Nineteen years ago. Bob Craig and I were sitting in a pub at London Heathrow. We were on a five-hour layover coming back from Poland, where we had attended the wedding of Christopher and Aga Schleyer.
At first we thought they were showing a movie. Then we saw it was CNN. We thought it was an accident.
Then we watched the second plane hit. And we knew.
The pub became silent. Everyone was transfixed.
Then the first tower fell. And we all screamed. All around us, people were crying. Others were in shock. And we all waited for the inevitable.
Then the second tower fell.
We learned of the plane in PA, which the BBC reported had been shot down. We learned of the Pentagon, supposedly the most impenetrable fortress on Earth, and we were terrified at the ease with which it was attacked.
Then the US closed its airspace, and we knew we were stranded. We didn’t know how long. A day? A week? Longer?
We managed to find lodging at a YMCA in Surbiton. Others weren’t so lucky: one girl on the flight from Poland with us had bright pink hair. A few days later I saw that same girl on the BBC. She, and thousands others, never left the airport.
In the midst of it I had a panic attack. My first. Stranded. Virtually no money. Nowhere to go. My country attacked. Separated from my family and my home by an ocean I had no way to cross.
Bob talked me down from it. Helped me gather my wits. Gave me perspective. Showed me his credit card; I was broke, but HE had money. I had never before felt so lost. So small. Bob talked me through it, and he has my eternal gratitude.
Five days later we made it home. We took a last minute flight to JFK. My sister Debbie picked us up, and as we drove home we could clearly see the devastation. The hole in the sky. The dust cloud that hung like a pall over the city.
We made it home, but home was never the same.
Never forget? How the hell could I?
“The real troubles in your life are apt to be things thatnever crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you… on some idle Tuesday.”
— Mary Schmich