Where Were You?

My mom used to always talk about where she was when JFK was shot.  It was one of the moments in history that caused pause when the anniversary of the event hit. “Where were you” was the question always asked, she explained.  It’s all long gone now (sadly) but she would show the things she saved from that date – the date the president was killed.

When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, I recall a number of teachers commenting that this would be our JFK moment.  We would talk about it for years to come – “where were you” would be the question asked.  I was in 7th grade Geography class when it happened. One of the science teachers had her kids watching it on the educational TV broadcast they had access to.  We heard the collective gasp and their startled response.  We all knew quickly of the tragedy and later learned what happened.

Never would we have thought at 13 that this moment was tragic but our “where were you” moment in history would happen later – 15 years later.

Where was I?

I was on a business trip.  Thankfully on the west coast – and thankfully with a rental car.  I was in a hotel room – my cohort was in the room next door.  The alarm had gone off, I got up, turned on the morning news which was my habit, and checked the channel…..twice, because the images I saw were something more out of a movie than happening in real life. Or so I thought.

I was watching when the second plane hit.  I was watching when they got word about the Pentagon – then the plane that went down in Pennsylvania.  I was getting dressed in a daze.  And when my cohort and I met in the hall at the appointed time, we both met each other with a shocked look on our face asking “did you see the news?”

Thankfully my cohort and I were like minded.  We couldn’t stay fixated on the news all day.  We had woken up knowing we could go home that afternoon since we were done a day early, if we could find a flight out, but that flew out the window with these events.  So, we went about our work, talked to our travel agent at work to confirm what we knew – no flights, so she told us to take the rental car and drive home.  So we wrapped up our work and did just that – drove from San Diego to Portland – straight through the night.  We both just wanted to be home with our families – not stuck in a city far away.

We drove talking the whole way – not wanting to be trapped for 18 hours listening to every detail of what has happened, trapped inside a car listening to the horrors of the day.  We drove by airports that were shut down – surrounded by police cars – with plane lined up next to the terminal – dark.  We would stop in for gas and coffee and talk to others who, like us, were trying to get home.  All of us avoiding the stacks of newly delivered papers sitting on the counter.  We would stop at rest stops where no one was traveling for pleasure or work – everyone was just trying to get home.

It’s funny how 14 years later, I can remember that day in vivid detail.  In fact, I had to sit down and think about how long it had been because, in some ways, it still feels like it only happened a few years ago.

It is why  – 14 years later – when this day hits, everyone who lived through that day has a “where was I” story to tell.  This day will for a long time be felt by those who lived through it as the day the world changed.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jean says:

    We must be about the same age. I was sitting in my art class in 7th grade when the Challenger tragedy happened. My teacher got the news and promptly went into hysterics. My school had some sort of special program happening that morning for the honors science students, where they got to watch the launch live via satellite. I was suddenly very glad that I didn’t make the cut, and didn’t have a front seat view for that.

    In 2001, I worked an earlier shift (6:30-3:30), because I was the HR rep supporting our Northeast and Midwest shipping locations. I heard about the first plane on the radio on the way in to work, and the DJs were saying oh, how awful, what a horrible accident. My coworker, who also worked the same shift, was listening to Howard Stern, so we both heard when the second plane hit as it was happening. We all tried to keep ourselves distracted, but none of us got anything done that day. It was the first big tragedy that was covered on the 24 hour news cycle, so it was just everywhere, all the time, for several days. I remember going home that day, watching the news for hours and just crying. I’ll never forget it, it’s so crystal clear even after all this time.

    1. emmyrtws says:

      Like you, I was happy that I was not watching the challenger launch live. I’m not sure how it would have affected me then.

      With 9/11, I was happy that I avoided the news that day and the next. Hearing later what they were showing – people leaping out of windows and other horrifying images – I’m not sure I could have handled it. The images I saw was enough to fuel nightmares.

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