My “Where Were You When” Story

“The graveyard shift requires a gentle soul to soothe the sleepless to sleep or keep them company until tagging with the Morning Report team.” ~unknown

My intention in writing this post is not to relive the horror. I have done that far too often, reading every report and watching every video. I am in hiding today, a coward. But this is my “where were you when” story.

Twenty years ago, I was a working mother of three young children, married, but I have little recollection of his participation in my life. My oldest child was in kindergarten, my middle child in pre-school, and my baby was a perpetual passenger affixed to his car seat. There he sat as we travailed the hectic existence I stupidly created. We flitted from school to ballet, gymnastics, art lessons, swimming, karate, birthday parties and playdates, children’s theater, and much more. I made my life so hard.

I worked on weekends, as well as nights- third shift, dog watch, sunrise watch, the graveyard shift. Think hamster running on a wheel. Only excessive amounts of caffeine and energy drinks kept this hamster in motion.

There is a carnival ride where people stand in a circular room against a wall that spins, picking up speed until finally, the floor drops out. Something to do with physics keeps people in the same position, spiraling with no floor. That was my world. Zombie-mom trapped in a vortex. How do you escape that? I was doing time, serving a self-imposed sentence, on a ride that wouldn’t stop for years.

On 9/11, I drove my oldest, the five-year-old, to school. I found it on lockdown. That was a first. It confused me. Taking her in, I got an earful from the normal moms. I still didn’t understand what was going on. I continued to preschool to deposit Thing 2. They were not on lockdown. When my son and I returned to the car to head home for a short respite, my sister called and told me to go home and turn on the news.

My office had been used as a bomb. The first plane to hit a tower was American Airlines flight 11. Although I was an AA flight attendant, I was based in Chicago and that was not a flight I would have worked unless somehow I was scheduled via reserve to cover flying at another base. It had happened, but not often. My Boston-based friends were not on the crew lists for those flights on 9/11.

I turned on the news in time to witness the second plane hit. My phone started ringing and rang throughout the day. People, who I never would have expected to, called to find out if I was okay. I later found out that was an industry-wide occurrence, even for employees of airlines not involved.

On this note, I want to veer off-topic to tell you about a flight attendant I’ve since lost touch with. Jinx, I loved her name and told her so. She informed me that her mother named her Jinx because she was unplanned and unwanted. Cruel. Although she had been flying much longer than I had, we were close in seniority. Jinx had worked for another airline that dissolved and had to start over. She struggled with depression, as do I, and I think that’s why I felt a connection to her. It was a taboo subject back then, but she was never shy about sharing her life. She never married, but she had family- a brother and her mom.

When we worked together a few weeks after 9/11, she asked me how many people called me on that day. I rolled my eyes and complained about the annoying phone calls. She told me that no one called her. Not one person thought to see if she was okay. God. I’m sure she doesn’t read my blog, but if this ends up in her hands, I just need to say I love you, Jinx!

Picking up my girls, with my son in his carrier, we returned home. I have no memory of that. I do remember the strangeness of the empty sky, no planes. Back to the television, I recall watching in horror what we all saw- the towers fall.

What passed through my mind? The same that went through yours: What is going on? Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!
Memories of a weekend spent at the Vista Hotel, “nestled between the massive 110-story Twin Towers of the World Trade Center,” building three, I think. I stayed in a room with a view of the Statue of Liberty. My thoughts bounced from memories to horror.

It is an ugly aspect of human nature to make things about ourselves. I knew no one who died. Although I had lived in New York when I started my job, I was not living there on 9/11. As such, I was not forced to breathe the toxic air that billowed from the remains of those buildings and continued to burn for 100 days. Still, this felt personal. I know it wasn’t about me. The essentials of my life hadn’t changed- still a mom, still, a flight attendant based in Chicago, and still scheduled to fly to Vegas in five days.

Having flown in the day before, I wasn’t scheduled to work again until the 16th, a Vegas turn. After the attacks, every flight was canceled for several days, except mine, of course. Mine was one of the first to go, and it was a trip, pun intended. Passengers had the fear of God in their eyes, as did the crew. We boarded, and as we prepared to push back from the gate, armed officers stormed the plane via the back stairs. They removed a passenger who had been on the (quickly assembled and quite flawed) “no-fly list.” That did nothing to soothe anyone’s nerves. We carried on.

I have to say this, the behavior of passengers after 9/11 had undergone a remarkable transformation. Gone was the confrontational condescending treatment that had been the norm. Polite respect was the new black. Bad behavior has since returned to the friendly skies. Sad but true- it only takes one asshole among hundreds who are indifferent to make it a day bad.

In the weeks and months that followed, our company turned the disaster into an opportunity to tear up the contract our union had spent years fighting for, a contract that had gone into effect on 9/10. They cut our wages by 30%. Yes, they did. They also cut flight attendants working each flight to the minimum allowed by the FAA. On planes where there had been five of us, there were now three. Where there had been six, there were now four, eleven to six, etc. Thousands of my colleagues were laid off, which meant I was junior again, back on reserve- a nightmare for a mom.

With that came the slogan “pull together, win together.” It was created by some suit; a successful attempt to brainwash the sheep among us into believing the concessions forced on us were temporary. *Spoiler alert: they were not. A long line of executives began jumping ship (plane) via golden parachute. Meanwhile, my coworkers sold their homes and worked more. I worked a lot more. The mAAn did not.

As I said, it is human nature to make everything about ourselves, and I’m sorry for this. I do see the big picture and realize my complaints are selfish. I follow John Feal on Twitter. (He followed me back!) He is a great man. His bio says he “mows Jon Stewart’s lawn.” The reality is that he was a first responder at the Twin Towers. He has fought Congress for the past twenty years for coverage of medical expenses incurred by his colleagues while they have fought cancer, and other illnesses, dying slow and painful deaths caused by the toxins they breathed in for months.

Jon Stewart, the comedian, and political commentator has been an activist working side by side with surviving first responders, America’s heroes, in an attempt to shine a light on their unjust treatment by members of Congress. The media needs something shiny, like a celebrity. Why is it not a top story that Mitch McConnell has been trying to kick these guys to the curb for twenty years? They shouldn’t have to worry about medical bills.

I’ve promised but never followed through on sharing a few stories about the career I held for over 25 years. Job is a four-letter word, and mine eventually broke me- my back and my spirit. This is my icebreaker.

11 thoughts on “My “Where Were You When” Story

  1. It was shocking how first line responders and those who got out of towers were treated afterwards, by the Government I mean. That fact that 20 YEARS LATER, they still have to fight ONE guy to get help, is unbelievable.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The greed and callousness that fuels the Republican party makes clear they work exclusively for the wealthiest Americans. The only reason their party still exists is thanks to propaganda. I don’t know how they sleep at night.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You shouldn’t feel bad at all. You do have a personal connection, and it’s only normal and human to feel that connection. Wow, what a story! And no surprise that the corporate goons used these tragic events as an excuse to rip off their workers…sigh

    Liked by 2 people

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