Away from Home When The World Fell Apart :: A September 11th Story

September 11th

It was a beautiful Tuesday morning in South Carolina. So nice in fact, that I actually decided to go for a walk before class. The weather was too nice for the normal radio gabfest, so I went with a CD my BFF gave me before she graduated the previous May on my Discman. (Remember Discmans?!)

I was feeling sentimental, but happy that morning. I missed all my good friends who graduated before me and couldn’t decide if this last semester was going to be a good or bad ending to college. I had just put down a deposit on a trip to Europe and got back from a beach weekend that Sunday. It was the summer that sharks were terrorizing the Carolina coast and I lost my glasses to the surf. That’s about the worst thing that happened to me in months.

I stretched while watching the Today Show where they were interviewing Natalie Cole about a new album. Then, I went on this walk, thinking about the past and daydreaming about my future.  I did my two miles behind campus, ambling around all the beautiful houses where the professors lived and returned to the dorm to get dressed for class.

Upon arriving on the 18th floor, a sorority sister immediately said “did you hear?” I had no clue what she was talking about, but could sense a tension in the air. I returned to my room and turned on the TV.

In the amount of time it took for me to burn 200 calories and decide what I would pack for Paris, the world had started tumbling down. At this point, it was only the two planes in NYC, so we all zombie-walked our way to our first classes. By the time I got to the basement of the Coliseum where my class was supposed to take place, classes were cancelled and I had nothing to do but wander more.

My closest friends were gone. My parents were 948 miles away. I had okay friends, but felt horribly alone. I remember talking to my mom who was trying to keep it together with a classroom full of fifth graders watching her and a daughter needing her that was 1,000 miles away. Did I talk to my dad? I’m sure I did, but I don’t remember. I randomly called an old boyfriend who traveled in my same circles. It was the same conversation that would take place over and over again for the next week.

“Are you OK?”

“Can you believe this?”

“I’m so scared.”

“I want to run away.”

“I want to help.”

My dad was supposed to fly into town that weekend for Parent’s Weekend. Alas, planes didn’t take off in time, so I didn’t even have his comforting arms to help. I turned to MTV and realized that if even they were showing CNN-type coverage for days on end, things were bigger and badder than we could ever imagine.

That weekend I remember driving around town in my friend’s blue car to get ice cream and joining on the outskirts of friends’ friend circles for pitchers of tap beer and vacant looks.

I was finally able to see my parents again that first weekend of October when I flew home. The airports were crawling with soldiers with machine guns. I was allowed to take my drink through security, but I had to take a gulp in front of TSA. No one was on my first plane. We three passengers and the flight attendants talked about where we were That Day.

Ironically, my fear of flying disappeared that weekend. As did my desire to be so far from home.

The world was still in turmoil when the next payment was due on that European trip, so I cancelled my spot. That’s still one of my few life regrets. I returned home to Milwaukee after I graduated that December. That was one of the best decisions I ever made.

As I read this, it looks like my “real good life” started right here. Doesn’t get more real than being 1,000 miles from anyone who had a shoulder you’ve cried on before and still knowing you’re going to be alright.

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