Today is one of those days where everyone remembers where they were — where they were when the first plane hit, where they were when the second plane hit, where they were when the towers fell.
I was at work, still in the newspaper industry back then. We had just broke from our morning meeting, going over the details of what would be in that day’s paper, other things we were working on, etc. Our education reporter, who sat caddy-corner behind me, was doing an interview for a “where are they now” valedictorian story. The woman she was interviewing lived in New York City. Reporters across the room were working on the overnight police news. I believe I was writing about the night before’s city council meeting.
News of the first plane crash came over the wire and word spread around the newsroom. There was talk — oh my, what happened, how could that happen, where do we put it in the paper, etc. — and one of the sports guys turned on the TV in the sports department to get the latest. Hearing the commotion and curious, I stood around the TV, with several others, watching the news coverage when wham! the second plane hit. I, like so many who watched that second plane hit on live TV, was shocked at what I saw. What?!? I couldn’t make sense of it. What was actually happening — terrorists attacking America — never entered my mind.
I was naive.
“Terrorism” was not a word I encountered all that much back then. That was something that happened somewhere else, in other countries, not at home.
The seasoned writer who sat on the desk next to me said very matter-of-fact that this was obviously a terrorist attack.
A “terrorist attack”? What is that even? I remember looking at him all confused like and asking, “terrorists? really? how do you know?”
I feel so ignorant having been so naive then, but I had never been exposed to anything like that. I had heard, of course, about the Oklahoma City bombings and recalled an earlier attack on the World Trade Center and a bomb at the USS Cole. But those were car bombs (or boat bombs), not airlines full of people being used as bombs. Who would fathom such a thing possible?
The rest of the morning and day gets a bit blurry. After the second plane hit and everyone realized this was no longer a random accident but now the story of the day, the editor called us all together to come up with a new plan for that day’s paper. Assignments were made — call the mayor, call the local military base, go to the corner coffee shop and get local reaction. And remember that education reporter on the phone with the valedictorian in New York? That became our lead story because now our “where are they now” hometown hero was on the front lines of a major terrorist attack on America. All of this unfolded between 8 and 9 a.m. at a paper that was to be printed and on racks by lunchtime. Our staff bustled to get as much local reaction as we could round up, and by lunch our readers had the latest from New York but also the initial reactions from our city. We came out with a second edition a few hours later and worked the rest of the day on 9/11 related stories. It would be several days and weeks before we would return to any of the stories we had been working on that morning.
There was a run on gas that day and that was one of the stories passed along to me — go to the gas station and talk to people about their reactions to the day and about the run on gas and the apparent price gouging.
Even as young and naive as I was, I quickly figured out that Sept. 11 was my generation’s Dec. 7, another “day in infamy,” the kind of day that when it comes around every year you remember where you were “when.”
Originally published Sept. 11, 2010.
Most folks I’ve encountered in life have a certain fondness for the place they grew up. Some don’t, if they had a negative experience I guess. But the reason I love this place isn’t necessarily because of its spectacular traits — although it has many — but because it’s home.
Huntsville is full of so many people who have moved here with their jobs, usually with the military or NASA or with one of their many contractors. To be a native, I think, is a rarity. It’s something I’m proud of.
Many people who move here like it and stay here. If you ask them why, they speak to the weather or the scenery or the culture. I like those things too, but I love it here because it’s my heritage.
I was born in Huntsville Hospital. I love downtown and the Big Spring, Maple Hill Cemetery and Monte Sano Mountain.
– when Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children was Humana, and when there were banks and dry cleaners in the blocks between. Huntsville Hospital now takes up all of that space and is expanding even more, in all directions, so it seems.
– when Parkway Place Mall was Parkway City Mall (a name I sometime still use). It was just one story with a Montgomery Ward on one end and Dillards and Parisian on the other.
– when Madison Square Mall was being built way on the far side of town, in the middle of nowhere. The urban sprawl has now, of course, spread way past there.
– when the Saturn I at the Space & Rocket Center was “the big rocket.” Now the Saturn V towers above it, so much so that the Saturn I is hardly noticeable from a distance.
– when the Von Braun Center was the Von Braun Civic Center, aka VBCC. That’s another one that I still often call by it’s old name.
– when Huntsville didn’t have a pro hockey team and UAH hockey ruled. The city held a contest to name the pro hockey team, and I submitted the idea “Huntsville Huskies.” The winning name was Huntsville Channel Cats, a name I didn’t understand at the time but grew fond of, especially over later names. A Huntsville Channel Cats t-shirt still hangs in my closet.
– when Holmes Avenue between Sparkman and Wynn was called Christmas Card Lane because of the large Christmas cards the residents placed in their yards each year. They stopped after the construction of Madison Square Mall, in protest of all the traffic using the quiet, two-lane road to get to the mall.
– when Huntsville’s only ice skating rink was the Ice Palace, a small, dark rink on Governor’s Drive (now Southerland Station). I had my first boy/girl party there when I turned 13, even if only one boy came.
and so and so on.
If you’re not a native Huntsvillian, the things above probably mean nothing to you. But if you are, you may find yourself nodding that you remember that too or perhaps the list brings to mind other bits of Huntsville nostalgia.
What I like best about Huntsville is feeling like I know the place and having a long-standing relationship.
Second to that, I like how it has a big city feel without the big city traffic, and a country road is never too far away when you need one.
A year ago today my husband took his own life. These are my recollections of that day.
The events of July 3, 2010:
John had been staying with a friend for a few days, since getting out of the hospital earlier that week. He was in the hospital after overdosing on antidepressants as an attempt to take his life. I didn’t take it seriously as he really wanted to die but more like a cry for help. I was trying to get him to see the counselor I had seen, or someone in that office, so we could get help for him, me, us.
