9/11 from the most remote place in the world: Kansas

I was not in New York. I was not in Washington, DC. I was not in Pennsylvania. Back then I considered myself an L.A. transplant living in the middle of what at that time felt like the middle of nowhere: Emporia, Kansas.

I was running late for work. I was always running late for work back then, and back then, we had cable, so CNN was on in the background while I was running around, trying to get ready for work, when I caught sight of the images on television of the flames coming out of the World Trade Center. Then the second plane hit. Just then. While I was watching, a plane hit the second building.

I consider that the pivotal moment. Not when the first plane hit, not when the buildings collapsed, but the moment that second plane hit, you could feel this collective gasp echoing all over the world. It was the moment when we realized the first plane wasn’t an accident, that it was so much bigger and scarier than an accident. It was the realization that some group of really angry people would do this on purpose.

In 1995, I visited family in the almost brand-new Croatia. I remember walking through the streets of Karlovac, where many of the buildings downtown bore the injuries of shrapnel or were caved in on themselves from bombs and fire. I remember a car door slamming and people dropping to the ground in case what they heard was actually gunfire.  I remember thinking how lucky we were not to have to live in a war zone, how fortunate we were not to have to live with that kind of persistent fear in the United States, the realistic fear that someone or some group could hate you or what you have or how you live your life so much that they were willing to try to take it all away from you.

I called my then-fiance-now-husband, who was a student working in a hardware store. It took him a while to process what I was telling him. At first, he thought I meant a little plane hit a pair of residence halls on the local university campus. Then he understood, and was quiet.

I went to work. The internet was very, very slow that day, as everyone in the entire universe was trying to access whatever updates they could about what was happening. We were slowly piecing together the connections: New York, the Pentagon, Pennsylvania. Then the Twin Towers collapsed.

My then-fiance-now-husband was encountering bewilderment at the hardware store. “Why is this so important to you? Do you know people in New York?”

Mid morning, it hit me, like a punch in the gut. The synapses in my brain finally locked in on the fact that one of our bridesmaids was a United Airline flight attendant. The other worked for American Express in the World Trade Center.

Word was getting out on the campus where I worked. “This isn’t your problem,” we were told. “Get back to work.” But it was my problem. It was everybody’s problem.

The flight attendant’s father’s assistant called to reassure me that my friend had the day off.

“I’m okay I’m okay I’m okay! Who is this?” my WTC employee friend said when my call finally made it through to her after dialing what seemed like a thousand times. I hung up the phone and sobbed. I cried with relief for my friends, and I cried with sorrow, for all of the people whose calls would probably never get through.

And that’s what it was like to experience 9/11 from the most remote place on earth.

2 thoughts on “9/11 from the most remote place in the world: Kansas

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s