I realized that the conference had be “postponed” until further notice. Basically no one had any clue just what the hell happened so life just sort of paused.
I sat on my hotel bed, rocking back and forth, while simultanoeusly watching endless hours of news and dozens of what appeared to be Naval ships, being deployed from the nearby Naval Air Station, as they cruised past my hotel window.
Around dinner time, we were told to gather at a central spot in the hotel for more information.
Basically, they were canceling the conference and chartering buses for anyone who wanted to get home via ground transportation. Remember, the FAA had shut down all air travel so about seven of us from my company were basically stuck 3,000 miles from home.
I was the first person to sign-up for the bus. I was afraid to fly before this happened. There was no way in hell I was stepping onto a plane now, regardless of when the FAA deemed travel to be safe. All I knew was that I wanted to go home. Immediately.
September 12, 2001 – Leaving San Diego
I was left with two options – take the bus or wait out the FAA. I took the bus.
I had my Sports Walkman*, a few mixed tapes, a pillow and a bottle of Xanax. I boarded the bus on September 12 and took a deep breath.
*The first iPod wouldn’t be released until October of that year.
Before leaving the hotel everyone was trying to rent a car, obviously being the preferred mode of transportation. There were, however, two very huge obstacles:
- Everyone had the same idea and there were no rentals to be found.
- Most every company, even though they had no cars, would tell you the penalties under which you would suffer or costs you would incur, if you took the car across state lines.
Nonetheless, I kept trying.
Bus travel is amazingly horrendous. Of course, I tried very hard to keep my perspective as I inched my way by Greyhound across America.
Every 24 hours we had to change drivers and this swap would take place at a bus station. At night. It was also one of the only places to brush your teeth. Take my word for it – you do not want to ever brush your teeth in a bus station. Ever.
I didn’t shower for the entirety of the trip.
The only reason I was able to sleep is because of my Xanax. Being nuts sometimes comes in very handy.
We also only stopped at fast food chains to “eat.” At each stop there was a mad dash for electrical outlets and pay phones.
I lost six pounds by the end of the trip. This was before McDonalds decided to offer even an ounce of nutrition on their menu.
Stress and disgust is an atrocious but effective diet.
Finally, around the time we got to St. Louis, I was able to reserve a Lincoln Navigator with five guys I had only met on the bus. They were all executives of some sort and were desperate to get back to their families. We had joined forces in a common goal to get a car and make our way east, dropping each person as we went.
I had the farthest to travel and would the last one left with the car, which I would return to Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks, CT whenever the hell I made it back there. It seemed like an impossible destination at the time.
THE ROAD HOME
I have forgotten more then I remember about that week of travel but I do remember how great these guys were and how jealous I was, with each stop, that the person exiting was going home to hug their families.
Through our travels, we passed the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and it gave me chills. I had an almost an uncontrolled fear because of why I was there. I felt like I was never meant to see it in person and I still think about it all the time.
It was the first time I saw Philadelphia. Heinz field, where the Steelers play, was a brand new stadium in 2001. As we passed it I remember the grandeur of it and how, in light of what just happened, seemed so silly and extravagant.
I will also never forget all the American flags. In the thousands of miles I traveled, I saw them everywhere – flying high on poles, spray painted to overpasses, on front porches, on bumper stickers and t-shirts and each time I saw one, tears came to my eyes. I was proud but I had been humbled and I was scared.
THE FINAL MILES
I will never forget the man who drove from Pennsylvania to Fairfield, CT with me. He was from Brooklyn and his wife and three kids had managed to get out of the city and were staying with his mother-in-law in Fairfield. He was eager to get home to them, so glad they were alive and safe.
We decided to drive though the night and drank more caffeine then any two human beings should.
He told me about hunting and talked to him about my adventures in California.
We drove over the Tappen Zee bridge and it was pitch black. The government had ordered any possible “targets” have limited visibility. To this day, when I drive over that bridge, I can remember that night and how we stealthily crept over that bridge, scared, anxious and high on caffeine and hope.
HOME AT LAST
I have never been as happy to see the skyline of Hartford, Connecticut as I was in the early morning hours of September 16, 2001.
With my foot shaking on the gas pedal of an enormous SUV, I made my way to my boyfriends’s house since it was about 15 minutes closer then my own home. That’s how spent I was.
I smelled, I needed a shower, food and water (in that order!) but I just crumpled into a pile on his bed and slept for hours. When I finally woke up, I made it the rest of the way to my house and gave the biggest hug to my dad and stepmom that I ever have.
That same year, I became a runner. The year after that I ran my first marathon, I met the man who would become my husband, and my life has become better every day since. I will never stop being grateful that I was able to come home and live my life to the fullest.
Where were you on September 11, 2001?
Do you do anything to honor the day or to remember?