A Series of Unusual Events (Blogisode Eight )

If you are new to Sharon Wheatley’s blog, I write stories in “blogisodes”.  To start, go to blogisode one of this story here:http://wp.me/p1zRyr-eg

Happy Sunday, and welcome to the first ever Sunday blogisode.  I was thinking about what to write today–almost starting to regret that I’d decided to post about 9/11 on the 10th anniversary of the event–but then I had a moment of clarity.  Charlotte told me that her Humanities teacher talked about the facts surrounding 9/11, and Charlotte was surprised at how many kids didn’t accurately know what happened that day.  She said the biggest shock to the class came when the teacher explained that there were two planes that hit the buildings.  “Mom” she said “Most of the kids in my class thought it was just one plane that went through both buildings.  They said their parents had never talked to them about it, they’d just put things together from TV coverage.”  I asked her if it bothered her that I had told her about the two planes, and she said,   “Thanks for telling me.  I was proud to be one of the kids that knew what really happened.”

So I asked her,  “So tell me.  What happened that day?”  and she described the buildings and the two planes, but it turns out, she knows very little about The Pentagon and knew nothing about United Flight 93.  The truth is, there is a lot of detailed information about 9/11, and it isn’t a happy conversation to have over dinner.  I am not surprised that parents avoid it, or just tell the basic facts.  But I think it’s vital to share the story and even better to give your version to your children.  They deserve to know where you were, what you were thinking and how you acted based on the events.  That is why I am writing this blogisode–it’s for Charlotte and Beatrix–so I will keep going, even though it is hard to do.  No one wants to go back to that day.  It reminds me of how when Rudy Giuliani was walking towards the burning towers that day,  a reporter asked him if he had any idea how many people had died.  Giuliani said it best: “It’s more than we can bear.”  Giuliani’s sentiment is right.  It’s hard to talk about it because it’s more than we can bear.

But Charlotte and welcome readers (and eventually Beatrix), here is my best account of what we were doing and feeling that historic day that America came under attack.

We left off in our story with my parents in a fancy tent in Africa, my mother wanting to come home, and Rob and I waking up to the second plane hitting the building.  Charlotte was still asleep,  and this kid can sleep through anything.  Seriously, she can (still) sleep like Rip Van Winkle, and we were thankful because it gave us about a half an hour to get a decent idea of what was going on and what to do before she woke up and saw the TV.

Rob and I were talking last night, and neither of us can remember if the room service order was ever placed or not.  I don’t have any recollection about any breakfast, because I remember my focus became all about one thing; whether or not Rob was going to insist that he and Charlotte fly home.  Let me explain, because you might be thinking, How could they fly?  All planes were grounded immediately. But they weren’t.  They were grounded quickly–at 9:45am (the New York Airports were closed sooner)–but it took a while for all this information to get out, and it was 9:05 and seemed like Rob was packing to go.  Their flight was in a couple of hours.  It could sound terrible that Rob was still thinking about flying that day, but please remember that we (as a nation) still didn’t know what was going on.  The Pentagon wasn’t hit until 9:37am and Flight 93 didn’t go down until after 10:00.  By the time it was announced that the airports were closed and flights were grounded, it was pretty obvious that this was a day like none other.  But the first hour and 15 minutes was bedlam.

Once we knew the flights were canceled, the question became about our safety.  Buildings around the country were being evacuated, and no one knew if or what the next wave of attack might be.  I was already on high alert because of the bomb threat in the theater, so I didn’t want to be near it (the hotel is across the street), I didn’t want to be in a large hotel in the middle of downtown anywhere (New York or not) and I absolutely did NOT want Charlotte to see even one second of that terrible coverage.  She’s a New Yorker, she flies on planes, she goes in skyscrapers.  At 3 1/2, I knew this event could scar her for life.  I thanked God for the panic attack that had led me to insisting that Charlotte and Rob come down to Atlanta, and I knew our luck was great that we were all together, miles away, while the events unfolded mere blocks from where we lived.

But what to do?  Where to go?  I called Hylan, and he was teaching.  I didn’t have a key to his house.  I also have a dear cousin, Polly, who lives in Atlanta, and I left her a message asking if we could come over.  Then, Rob and I shakily packed Charlotte up and drove to what seemed like the least likely place a terrorist would attack–a suburban Home Depot.

