14 years ago... I awoke with an unbearable amount of anxiety and inexplicable feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. I realized my alarm had failed to go off and quickly dismissed my panic as I rushed to change my clothes and grab my supplies for class. "Great... no shower today."
14 years ago... I sat in my VW, barely a few miles from home. Traffic was completely stopped. My heart was pounding, palms sweating. There was no way I was going to make it on time.
14 years ago... Feeling completely defeated, I decided to turn my car around and head back towards home. Tears began to well in my eyes as I once again heard that small voice in the back of my mind tell me, "I told you so. I tried to tell you that you couldn't do this. That it wasn't going to work out. Just a few weeks in, and you're already quitting. When will you ever start to listen to me, and not them?"
14 years ago... I walked back in the door, dropped my bag, and threw myself onto the couch. Full of self-pity and anger, I turned on the TV to distract myself. Good Morning, America. I couldn't tell you what the segment was about, I was barely paying attention.
14 years ago... The world suddenly stopped. The fear in the eyes of the GMA anchors quickly caught my attention. I sat up, staring in disbelief as the images began to appear on the screen. "An accident? Oh my god... How could this be happening? How could someone make such a mistake?"
14 years ago... Staring in horror at the live feed, I watched as the unthinkable happened. Stunned, I heard nothing. Complete silence as the confusion fell away and the realization of what was happening began to sink in.
14 years ago... Shaking, I tried to stand up. I reached for the cordless phone, stumbling to my knees as I dialed. "Aren't you supposed to be in class?!", my mom immediately said as she answered at her office downtown. "TV... turn on the TV... do you have a TV there? You need to find one and turn it on... NOW." I replied.
14 years ago... I learned just how small and insignificant my problems truly were.
What I didn't know, 14 years ago...
I wasn't the only one running late that day. Hundreds of miles away, there was a 19-year old boy driving a truck, headed for New York City. He should've been there already, checking out of his hotel and on his way to the conference center downtown. Instead, he was stuck in traffic just across the river in New Jersey cursing whatever it was that had made him sick the day before, forcing him to stop overnight. Cursing the alarm clock in the cheap hotel room for not going off that morning. And cursing the big city traffic jam that had this country boy from a small town in the South completely gridlocked.
In an effort to find out what was causing the standstill and preventing him from getting where he needed to be, he turned on the radio in the truck. It didn't take long for him to realize that he would not be making it into the city anytime soon that morning, and he was sure to get chewed out by his dad, also his boss, for failing to deliver the truck to it's destination on time. As people began to get out of their cars to look around and discuss what might be happening, the boy looked up and saw an enormous cloud of smoke fill the air on the other side of the river. He immediately decided that not only would he not be making it to the conference center that morning, but that he no longer wanted anywhere near the city ahead.
Ignoring all pleas from local authorities for everyone to stay where they were, the boy from Georgia frantically searched for a way out of traffic. Thankfully, he wasn't the only one desperately trying to turn around and soon enough, he was able to haul the large truck over the concrete median, and drive away from the city as fast as he could.
Still fighting an enormous headache and bouts of nausea, he drove over 16 hours straight home. This time, he didn't stop.
14 years later... I am thankful for whatever it was that made the boy sick that day.
14 years later... I am thankful for the alarm clock in the cheap hotel room that failed to go off that morning.
14 years later... I am thankful for the big city traffic jam that kept him stuck on the other side of the river.
That 19-year old boy from Georgia, is now my husband. We met 3 years later, and it wasn't until a few more years into our relationship that I would hear his story. We don't talk about it often, but not a day goes by that don't think of how different life could be had he arrived in New York the night before. His hotel, the conference center... mere blocks from The World Trade Center.
I hesitated to tell our story because, it seems so insignificant compared to those who were directly affected by the tragic events of 9/11. Those who lost loved ones, friends, co-workers... and most importantly, those who lost their lives. But, I truly believe that all stories matter. And that what happened 14 years ago in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania affected our entire nation, and many other parts of the world. We all have a story that deserves to be told. Heartbreaking stories, stories with happy endings, stories of simple remembrance. The day we stop sharing our stories, is the day we begin to forget...