For the last solid week, thanks to the National Geographic Channel, I have been glued to TV shows recounting that unbelievable day 10 years ago – September 11, 2001.
In 10 years, I would say the feelings from that day – the numbness, the shock, the disbelief – have faded. But not completely. Watching these shows brings it all back again. I still cannot believe that it happened. The most horribly horrific act of terrorism my country has ever seen…and I remember it.
Derek and I were on vacation when this happened. We were 22 and had just begun living together and my generous parents had given us a trip to Disney World as a college graduation present. I had finished my last college class ever – a philosophy course – in August and picked the vacation dates, September 9-14, on a whim.
The morning of Tuesday, September 11, we were in our hotel room in Kissimmee, Florida, getting ready for the day’s trip to Epcot Center. Since Epcot is open late and we didn’t want to miss the laser light show at 9 p.m., we were planning to head to Epcot a little later in the morning. The Today show was on in the background while we got ready.
“Derek, the World Trade Center is on fire,” I called to him into the bathroom.
“That’s weird,” he replied. We were not listening to the audio, just seeing the live footage of smoke billowing out of one of the mammoth towers.
We boarded the hotel shuttle for one of the happiest places on Earth.
Within an hour of being there, we came out of one of the ride buildings and we saw the Disney employees discreetly ushering people towards the exit.
“What’s going on?” I asked one of the employees. I remember what she said so vividly.
“There were some acts of terrorism in New York and Washington DC this morning and we don’t think anything is going to happen here, but as a precaution, we’re closing the park.”
I cringe when I think of what I asked next.
“Well, are they going to open the parks later today?” OBVIOUSLY I had no clue how serious the situation was.
“No, we’ll be closed for the rest of the day.”
As we walked towards the exit, incredibly confused, Derek looked at me, eyes wide and incredulous, “Did you hear what that person just said? Planes crashed into some buildings.”
We gripped hands and hurried to the hotel shuttle. When we got back to our room, we spent the rest of the day staring in disbelief at the TV. I remember feeling really scared and really, really wanting to be at home with my parents. Talking to them on the phone helped a bit, but it was truly the most scary moment of my life, thus far. Basically, I wanted my mommy.
The next days the parks opened up and we crammed in the rest of our vacation. We flew home on the first day the airports opened up, Sept. 14. That was a cluster, I’ll leave it at that. More fear, more tears, more running through an airport. I have never in my life been more happy to see Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport than I did at midnight on Sept. 15 when we finally arrived home.
One of the things that has stuck with me over the 10 years since this happened, is the patriotism felt days and weeks afterwards. Never in my 22 years had I ever felt patriotic. Sure, as a kid I decorated my bike and rode in our Independence Day parade. Yes, my parents always flew an American flag on our flag pole. Definitely, I felt fortunate to live in a country like ours. But seeing every single house and every single car with an American flag on it, it was the first time in my life I felt patriotic. And, in 10 years, that feeling has not faded.