Another early day at work. The excitement of the beginning if the school year had with it a rush of new students registering for the Ballet Theatre of Central PA. This meant a slight back log of registrations for me to invoice into the computer.
It was not unusual for me to receive telephone calls before 10 am this past week. I had received one at 8:30 am just a few days prior and there were always a few already on the answering machine when I made it into the office. So it was more of a routine for me to answer the phone a bit before 10 am on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
My mother’s voice on the other end of the line was what did surprise me. I could not think of any reason that she would have to call me as we did not have any current plans to get together. I could hear a bit of concern in her voice but was unsure as to what could possibly be causing her to call me at work. She asked me if I was aware of an airplane crashing into one of the World Trade Towers in New York City and if they were located anywhere near Lincoln Center.
Just one week prior to this phone call, Jim and I had taken Arron into New York City to move into his new home for the next 10 months. A new full scholarship student at the School of American Ballet, Arron’s dorm is in the same building as the ballet studios. 70 Lincoln Center Plaza is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City and Arron loved the location.
During the 5 summer weeks Arron had spent in the same dorm, he continually expressed his delight of the view of the city. He enjoyed being able to see the whole way down to near the Statue of Liberty where they put off fireworks for the Fourth of July. He was thrilled to get a room that offered the same view when he moved into the dorms in early September. He was exactly 6 floors lower than he was in the summer.
I was not overly concerned when my mother mentioned about the airplane crashing into the tower. I knew that they were way downtown Manhattan. She then mentioned that it involved both towers, fire, and that it looked like something out of the movie “Towering Inferno.” I was becoming more concerned but knew that any effect this would have on my son would fortunately be indirect. She then mentioned that the planes were high jacked and that one had also been flown into the Pentagon in Washington DC.
Not knowing where this might end, I felt that trying to reach Arron by telephone might be the best thing to do at the moment. I told my mom that I would call Jim to see if he had talked to Arron and I would let her know if we were able to get through to him.
I had a difficult time getting through to Jim. I was told he wasn’t in and was asked if I would like to leave a message on his voice mail. I opted for the voice mail and, thank goodness, Jim saw the line blinking/ringing and he picked up. He was already aware of the 3 planes and mentioned that it might also include the White House being on fire. We both agreed that calling Arron and making sure he was all right was something that we needed to do.
The next 10-15 minutes were very difficult for me as I waited for Jim to call me and let me know that he had reached Arron. Time seemed to stop. I tried to continue to input information into the computer but couldn’t think clearly. I took a call from a coworker who wanted to make sure that I knew what was going on. I thanked her and told her I was waiting for Jim to call back.
The morning sun was golden and it drifted into my office through the window. My head felt like it was huge and I couldn’t clear things in my mind away. Hundreds of what ifs came into my mind. What if Arron decided to go downtown this morning. What if he was taking an open class at ABT. None of them made much sense but I could not stop them from bloating my mind.
I cried and kept trying to be calm while I waited. Eventually Jim called and said that he reached Arron in his dorm room. Arron was totally unaware that anything was going on downtown. Jim informed him of everything he knew and tried to counsel Arron to be prepared for things to be canceled and to stay aware and be safe. Jim had foresight that things could get crazy. I was just glad Arron was safe in his room. This phone call gave Arron the heads up he needed for, unknown to us, he was evacuated from Lincoln Center within the half hour.
The day became, as a friend of mine said, surreal. I took at least 5 more calls at work of friends and coworkers who wanted to know if Arron was ok. Eventually, my director called and I told him I was going home.
It was the walk home that made things feel strange. How could I be walking up the same hill to home on a beautiful golden morning while, as I found out on the phone with my mom, the World Trade Towers were gone. Birds were singing and I mindlessly finished eating an apple I had earlier picked from our tree for breakfast. How could I be eating something so lovely and normal? Maybe it was because it was picked before I went to work and learned of the horror that was happening in the very city where my son now lived. I pitched the core of the apple into the woods by my path home and hoped that it would grow back some normalcy in the future.
I was dizzy. The day was too strong and colorful. Walking by my mailbox, I wondered if I should take out the letter I had in it to go to Arron. Would it get there faster than I could deliver it myself? In my apartment, the cats greeted me with cheerful ignorance. Five messages blinked on my answering machine, most of them were hang up calls. I immediately put on a new outgoing message for anyone to hear that Arron was safe and that if it was Arron calling to please leave a message. I didn’t intend to answer anymore calls but to let the machine tell folks that things were fine.
I needed to get busy but the things to busy myself smacked of worthlessness. I actually ranted out loud to myself, “Now I will do my laundry and then maybe chop up those hot peppers so that I can pickle them to eat later in my life.” I watered all of the plants even though I had watered them all the day before. It didn’t matter if I rotted their roots, I needed to water them again. I did all of my busy work with the radio on telling me all about what I already knew, life was changed in the United States and on the Earth.
