Ten Years

by cindy

The following is a letter I wrote shortly after the attacks on 9-11. I have also posted some other memories of that day and the days following, but this letter tells the story of where I was and what I was thinking as I learned what had happened thousands of miles away.

For points of clarification, I do want to explain that my daughter had moved to New York City but was between jobs, spending time at our home in York. Our son Andy and his then girlfriend (now wife) lived in Chicago but his work often brought him to Pittsburgh. My brother, his wife, and their two young sons lived in St. Louis. Knowing this, I think any reader will see exactly where my brain was headed as I learned of the attacks.

* * * * *

“September 11, 2001: What a day. Roaming the narrow winding streets of Antibes, walking the same paths that, most likely, the greatest artist in history had walked, being in his studio, seeing the same view that he saw from the windows…well, it just couldn’t get much better than this.

As I prepare this section of our scrapbook, I reflect on many images of that day. We were slightly more than halfway through our trip and had had many memorable experiences already. Among them was this trip, where, for a very little bit, I knew I stood in the footsteps of Picasso. I can remember drinking in every part of the museum—the air, the sunlight, the dust on the tables, the views of the Mediterranean and the quaint little town, the studio workspace, the canvases, the sculptures—all of it.

Dave wasn’t feeling his best that day. He had been battling a sore throat for a couple of days and now his back seemed to be going out on him. After finishing at the museum, rather than poking around in shops, we headed down to the part of town where we were to meet up with the rest of the group before boarding our bus. It was hot, so we perched on a dry, old fountain, intending to rest, wait, and watch people. Gradually a few other members of our tour drifted to the same spot. I guess we weren’t the only ones who were tired.

Sometimes little things occur that make you feel like you have been spirited into the Twilight Zone. One of our group members had been meandering through some souvenir shops nearby. He returned to our small cluster, scratching his head. “The strangest thing just happened,” he said. “Some little old Frenchwoman came up to me—I don’t speak French and she didn’t speak English—and all I could figure out that she was saying was ‘TWO’ and ‘BOMBS’ and ‘WASHINGTON DC’.” We all just scratched our heads, puzzled, wondering what in the world he could have so badly misunderstood. It didn’t make any sense and, with a shrug of our shoulders, we all let the matter drop. Odd. Just odd.

We boarded the bus. Ah! Air conditioning! It felt good! Everyone settled in their seats for a cool, quiet ride back to Nice. Meredith, our tour guide, and Michel, the art historian attached to our tour, stood outside the bus, speaking in animated French with BouBou the bus driver. BouBou had spent the day waiting in the bus, listening to French radio. After they boarded, Michel informed us of the news BouBou had heard over the radio: two planes had been flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. One plane had plunged into the Pentagon in Washington DC. Details were sketchy at best. White as a sheet, a stunned Michel continued to translate the news as our bus headed back to Nice. Another plane had gone down near Pittsburgh. One Tower collapsed. The second Tower collapsed. We could not comprehend what we were hearing.

I began my quiet desperate panic when I heard about the plane near Pittsburgh. I was already in crisis mode wondering if Erin was in New York or still at home job-hunting. All I could think was New York…DC…Pittsburgh…Chicago…St. Louis…and on across the country. Andy! Nootan! David! Danette! Their boys! Too many people I loved too close to danger. My God! What was happening?

As we neared the hotel, my plan was set. I knew, thank God, that Ryan was in York. I gave Dave the ATT calling card with instructions on using it. He was to head up to our room and try to reach home or Ryan’s work. I was heading straight for the hotel computer to try to reach any of the kids online. Not knowing who was where was the greatest agony. I was determined to move Heaven and Earth to reach my children.

Never did a bus empty so quickly. I bolted for the lobby. Dave—bad back and all—barreled up the four flights of stairs for the room. As I sat before the computer, it hit me: French computers are different and I don’t know how to turn this one on! Fortunately the concierge, no doubt understanding my sense of urgency, was at my side in an instant asking if I needed help. As I babbled incoherently, I heard him ask, “Aren’t you in Room 421? I just delivered a message to your room!”

I whirled around to face him, asking, “From whom?”

“From…Erin” he replied.

“What did it say?” I managed to ask.

“Everybody is O.K.”

Everybody is OK. Everybody is OK. As the tears began to roll down my face, I could see Dave running toward me across the lobby, waving a paper in his hand, his face glowing with relief and joy.

Everybody is OK. As long as I live, my most cherished words in the English language will forever be EVERYBODY IS OK.”

* * * * *

I truly wish I could say that everybody was ok. I know just how fortunate I was and am. It was later that I learned that one of the passengers on the flight that went into the Pentagon used to live right across the street from us. He was a gentle man. My heart still aches for his wife and children. And later still, I learned that the first body pulled from the site of the World Trade Center was the brother of one of our local physicians. In remembering this day, I say my prayers for these two families as well as all the families who suffered loss.