My day started at 4 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. My roommate had saved for a couple of years for a three-week vacation to see her family in Hungary and needed to be at SFO by 6:15 a.m. I was her ride to the airport.
As we were heading to SFO my cell phone rang, and it was my dad (in Mississippi) saying something bad was going on and I needed to turn on the TV. As we were on the phone the second plane struck the World Trade Center, and my dad kept saying, "Oh my God no" over and over. He told me not to go to the airport as Linda wouldn't be flying out today. I don't think we grasped what was happening. Even though my dad was saying how awful things were, it just wasn't clicking with either of us.
As I drove onto the off-ramp at SFO, there were police at the bottom of the ramp. We both thought it must have been a wrap up of construction (as it turned out the airport was closing). I parked the car and went in with her, and that's when I knew something was terribly wrong.
People were huddled around TVs in the restaurants, others with their hands over their mouths, some crying quietly. I was standing there as they showed reports of a reported third flight headed to San Francisco. I was a mix of emotions as people were talking about how the SFO airport could be a target -- or worse, someone in the airport could be anxious to board a plane and do something similar on our coast.
I just knew I had to get out of the airport; I no longer felt safe. I was over 2,000 miles from my family living in a new state with a new job and I wasn't safe, but I wasn't sure where "safe" would be for me.
After convincing Linda she wasn't going to be able to rebook today I took her to our friend Lisa's home. Lisa's family lived in New York -- Manhattan actually -- and we felt she needed someone with her until she heard from family as well. The three of us sat for a couple of hours talking about our fears and what we should do. All three of us were transplants living far from "home" and family.
I left about 9 a.m. and headed for work at Stanford Credit Union's Pampas branch. The staff gathered periodically to check in and see how people were doing, and if someone felt they needed to go home, that was offered. The entire work day we saw about five members. All we could do is sit and think about what was happening on the East Coast.
We each checked in with our family periodically, but the day was the longest one I have ever endured. My teeth kept chattering uncontrollably, and I had no idea how to feel better myself, much less comfort my team or our members. I wondered if I shouldn't load my car and head back to Mississippi; maybe I wasn't destined to be a big-city kind of person.
I stopped on the way home to pick up my roommate. Lisa had heard from everyone but her sister who worked just a couple of building down from the towers. We gathered for dinner -- we didn't eat, we just sat and waited for a phone to ring. Finally, the call came that her sister was physically fine but was in the area when the towers fell and was understandably a mess emotionally.
During the following weeks, I obsessed like many other people about learning all I could about those who had died senselessly. I mourned for them, their families and my sense of being safe in my country.
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