“102 Minutes that Changed America”

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I hadn’t planned on spending my evening like this, but I was flipping channels and landed on the History Channel. Everything on is about 9/11, a lot of unseen footage from personal cell phones, interviews with the firefighters. Much of it I’m not sure I wanted to see or hear: the 911 calls from people in the buildings, radio communication between the firefighters, seeing people so desperate they were jumping. Horrific even after 14 years.

I think everyone in the states remembers where they were and what they were doing on that catastrophic Tuesday morning of September 11, 2001. At that time, I was working at The Cato Corporation corporate office, which is a women’s clothing retailer. I was wearing my dark pink suit with black t-strap heels. I was distributing checks and was actually at an assistant buyers desk when we heard it on the radio. Here’s the thing, since it was the second week of the month, our Buyers, along with my boss who was EVP of Merchandising, were on their way to New York to meet with vendors.

We weren’t quite sure what we heard. We scrambled to the breakroom to turn on the tv. Once confirmed, I ran back to my office and started pulling the buyers itineraries. Some had gone on Monday, but others where flying up that Tuesday morning. Trying to get through on cell phones was crazy. When I finally did get my boss, he was at Laguardia and had no idea what was going on. He was just irritated because he was going to be late for an appointment. It took me several times to get through to him what was going on. There would be no business going on in Manhattan.

At the time, I had been seeing an older man I had no business seeing. I wasn’t looking for anything serious, it was just exciting. He lived in Florida. He was Airforce and was flying himself up to Charlotte. So in the middle of the craziness in the office, I get a transferred call from him. He had been called back. He also decides at this time to tell me he loves me. The world was going crazy.

After the first tower fell, the rest of the day was a blur. We did reach all of our buyers and all were ok. The sheer disbelief of what had happened was overwhelming. The next three days, we just worked on getting everyone back to Charlotte. Obviously there were no flights and rental cars were snapped up quickly. We got some on the train. I think it took the rest of week to get everyone home.

I received a bouquet of yellow roses that afternoon. That’s something I just remembered. It was enough just trying to comprehend the events of the day. My friend and I went to a nearby church for a prayer service. So many people were there; praying, questioning, consoling one another. I could not imagine being those policemen and firemen at the World Trade Center. The utter helplessness they must have felt.

Looking at footage of the devastation is still shocking. It looks like the setting of an end-of-the-world movie, but it was real.

Every year on this date, I remember that pink suit, that transferred phone call, the scene of the 2nd plane hitting and the first tower coming down. I think these images are seared into my brain. And the sheer feeling of confusion was numbing. I think this country was numb for the first few days.

The name of the last program I’m watching tonight is “102 Minutes that Changed America.” That could not be more true. I don’t know how well I’ll sleep tonight.

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