He had texted me til 1:30 in the morning. Crazy, senseless texts expressing his frustrations with everything. I didn’t reply. I thought replying would only make things worse. I had hoped he’d stop and go to bed.
At 3-something in the morning my cell phone, on the bed table beside me, buzzed. I was asleep and didn’t answer. I woke and looked at the missed call number and recognized the extension as a call from the hospital. First thought? Crap, what’s John done now, fearful he’d been in a wreck or had tried to overdose again.
I listened to the voicemail. It was the Emergency Room. They had John in the ER and he’d fallen from a height and was hurt and they needed someone to come to the hospital. I was confused and mad. I remember thinking crap, now he’s gone and hurt himself or paralyzed himself or is on life support or something, and I was just mad.
I said I’d need to get someone to come stay at my house with my children and I’d be there as soon as I could.
I called my parents. I told them the hospital had called and John was there and was hurt and they needed me to come. They both came over immediately; my mom to stay at the house with the boys, who were asleep, and my dad to drive me to the hospital. We didn’t talk much on the way. I didn’t tell dad what they said about him falling from a height, only that he was hurt and they needed me to come.
We got there and were taken to a small room where the man who called me talked to us about what happened. Two officers on a break heard a noise and investigated the noise and found that John had fallen or jumped off the top floor of a parking garage near the hospital. He died of internal injuries, blunt force trauma. They worked on him but there was nothing they could do.
I was numb. Shocked. Mad. In disbelief probably. I can’t even remember if I cried. At some point a police officer came and talked to me more. They’d found an empty prescription bottle in his car. His glasses and his phone were on the ledge. His wallet was on him. They returned it to me. The officer had a bag with his clothes in it that he asked if I wanted. I said I didn’t. There was no note, but everything indicated suicide. A security camera showed him drive into the garage about 1:30 a.m., but the camera didn’t see what he did after that.
They needed positive ID that it was John. Dad went first, probably making sure it was OK for me to go, that I could handle what I was about to see. Then dad went with me. It was just a regular ol’ ER room with a gurney covered in a white sheet. I never saw his body only his head and face, which surprisingly looked fine. I saw no injuries, for which I was thankful. I was scared for the worst. He looked like he was sleeping. He hadn’t shaved in a while. I just stared, in disbelief. He looked like he could wake up at any moment. I’d seen him sleep like that many times and had gone to him and touched him or spoke to him and have him startle awake. I wanted to reach out and touch him and have him startle awake like he’d done do many times. It seemed possible.
Dad recommended the funeral home to use. That’s where they were going to take him and we were free to leave.
I’m sure dad said comforting things but I don’t remember them. I was numb. So many thoughts going through my head. I’ve got to tell the boys. What do I tell them? How do I tell them? How do I tell his mother? His sister? And I was mad thinking about having to plan a funeral and … just so many overwhelming thoughts.
I remember dad taking me home and I guess he told my mom. I don’t remember. I don’t remember if the boys were awake yet or not but if they weren’t awake when I got home they were soon. My dad left to pick up breakfast for us all and I said I wanted to tell the boys, by myself, by taking them for a walk around the block.
I don’t recall my exact words but I believe I told them that something happened and their dad was hurt and the doctors tried to fix him but weren’t able to and their dad died. Some people may have chose to say words like “went to heaven” instead of died — and we proceeded to talk about daddy going to heaven to be with Jesus when he died — but I felt it important to be honest with them and not sugarcoat too much. I wanted to protect them as much as I could, of course, but I felt it important they understand what was happening. They asked a few questions — how did daddy get hurt, where was he, etc. — which I answered best I could while not letting them know that it seemed to be their dad’s choice to end his life. They got quiet and we kept walking. Finn asked who was gonna throw baseball to him. Caden cried that he wanted to see his daddy. I responded to their inquiries the best I could.
I remember everyone who came to our house Caden announcing, almost proclaiming, “My daddy died!” I’ve since read in grief books that that is normal reaction for children his age.
How was I going to tell his mom and sister? Dad recommended I get a message to his sister that she go to her mom’s house and then call us when she got there that something had happened and they needed to be together and then call us. She did that and dad did the difficult thing of telling them. I just couldn’t.
I saw them when we first got the funeral home, hugged them both and cried that I was so sorry. They had no idea John had been having a rough time; he didn’t want to burden them and wouldn’t let me tell them or tell them himself. So this was a HUGE shock to them. HUGE.
I sat numb and in shock as the coroner asked me questions for the death certificate, about where I wanted John to be buried and when to have the visitation and service. I chose a casket and remember commenting that it was a color of wood John liked and then thinking to myself not that it matters what he likes. I wrote a bad check that the funeral home director said he would hold until I told him it was good. It was then the financial aspect of things started to hit — I had no idea if any of the life insurance would pay because of the nature of death, and if not how was I going to pay for this? I can’t afford our house on my salary alone. Would we have to move. Oh my, reality was coming at me fast.
I chose burial at the cemetery nearest our home. It made sense for ease of visiting and maintaining a grave and for the boys to be able to go there easily whenever they wanted to, if they wanted to. We went there next and I purchased a plot in the newest part, in the Serenity Garden, which sounded nice.
I went home. The rest of the day is a blur. People brought food. People came to visit. Neighbors checked on what was going on because so many cars were at the house. Word had spread and several friends called to make sure what they were hearing was true. I gave my sister a list of people who should be called — friends, co-workers, church people.
At some point the day ended and I tucked my boys into bed like I always did and I went to bed myself. I took a sleeping pill to help me sleep. The thoughts in my mind were still going, going, going.
To be continued …