Nineteen years ago, I was visiting my mother on my day off. Pregnant with my first (and to-be only child), we were having coffee and coffee cake as I turned the news on.
In one of New York City’s World Trade Towers, fire blazed out all the windows, high up on many of the floors. All the stations were covering what they knew of a plane having crashed into it. I called my husband and told him to turn on the tv. What station, he wanted to know. “It doesn’t matter.”
As we all watched, aghast, another plane crashed into the second tower.
Reality sank in. The country was under attack. But we were safe in Chicago. Weren’t we?
Daughter of the late Frederick P. Wiesinger, a structural engineer of some renown, I watched the firefighters and cops in their grim, desperate rush toward the madness, and realization shocked me like a slap of cold water: the towers were unstable and would collapse. The reporters continued their job, covering the non-stop chaos. Could I call New York and say what was obvious from this distance? Could I get word to the scene of the crimes, yell for my brother and sister first responders to ignore their training and their impulses to help, and NOT go in? I assessed the situation more somberly than anything in my own career: even if I could get through on a line, why would they listen to me, a far-away unknown?
I was a veteran Law Enforcement Officer. I had been a police dispatcher. Should I go to New York to help? Knowing New York, I could envision them telling me they could handle it. Should I go to work? My temporary ”confinement” (the antiquated term for pregnancy) assignment was in the Warrant Section at headquarters. I called; no, don’t come in. My supervisor had not yet heard the news; I explained it as swiftly and coherently as I could. No, they couldn’t foresee that I would be needed. There was nothing to do but look on with increasing anger.
Phones were down all over the greater NYC area, including to 9-1-1. The numbers hit home immediately: terrorists cut some of us off this exact day from those who could be reached for help at the same number. Planes were grounded, far from their planned destinations, at airports all around the world. I called work again. HQ felt confident Chicago was under control. I called the Red Cross, sure I could at least go give blood. No again. There were few drives going on, and none open for unscheduled donations anywhere. There was nothing I could do.
As we all watched in horror, the towers came crashing down. A mantle of dread, which I now never shed for long, descended on me. More accurately, it clobbered me.
* * * * * * * * *
A new age was, and remains, upon us.
I refuse to call it the age of fear.