Home > Life, Really? > The Day I Wore Black

The Day I Wore Black

September 11, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

sure1That morning I’d dressed in black jeans and a black long-sleeved top.

I’d never worn that combination to work before and I felt strangely self-conscious sitting there at our morning meeting at Omega Optical in Brattleboro, VT. I joked that I felt like I’d dressed as though I’d come to church for a funeral. The fact that we were meeting up in the founder/owner’s “office” was stranger still, since we’d never done that before either. The view from up there was quite something.

The founder’s office: Picture a man with a flowing white beard, more of a mad scientist than a God-like figure, perched up in the balcony of an old stone church overlooking a pewless sanctuary, now divided up into cubicles with computer monitors that glowed in the darkness. Bright stained glass windows depicting the saints scattered a spectrum of color throughout the space and dark dusty wood made this sort of a schizophrenic holy place. The odd dichotomy of a lunch room on the altar with a microwave sitting on the pulpit created a fascinating cross-section of religion and science in the old stone church on Main St.

That was where I worked with a group of scientists and engineers creating optical filters for use in microscopes and telescopes. We’d made it possible to discover the human genome sequence as well as correct the defective mirror in the Hubble Space Telescope. No matter how scientific our work was, there never seemed to be a clear separation from God in this place.

But on this Tuesday morning in 2001, the saints in the windows tore at their colorful garments in agony and their eyes went wide in horror.

“Oh… my…. GOD!!!!” someone yelled from down below. The sound rang through the church as we all peered over the edge of the balcony to see what was going on.

“The World Trade Center has been hit by a plane!” That voice was then followed by a news report on someone’s desk radio. Complete stillness clutched the sanctuary.

My head felt as though it were melting as my brain went cold and radiated outward. Ice water pumped in my veins. My first thought was: my sister, Cheryl, works just 12 blocks from there !

We began to move downstairs, retreating to our respective stations to try to find out what was happening. The silence had been broken and now there was a steady din of chatter vibrating throughout the building.

I got on the phone and immediately dialed Cheryl. My frozen veins began to thaw when I heard her voice.

“Everything’s okay. We’re trying to figure out what happened. You can see the building from our conference room so I’ll call you back if I find anything out.”

I was so relieved. I sat back in my chair and called my partner. “Did you hear?” I asked her.

Just then, another cry went up in the room. “Noooo!!!!” a woman’s voice screamed. “They’ve hit the other tower too!”

I dialed Cheryl’s number again. No answer this time! I kept dialing. I tried her cell phone, left a message. My skin felt clammy. My heart pounded.

My partner called back. “They’ve crashed into the Pentagon — we’re under attack! And I heard something about the Hoover Dam, too!” Hysteria had begun to take over the Internet and airwaves.

I tried Cheryl again. This time I got her on her cell. “They’re evacuating us,” she said. “I have to leave. I’ll call you later.” I looked up at the stained glass window beside my desk. GOD! Where ARE you???

The only calls anyone made that day were to loved ones. Our overseas clients in Germany, Australia, and Japan emailed us and asked if we were okay. The world suddenly felt very small.

Our lives changed forever that day. What had been a simple and idyllic little Vermont town was instantly catapulted into a reality that others all over the world have experienced over and over again.

But our experience didn’t compare to what was going on in New York and Washington. Even when a small plane buzzed the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in nearby Vernon that night, after all planes had been officially grounded and two fighter jets screeched over our house from Burlington in pursuit, we could not comprehend the feeling of those whose friends and neighbors were under immediate attack.

I finally got a call from Cheryl. She had walked 70 blocks with a mass of others who were migrating uptown, away from the financial district. Her building on Wall Street had been unaffected, but the dust from the collapse of the building had traveled all the way over there. She arrived at her youngest son’s school and rode the rest of the way up to 215th street with him on the bus, worrying about her other two sons, one of whom was at school all the way over in Brooklyn and the other in the Bronx. Her husband left from his job in midtown and they all eventually reunited at home, hours into the night.

