It happened just the other day. You know, that moment when you hear a date and you are automatically transported back to right where you were when something significant happened. I was scheduling an appointment and the woman’s voice said, “How about Wednesday, September 11th?” I heard myself gasp when she said the date. And immediately I did the math. It’s been…12 years. How is that possible?
As soon as she said it, I thought back to where I was on that beautiful fall day we all remember like it was yesterday.
In June of 2001, I had just returned from a trip to Mexico where I spent a week building a house in Juarez. Little known fact about LJ: I know how to do drywall and stucco. And I would rather put up drywall than do stucco any day of the week! I had the summer of 2001 off because I had just left my job as a preschool teacher and I was working on a job with the AOA (American Osteopathic Association) in downtown Chicago, which I started in early October. A day or so after I got back from Mexico, I went for a long run on the lakefront. Or, well, it seemed long to me at the time since it was maybe the farthest I had ever run at one time. 6 miles. While I was running that day, I started thinking about what I was going to do over the summer months to stay motivated since I knew I had at least a couple months off from work. What about running a marathon? Hmmm, yeah, I could do that.
When I got home that day, I looked into registration for the 2001 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon on Oct 7, 2001. It was still open. (Last year, it sold out in a record 5 days. And this year there was a huge debacle when Active.com crashed during the first day of registration) Anyway, I called my dad and told him my thoughts and he agreed to coach me through my new endeavor.
Each day of the week, I would get up with my hubby (I was still a newlywed at the time, had been married just over a year) and I would drop him at work downtown at Clark and Kinzie. Then I would go park in my spot at North Pier and run by the lake. Sometimes I ran north, sometimes I ran south, sometimes I ran out onto Navy Pier. On really hot days I would finish my run at Ohio Street Beach and jump in Lake Michigan for a quick cool down. Most days were just short or average distances. But Friday was my long run day. I would always follow up my run with a call to my dad so we could talk through how it went.
On September 11, 2001, I was feeling more tired than usual probably because I had just run my first ever half-marathon on Sunday, September 9th as prep for my upcoming marathon. So when I got over to the bridge and started my run, I had already decided I was only going a few easy miles just to stretch my legs. I ran south that day towards the museum campus. When I got down near the Field Museum I turned around and the Chicago skyline was staring back at me in all its glory. There was this perfect blue sky, the sun was shining and making Lake Michigan glisten. The likes of the Aon Building, the Prudential Building, the Smurfitt-Stone Container Building were proudly standing guard over my beloved Windy City.
I headed back north on the lake. I glanced up at Buckingham fountain in Grant Park. You know, the one they show at the beginning of the show Married With Children. A classic sight in Chicago that holds so many memories for me.
And now that I know the rest of the story, it was just about at the exact moment that I was taking in that magnificent sight, that our world was being forever changed as the first plane struck one of the towers of the World Trade Center and the horror of that infamous day began.
With the chaos still unbeknownst to me, I continued my peaceful jog back over the Chicago River to the location of my Jeep. I slowed to a walk while I caught my breath. I pulled the key from my shorts pocket and as I started the engine I heard the familiar voices of morning show DJ’s Eric and Kathy, but they weren’t their usual silly selves. Something was happening. Something bad. What was going on?!
They cut to the President, but they were still talking over him or they didn’t turn the connection on in time or something, so I missed GW’s first statement where he announced that the planes had crashed into the WTC. I began to drive down the parking ramp, around and around and around from up on the 11th floor, as I listened intently to President’s words, some that would ultimately become so familiar.
As I exited the parking garage, the sun was blinding. I kept waiting to hear something that would tell me exactly what was happening. Eventually, I started to piece things together. But planes? Why would they crash them into the buildings? My confusion was like that of everyone else in the world who felt the terror of that morning.
Once I had some indication of what was happening, I felt an urgency to get out of the downtown area. I pulled out my little flip phone and desperately began trying to call Mike. We were still sharing a cell phone at that point, and since I had it in my hand, I just kept calling his office phone over and over and over. I left voice mails. And tried again. Eventually I tried calling my dad and my mom. I’m not sure at what point I got through to my mom, but I think it was right away. I don’t exactly remember arriving back at the loft on Western Ave. But the next thing I distinctly remember is standing in the middle of my living room that was surrounded by floor to ceiling windows and sat above all the surrounding buildings, so it felt like I was up in that beautiful blue sky. As I stood there, remote in one hand and phone in the other, I was glued to the TV like the rest of humanity and I watched those iconic buildings fall to the ground.
Recalling that moment still makes me cry.
I finally got ahold of Mike, who had been in the firm library watching the events unfold, and I said, “I’m coming to get you. Right now.” By the time I arrived back at his office to retrieve him, they had decided to close the building and send everyone home. Downtown Chicago was about to turn into a ghost town. I’ll never forget driving down 94 that morning, feeling like I was having an out of body experience. I pulled up at a stop light and I looked to my left. The driver of that car looked back at me and I know the blank expression on his face mirrored my own.
As the events of the day transpired, I couldn’t get over the fact that I had just been to New York for the very first time only 6 weeks before. In July we had a spent a weekend there and since I was training for the Chicago marathon, I did a long run of 12 miles through Central Park. We had gone out to the Statue of Liberty. We had walked all over Manhattan, enjoying the sights, the culture and everything that NYC has to offer. I remembered standing on the deck of the Circle Line out on the Hudson, staring at the skyscrapers of the financial district. The captain of the cruise who was narrating the tour, spoke of a church that would only be visible for a few seconds when we would pass the twin towers and it would peak between the two buildings. I had my camera poised and ready. And the photograph I took, which now resides in a frame in my living room, is absolutely stunning.
Every year on September 11th, I’ve tried to return to the Chicago lakefront to run right where I was on 9/11. For the 9 years I still lived in Chicago, I think I only missed one. And now that I live in St. Louis, I can’t get back to that particular spot. But I still make a point to go out for a run at that time of the morning when the terrorist attack on America began in NYC, with the tragic events continuing to unfold in Washington DC and Pennsylvania. I run as a tribute to all the people who ran to get away from the destruction, the courageous firemen who ran into the devastation and the passengers who fought back against evil. I run to pay my respects to the families, like the Beamers, the Glicks, the Burnetts, the Binghams and the many others who were so intimately related to the tragedy of that day. I run to remember how precious freedom is and to honor those who fight for it. I run because I am so grateful that I can, and because I am thankful to be given the opportunity here on this Earth to enjoy my surroundings with the people I love. I know it’s not much, but it’s what I can do. So, this week, on Wednesday, September 11, once again, I will run to remember.
Please feel free to comment with your memories or ways that you feel moved to honor the victims of September 11th.
I got chills reading your post. I think we all remember where we were and what we were doing on that tragic morning that did change America forever! I love that you run as a tribute to the heroes of 9/11. You’re a cool chick! XOXO Love ya! Keri