September 11 on the Other Side of the World

Today, we are sitting on a sunny beach in Bali, Indonesia on the other side of the globe from New York and Washington DC. But, today, September 11, 2011, ten years after the most horrific day in my life and in our country’s history, our hearts and minds are 100% back home in the United States.

I can still remember exactly where I was on September 11th. It was my first day at a temp job in the Financial District in Boston. I was waiting for a bus that was running a bit late, and checked the time. It was 8:46am. I didn’t know why, but I felt a strange pang, a feeling that something huge was happening. When I got to the new office, everyone was panicking. The news came over the radio that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Surely, it had to be an accident. A small plane. That’s what everyone was hoping…

Our city, our country, our humanity and our innocence were all under attack. Only a few minutes passed and the office managers decided it was time to evacuate. I had only met this one secretary five minutes ago and now we were crying together experiencing one of – if not the – darkest day in American history. She insisted on driving me home even though I lived out of her way. I’m not sure, but I think at that time, we knew the planes had left from Boston. Had I sat with them on the subway the day before? Were there more planes? Was Boston next? I held my breath the whole ride home on Storrow Drive, which took much longer than usual due to countless others evacuating the city.

I was petrified. Shocked. Numb. I simply could not believe what was happening. When I got home, my roommates and I sat shocked, glued to the TV for more than 24 hours straight. I could not stop shaking. Crying. I couldn’t eat for days. I was in utter disbelief that this terror had rocked US soil. I’ve never written about this before and I am still finding it impossible to articulate exactly how I feel.

I was forever changed that day. Just thinking about all of those innocent mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends, daughters and sons, young and old, who went to work that day, just like any other, and never came home.

When I finally went to my room later that night, there was a message from my dear friend Kerri back in New York. She and Shawn had just gotten married in July and I had walked down the aisle with Shawn’s groomsman, Jason Coffey. Kerri’s voice sounded so weak and shocked on the machine. “Heath – we knew someone in the Towers. Jason was in the North Tower and is missing.” I couldn’t believe it. I called her back and we cried together. “Maybe he made it down to the Concourse and was trapped in an air pocket.” We all hoped against hope. Just a couple of months before we’d had so much fun together celebrating Kerri & Shawn’s wedding. Jason and I danced together with the bridal party dance. He was such a nice, jovial, sweet guy. He worked on the 98th floor with his father in the offices of Marsh & McClennan. They were planning to meet for lunch to go to a jewelry store – Jason’s Dad was going to have his wedding ring resized after 30 years of marriage and Jason was going to pick out a surprise engagement ring.

Neither survived.

Months after the attacks, my Dad got word that one of his former co-workers, Janet Bohlander Alonso, who also worked for Marsh & McClennan only three days a week was at her desk on September 11th. She left behind a husband and two small children, one of whom has Down’s Syndrome.

To this day, 10 years later, I still wake up hoping it was all a horrible nightmare. But it’s not. Nearly 3,000 people from 90 countries were murdered as they simply went about their lives. For many, it was a matter of chance. Some had a meeting at Windows on the World and would never have been there any other day. Some were running late for work. Or took the day off to take their kids to the first day of school. Some heroic souls rushed to the Towers to save others while most people were running away desperately trying to escape with their lives. Thinking of all of this still gives me chills and makes me sick to my stomach.

There is really no way to make sense of what happened that day. Even though 10 years have passed, for me and many others, it still feels like yesterday.

I will never, ever forget September 11th.

I know everyone says that something good must come out of all of this. When I think about this day, I realize how lucky we all are to be alive. Each day is precious. And we are lucky to experience all of the beauty this world has to offer.

About Heather

Heather and Erik set off on a round-the-world trip in April, 2010, travelling overland through Central and South America before getting engaged in Antarctica. In 2011-2012 they tackled Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

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