It’s now eleven years later and like so many others who experienced the horrors of 9/11 directly, Cheryl has moved her family out of the city and taken a job farther uptown. A honeymoon period of collective mourning brought our country together for a while after the event, as people from all corners of the globe expressed their sympathy. Daily, weekly, those who had lost loved ones buried those whose bodies had been recovered, and impromptu memorials popped up everywhere for those who would never be found. We were grieving together for our friends and co-workers, but mostly for the loss of innocence our country had so long taken for granted. Our nation was no longer a “child”.

But compassion can be fleeting and peace, tenuous. The response to such an event had the potential to draw us together for mutual empowerment, but we humans aren’t always so virtuous in the face of disaster. When the tears were dried, our global humiliation inspired revenge, a payback we are still paying for.

I haven’t worn all black since that day, not even for a funeral. A part of me feels that I unwittingly added to a collective consciousness that inspired the events of September 11, 2001 and I don’t ever want to take part in that again.

From now on, if not literally on my body, I will always try to wear bright colors in my mind in hope that we can learn to honor our diversity and better discern friend from foe.

  1. CherylZ
    September 11, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    What a day that way. Frankie sat in his English class in Brooklyn, staring out the window, as usual, and saw that the towers were ablaze. His teacher tried to calm the class, telling them to sit down, pay attention, etc. Frankie, bless him, basically told the teacher to “shut the Fu%%$ up” since many children in the class had parents that worked in the vicinity. Frankie finally got home at about 6:00. I will never, ever forget that day.

  2. Ted E. Kinson
    September 15, 2009 at 2:32 am

    And with those words, it all comes rumbling back. I was working at Land Air Express in White River Jct. VT. We had loaded the vans with parcels for delivery and had all left the bay doors simultaneously towards our various destinations. Within 50 feet of the building into the driveway, all 8 of the vans came to a sudden screeching halt. The station manager ran from the office to see why we had all stopped cold, fearing that one of the vans might have just struck something out front. Jessie jumped out of his van and headed back towards the station manager and told him what he had just heard on the radio, while the rest of us just sat there listening in shock and disbelief in the seats of our own vans. Ice cold is a proper expression of how it felt, only nauseous would complete the feeling for myself. For the rest of the miles that I drove that day, I kept looking toward the skies, wondering if more attacks were on the way, and wishing I was back on the ambulance full time so that I could be lending some sort of assistance to the ones that we all naively thought were still alive beneath all of that metal and concrete wreckage. Vermont EMS sent a relief bus with personnel on board , but New Hampshire EMS never did as the reality of few survivors began to sink in. A month later I was back at Golden Cross Ambulance, full time, a job that I swore I would never go back to full time, as it had torn so many healthy years away from me with its stress. A couple years later while on a transfer to New York City, My partner and I took a purposeful wrong turn towards Manhattan, and we visited Ground Zero. It just looked so sadly empty. A big hole in the ground.

  3. October 2, 2009 at 12:03 am

    Great site, how do I subscribe?

  4. Syrene
    September 11, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    I was office manager at HCRS on fairview street in Brattleboro Vt, I was in my office and had the radio on, when they announced a plane had crashed into the world trade center, omg I cried out, all the support staff came running to my office to see what was up, I went into the day room and turned the t.v. on just when another hit, then we heard the penagon and on and on………..the entire office, clinical staff, Doctors, support staff and clients as they came in spent the day in the day room just watching the T.V……I just remember the silence in that room, staff would leave just to go use phones calling their loved one. I especially recall one of my co-workers trying to reach her brother who is a NYC police office in the Manhattan area……….finally we convinced her to go home to be with her Mother who lived in Bennington, we later found out that Mark had been injured trying to assit people and had been taken to the hospital……..he was one of the lucky ones who survived. What a day..over the past 10 years I have thought about it so many times, watched news hearing the heartbreaking stories…my kids are visiting there this weekend and I feel unsettled until I know they are home, someday I will make a trip to visit the area. A great blog Ellen!

  5. Mickey Grooters
    September 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    thank you for your comments Ellen. Especially moving– we lost our innocence that day (as so many others had long before) and the sadness that now knows how that “coming together” has torn apart, and how that horrific event has been “used” to justify so much else, how so many in Congress voted not to extend benefits to those who labored months at ground zero and sickened, about all those killed in Iraq – both U.S. and Iraqi; about our military suicides — all that too — part of the same story. Heartbreaking still.

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