Monday, September 11, 2006

9 11 5 yrs

I remember coming into work on 9 11 01. When I walked into the office, late, my coworkers were not at their desks. A donut with one missing bite sat on a napkin on the secretary's desk. I knew immediately something was wrong. I walked down the hall to the main office and found everyone gathered around the 12-inch television. It appeared that the World Trade Center was collapsing. Something terrible had happened. I got a cup of coffee and went back down the hall to my desk. I called my mother, who was sitting by my father's bed in the St. John's Hospital Hospice. "You should probably turn on the television," I told her. I couldn't explain, I just thought she should know. I turned to my computer and started working.

I couldn't stay down the hall and watch the news, I couldn't turn on the radio, I couldn't log on to CNN. I just wanted to work on the catalog, which was already late to the printer.

I had recently missed a few days of work. My father had been very ill. A few days ago one direct and plain-spoken doctor who was filling in for the weekend said we should move him from the hospital, where we had been trying to get answers from doctors and their throngs of residents, for the past week, to hospice. "His body is shutting down."

We agreed to stop trying to feed him. A neurologist was called in to prescribe IV meds to minimize his seizures. He received a morphine drip. The day they transported him to hospice, an ambulance came. They were not told to bring an oxygen tank. So, they unhooked him from the hospital oxygen supply and proceeded to the nurses' station to check him out. Some paperwork confusion ensued. His breathing became erratic and labored. "He needs oxygen," I screamed and wrapped my body around his head and torso as if I could provide it. The nurses and EMTs continued to discuss something. Finally they pushed him onto the elevator and two doctors got on at the next floor. "He needs oxygen," I said tearfully. No one seemed concerned.

Once in the ambulance, he was hooked up to a tank and I relaxed and started to cry as I held his hand and stroked his head.

On September 10, I left work early and drove from Peoria to Springfield to visit him. I had difficulty leaving and ended up spending the night at my parents' house. I had to go to work the next morning, so I got up early and, very sleepy, sipping dark coffee, I got behind the wheel and flipped between music and NPR news to stay awake. I think I heard something about a plane hitting the towers, but the announcer had no information, and I thought it was like a two-seater or something. I flipped back to my music CD and tried to stay awake.

Later, people talked about watching the image of the towers collapsing over and over again. I didn't watch the news. I saw this image only once or twice. I hardly turned on the radio. I had difficulty switching from my private pain to public tragedy. I couldn't do it.

So now, five years later, when so many people are focused on reliving the emotions of 9 11, I realize that I don't have that many emotions or memories. I see the donut on the desk. I remember realizing that I couldn't handle this terrible event. I feel a need to better understand the impact this event had on people.

This evening I went to a website on which you can hear 911 calls in New York on that day. On another, I watched footage of the towers collapsing and people screaming in the streets.

I remember standing in my apartment on Chestnut Street in Bloomington and listening to a radio report of the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding. I experienced that moment fully and it haunts me. What haunts me most about 9 11 01 is the invasion of Iraq. I did experience that fully and the news reports of those first days are part of my emotional memory. I feel a sadness and emptiness knowing that emotionally I did not fully experience one of the most tragic days in our nation's history.

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