Meanwhile, in Africa, my parents , who as you remember were in a fancy tented wildlife sanctuary, knew Charlotte and Rob were supposed to fly that morning, and were having some problems reaching us to confirm that we were okay.  They called us, but all New York based cell phones were down, so it went straight to voice mail.  Finally, they decided to send an e-mail to Rob from the business office and pray they heard back.  My mother, very rattled, wanted to come home immediately, but my Dad, who is good to have in an emergency, told her that was crazy, they were going to stay where they were and wait for things to calm down.  They ate dinner, and went on the night safari–maybe a little less enthusiastic than they were before–although my Dad can still tell you every animal they saw on that night run and make the appropriate animal noises as a soundtrack.

As worried as my parents were about us, we were more worried for them.  What a time to be in Africa.  I didn’t know a lot, but I knew there was danger in Africa, less from man eating animals, but from jihads.  There had been US embassy bombings in Nairobi, and there was a large Muslim population.  Now, in 2011, we can look back and differentiate between Al Qaeda and Muslim, but we were so uneducated then.  The idea that my parents–Americans–were on foreign turf, and in a place that had shown hatred to Americans in the past, scared me to death.  I called my sister and brother, but no one had heard from them.  We had to wait.

Back to the extremely deserted Home Depot in Atlanta, I (the worry-cleaner) had nothing to clean, so instead I made myself busy by designing, choosing and ordering the entire kitchen for the renovation of our house.  So at least I had the prospect of something to clean.  Rob distracted himself by busying himself with complicated math.  He calculated, selected and ordered the lumber we were going to use in the renovation.   We did the best we could to stay updated with what was going on in the outside world, but I absolutely remember how important it was to us that Charlotte feel nothing, see nothing, and just zoom around on a cart in an empty store.  After an hour or so, my cousin Polly called back, and said we should come over as soon as we were done, she was making lunch and the girls could play (she had a 2-year-old) and we could all be together.  So, that’s what we did, and that is where Rob eventually got the e-mail from my Mom saying they were fine, and we confirmed that we were fine–the airports had closed long before Rob and Charlotte were even out of their pajamas.  We also had a cousin who lived very near the WTC, and we found out that he and his family were shaken, but physically okay. Polly and her husband Jim, Rob and I watched the towers come down on a small TV in Polly’s kitchen while Charlotte and Skye played two rooms away.

My Mom told me that when they returned from the night safari, the staff of the hotel ran out with the e-mail from Rob.  She cried.  Good news was welcome on that day.  And, because of all the airport closures, they couldn’t leave Africa.  The domestic flights opened after a few days on a limited basis, but international flights took much longer to start back up.  They had no choice but to trust Abraham, their guide, and stay on the trip for the duration.  My parents were very moved by their treatment in Africa.  They said, “People everywhere apologized to us.  They sought out any American on the trip and made sure we knew how sorry they were and how furious they were about the attack.  Especially apologetic and protective was Abraham, who was Muslim.  He told us over and over again, ‘We are not all like this.  These are bad, bad men.'”  It turns out that Abraham’s cousins had been killed in the attack by Al Qaeda on the US Embassy in Nairobi, so he had the most direct fury and sorrow of anyone.

About 4:00pm, I got word that Phantom was canceled for the evening and Broadway was canceled until further notice, which was disorienting and scary.  We made dinner, stayed until late, and made our way back to the hotel.  The most immediate threat was a report that the Center For Disease Control, which is in Atlanta, was listed as a potential terrorist target, so were nervous.  Figuring out how to deal with all of this, how to get Rob home, how to get my parent’s home, was next up on the agenda.  All I knew was one thing for sure.  I was NOT going back to New York, and neither was Charlotte.  No way.

P. S. It seemed inappropriate to post “funny” pictures today, so instead I’ll give you this I found this video in my Facebook feed, (thanks, Ruth).  It is a wonderful 11 minutes of heroism in an under reported 9/11 story. I had no idea about the magnitude of this, proving we are always learning, even 10 years later.   I start teaching a class this week, so I am taking a day off blogging to prepare.  See you Tuesday, everyone, for the start of the wrap up. Click on the highlighted link below to view the video.

http://www.tomhanks-online.com/media/video/detail/572/boatlift-9-11-ten-year-anniversary-short-film

To read the next blogisode in this series, go here: http://wp.me/p1zRyr-gQ

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About Sharon Wheatley

Mother of Charlotte and Beatrix. Sometimes an actress. Sometimes a writer. I'm glad you're here.
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