Friday, April 28, 2006

United 93

In September 2001, I was just out (I thought) of a three-year battle with my hometown hospital. As soon as I got a settlement check, there were a number of debts and over-due bills to pay, and then the little matter of trying to figure out where to go from there. I had actually thought about driving up to New York City (like many Americans, I suffer from the irrational fear of flying), schlepping around town and even playing & dining on “The Top of the World” (never mind my equally-irrational fear of heights). I reasoned it would be a great way to celebrate my legal “victory” and my freedom. I had not been to NYC since New Year’s Eve 1978 (a trip with the then-high school Yas).

But there was a little glitch in that plan – something I had to deal with first. I had a lump in my breast, and I needed to get it checked out.

On September 11, 2001, I walked into the waiting room at Bertrand’s Breast Center and began to register. I had driven up to Greensboro that morning in silence – no radio and no CD - thinking that if this lump was the worst it could be my life would be very different in a matter of hours. I also remember how gorgeous that morning was . . . crisp and early “autumnish” with not a cloud in the sky. When I arrived at the office, it was early and the waiting room was empty save for one black gentleman who seemed to be glued to a TV set. Preoccupied, I glanced at the TV as I hurriedly filled out forms at the window, and noted that there seemed to be some kind of bizarre disaster movie on. Not registering what was going on, I thought it was odd to have something like that on so early in the morning, and asked the gentleman what movie he was watching. He turned to look at me . . . his face ashen . . . a face I will not ever forget . . . and said, “Ma’am, it’s not a movie.”

As I watched repeated re-plays of American Airlines jetliners flying into buildings, my thoughts immediately turned to my brother – who is a pilot for American – and who I knew was in the air. First I called Mom, then Dad, trying to find out where he was and what airport he was flying out of, or what flight he was on. They did not know. It was an hour or so before my brother was able to get a call out to Dad from Dallas . . . where his plane had landed after everything in the American sky was ordered down on the ground (or else). My brother and I are not the mushy types and do not wear our hearts on our sleeve. But I remember hanging up the phone with hot tears of relief (and rage knowing that thousands of people were not so lucky) streaming down my face.

I will never forget the feeling of not knowing – or the horrible things that I imagined while not knowing.

I went on with the mammogram. In the “inner sanctum” of naked-from-the-waist-up women in ill-fitting drapes, we watched the horror unfold on a tiny TV set. I sat next to a woman who said she had family that worked in the Trade Center. I don’t know how that turned out.

My lump was benign – the equivalent of a hormonal bump in the night. But life sure was different.

I hope to see “United 93” this weekend. It is the one of the few things I can do, and the very least I can do to honor the memory of 40 very brave souls.

God bless America – and those (extra)ordinary Americans.

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