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September 11, 2013 - Jennifer Brookens
I had been a news reporter for the Sentinel for about a year and a half. That morning I woke up at about 8:30; one of the perks of being a reporter and not having kids to send off to school was being able to sleep in. I got up and tried to do my morning exercises, but when I turned on the TV, there was something about the World Trade Center on. I wasn't sure why... was it the anniversary of that bombing back in '93? But that happened in January and it was September. And didn't my husband usually leave the TV on SportsCenter? I went to switch the channel, and that was when I realized it was on SportsCenter. The little logo in the corner of the TV said "Live."
There was smoke coming out of the top of the tower, and the reporters were saying that the other tower collapsed. Impossible, I remember thinking. It's gotta be the camera angle. But the more they talked, the more the whole gruesome reality began to sink in. Commercial airplanes used?! All those innocent people! Suddenly, the tower began going down. I found myself sinking to the sofa with it, the realization that I was watching hundreds of innocent lives being extinguished at this very moment. "Lord, have mercy," I found myself saying. The smoke and dust plume that was left on the TV was as grim as I felt, and Peter Jennings voice matched.
This was going to be a rough day...
On the way to work, all of the radio stations had interrupted their regular broadcasts for national news coverage. By the time I got to the office, the TV from the publisher's office was dragged out into the main area, and all were gathered around it. I was at a loss of what I should do; after all, we were in small-town Minnesota. We probably wouldn't be a target. But as I got ready for my daily trek to the police station and courthouse, I found myself telling the desk clerk if I didn't make it back to avenge my death. A slight smile and nod was all that seemed appropriate for a response.
Hours later, after learning all the details, and how the country and individual states were responding, the publisher warns us that our deadline has been bumped up by two hours. Our acting editor for the week had yet to make an appearance at the office.
I called and told her that because of everything going on we had a bumped-up deadline. "What's going on," she asked.
I could Not believe she said that! For a split second, I was jealous of her not yet knowing or dealing with the horror that most of America could never fathom until today.
"You haven't been watching TV," I asked cautiously. She hadn't. I took a deep breath and told her about the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. After a few, "You got to be kidding me," statements and me responding with "I wish I was," she fell silent and said, "I'll be right in."
My husband and I made contact after things were under control at our respective workplaces. We went home, and just held each other.
"What are we thinking," he said. "Why would we bring a child into this?"
I was thinking the same thing, reflecting on a conversation we had just the other night about starting a family. We ate soup and grilled cheese (I remember the kind of soup - steak and potato - and even dribbling some on the sweater I was wearing. Funny how on days like that you can remember the most minute details). While we were on information overload, we still ended up turning on the TV. Those channels not broadcasting a national news feed had simply gone to black out of respect. Only the cartoon channels carried on like it was any other day.
Later that evening, we watched the President's address, hoping to receive some comfort that everything was going to somehow be OK. He recited Psalm 23:4, but it didn't bring me the feeling of peace I was looking for. I didn't know if there was anything that could.
A phone call from my city editor told me there were lines around the block at all the gas stations, because there was panic that gas prices were going to skyrocket and ordered me to go get a photo and possible interviews.
"That's stupid," my husband said after I hung up. "There's no oil in Afghanistan!"
But there was chaos at every gas station in town. I nearly got run over twice trying to take a photo, and got cut off attempting to get into a parking lot by another vehicle thinking I was cutting in line. Rumors swirled about $3 gas in Armstrong already (when I called to confirm, there was no answer at the station) and $6 in Sioux Falls. It fed the panicked frenzy.
I got home an hour after deadline and simply flopped into bed. I felt like a hollowed-out tin man. I wouldn't cry about it for another day or so because I was simply numb. In the days that followed, every loud bang I heard outside would make me jump about five feet back, and the site of a police car stopping on the block made me panic that something horrible had happened on a day when my husband wasn't back from work as soon as he thought he'd be. The uneasiness continued for weeks and months, with worries of chemical attacks and letters tainted with anthrax. That winter, we took our first vacation by airplane and had to go through numerous security checks; removing our shoes, having to surrender a small eyeliner pencil sharpener, things that would've been ridiculous when the trip was booked back in August.
But we were in a different world now, and there was no way to go back.
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