I decided to send an e-mail out to mostly everyone I knew, letting them know that Arron was well and at the same time asking that all folks who lived in NYC or DC areas to please drop me a quick line letting me know that they were ok. I heard quickly from some but, 24 hours later, I have yet to here from others.
I did learn of a fourth high jacked plane that crashed near Pittsburgh and Johnstown. I also learned that air traffic through out the country had been halted. All traffic in Manhattan had stopped too and people were leaving the city on foot. Images flooded my mind with the stories that were being told on National Public Radio. People walking en mass in New York City, people walking north, people trying to get out and to get home. Everywhere, families were striving to get together for security and peace of mind. High School were letting out early, after school activities were being canceled. The nation was in upheaval and we had allowed our son to move to New York City at the age of 16. It was not a happy afternoon for me.
I did go back to work. What else could I do? I didn’t want to try to call Arron and tie up phone lines into the city when people were trying to find out if family members were alive. My son was safe and snug in Lincoln Center as far as I knew. I wanted to allow normalcy for the many students where I work. Many of the teens who dance at BTCP rely on dance to express their emotions. I wanted to be there to support them and show them things were going forward. Life was going on and their participation in dance was encouraged. Many calls came in asking if there was class. We assured families that classes were being held but if they felt that they were not up to coming that there was plenty of time to make up the missed classes.
I restlessly left a few hours after I got there. Things were functioning at work and I set up work for the evening office volunteer. It was time for me to move and I decided to walk across the high way to get some things in the grocery store. One of the things I had in mind was a copy of the newspaper’s Extra.
People in the store seemed subdued. I did overhear one mom trying to reassure herself and 3 young children. She was listing what seemed like an endless string of names and punctuated after each name, like a check mark, was the phrase “is all right”.
I bought some mundane items and a cream filled doughnut. Today, I may eat a doughnut, I thought. I ate it as I started to walk home and check out the newspaper that focused on the tragedies that had occurred earlier. The photographic images in it were not too different than I had imagined but they verified visually that it was a reality. My sunglasses provided a secure barrier between me and the rest of the world.
I was greeted at home with a message on the answering machine from Arron. His upbeat voice assured me that he was great and that the students had been evacuated from Lincoln Center in case it was attacked. He said he was at Marina’s grandmother’s and he would try to call again that night if he could. He had hopes that they would be returning to the dorm that night. As he signed off he, again, stated that he was great. In the background of the end of the recording was a sound that held a completely different meaning than it typically would. It was the sound of a siren.
The evening dragged beyond the time that Arron would normally call home. I suddenly realized that I was exhausted. I listened to the 8:30 pm broadcast in which the president addressed the nation. It was a very short talk with no new information or revelations. I went to sleep soon after realizing that the phone would wake me if Arron called.
Around 10:30 pm the telephone rang. Jim was still awake and answered the phone in the living room while I got the phone in the kitchen. I was surprised that the voice on the line was not Arron’s but a woman’s. It turned out that it was Yamina, mother of Giovanni who is another advanced male student at SAB. She was calling from Puerto Rico to tell us that Arron was staying at Marina’s grandmother’s house up on 135th street in Manhattan. Marina works on the 14th floor in SAB’s residence hall. The kids had to been evacuated in groups of 3-4 with whatever adult faculty/staff/or student’s families that could take them at 10:30 am. Marina collected Giovanni and asked if anyone else would go with her and Arron said, “I will.” Yamina assured us that the kids had a traditional Spanish supper of beans and rice. She was not sure if the kids would be going back to the dorms in the morning or not. She gave us her phone number (she felt it was probably easier to reach Puerto Rico than NYC) and the number at Marina’s.
I went back to sleep and now have been typing this all morning. I just got to a point where I decided to give the dorms a call and who answers but Marina! She said they just got back and transferred me to talk to my son.
Arron said it was an experience like no other and he longed for a shower before even food. I encouraged him to, for the next week, give journaling this experience top priority in his school work. He felt it was a good idea but also recognizes that it will not be easy to think of some of the things he has been through. He shared with me that after Jim called him, he went to the 13th floor TV room and watched the collapsing of the towers live. He also could see the smoke out the window. Almost immediately after that, they called to evacuate all of the students. He only had time to grab one thing before he left; his long time friend and stuffed rabbit, Max.
Thank you, Max, for being there when I could not. I could not be a mom to reassure Arron that he would be fine. Thank you, Max, for seeing my son through a day without contrails in the modern day sky of the United States of America.
9/12/01 by true indigo