On September 10, 2001, my father called, upset. The trucking company that he was working for had decided against letting him dead head (drive without a trailer) home for his birthday and had instead assigned him to drive into New York City to pick up a trailer there.
He hated driving in New York. The streets were too narrow, too many cars, pedestrians and bicyclists to get caught in his blind spots. Hard to make turns, hard to navigate an 80,000 pound vehicle. He was, in a word, pissed. And when he got like that, he would get really fired up, and he usually quit. I expected the call that he would be arriving on a bus, or worse yet, that I would have to pick him up in another state somewhere.
The next morning, September 11th, I woke up to the feeling that someone very, very heavy was sitting on my chest. I could not breathe through my nose, and my lungs felt like fire at every breath. I called in sick to work (as Customer Service Manager for a food distribution warehouse) and phoned my doctor's office. They were able to see me at once, so without evening changing out of my pajamas, I got in my car and drove to the only place that I thought I would find relief.
My appointment was scheduled for 8:15 AM. I was put in a room, and I waited. The nurse had informed me that since she was working me in it would be a bit of a wait. I laid on the examining table and started to fall asleep. Outside, I heard a commotion, feet running through the halls, patient doors being opened. I got off of the table and poked my head out of the door.
"A plane has hit the World Trade Center", a nurse informed me.
"In New York?", I asked dumbstruck and a little selfish. What does that have to do with patients in a doctor's office in Tallahassee?
My doctor came around the corner the, obviously shaken. "Everyone, I have a TV in my office, we can go in there to see what is going on."
We piled into his office, suddenly feeling as though our symptoms no longer mattered, that any complaints that we had were merely trivial now. We watched as the second plane struck building 2. Icy chills shot up and down my spine. I wandered out of his office and slunk down the wall, it was all so much, all so awful. What did Americans ever do to deserve this?
I thought of my father, would he even be able to get into New York? If he did, how would he ever get out? My mind was reeling but also covered in snot. I walked back to the patient room. I laid back down on the examining table and closed my eyes.
The doctor came in diagnosed me with a double-lung infection and a sinus infection and sent me on my way with a prescription for antibiotics, pain relievers and lots of rest.
There was no rest at home as I sat on the couch with my younger brother, reeling from the next news story. I would fall asleep for 10-15 minutes and then wake up with a start thinking that another plane had struck. Tallahassee was on high alert. The Governor of Florida at the time was Jeb Bush, brother of George, son of another George - surely we were the next place to be attacked.
There was no way to contact my father. Cell phone towers and satellites were tied up for days with people trying to find their loved ones, make sure that everything was okay. I tried the trucking company that he worked for but they were unable to track down his truck. For 4 days, I did not know if my father was dead or alive somewhere on the streets of New York City and it was probably the most scared that I have ever been.
For 4 days, I wandered around our home waiting for a phone call, numb to the images that had taken over our TV screen, unable to listen to another news story, more speculation on who was responsible or where the next target would be. I could not sleep, I could not eat.
Finally, on his birthday, September 15, the phone rang. Somewhere between 8 PM on 9/10 and 8 AM on 9/11, his assignment had changed. He was deadheaded to Buffalo instead, wasn't scheduled to pick up there until 9/18, he was celebrating his birthday in our old hometown with his old friends. He was fine. This was the first time he was able to make an outgoing phone call. Nothing was wrong.
And so, unlike all of the families that suffered such a terrible tragedy, somehow, for some reason, God intervened to make sure that my daddy would be okay, that he would make it back home safely once again.
And He drove it all in so that I would never forget.