Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Unnamed Madonnas-Chapter Five


Chapter Five

On September 11, 2001, on our morning drive to work,  a special announcement  interrupted the traffic report.    A passenger plane had crashed  in New York  and hit the twin towers.  Within minutes,  a second plane also hit the twin towers, and before we arrived at school, a third plane had crashed near Washington D.C.
“My God!” I yelled,” this is the end!”  
Steve said nothing. His eyes were watching the traffic as he reached across the seat to take my hand.  I held his hand for a long time, and then, I pulled out my cell phone  and called our son Ryan away at college in Irvine.   
No answer.
When we arrived at the school where we both taught, students were milling around the quad as usual, waiting for the first class, and nothing in their demeanor had changed. They probably walked to school with friends and had not heard the news. High school students do not tune in to the news first thing in the morning.
We have crazy stuff to deal with day in and day out in this place, I thought.  If the world went crazy, we’ll have another world war, just as bad as the one that determined my mother’s and my fate.
The administration was not ready to give us any instructions on how to handle this event when we checked in.  Steve and I had talked about keeping students busy with regular lessons.
But,  by ten o’clock, every classroom was watching CNN, quiet and somber news updates keeping the school glued to the horrific pictures until the next bell dismissed students to go to another class.
At  3:00 p.m, nobody knew  if school would be open the next day.
On our way home, we stopped to pick up food at the drive-in.  Lines  were horrendous, but people were quiet, patient, listening intently to their radio.
 In the evening, after we tried to reach  Ryan again,  we heard about  Osama Bin Laden and his friends ready to strike again any big cities in America.  L.A. was a major target area, and we were up all night, preparing to evacuate, fleeing to our cabin in Oregon.
Steve spent a few hours gathering sleeping bags and supplies.   After midnight, Ryan called us to tell us that some of his classes had been cancelled, and that security check points and curfew were being put in place on campus.  He had tried to call us all morning, too, he said, but the cell signal was bad most of the day. He informed us that the State Department was telling Americans not to travel.  His plan to go skying up atTahoe had changed, too dangerous to be in popular places like that.
We talked about  picking him up and driving all night to our cabin in Oregon if things got worse. He dismissed us, telling us nothing else was going to happen.
Steve called Denise and told her to get herself and the boys out of Miami.
“This country is in a shit-hole right now. We’d be safer in Europe, in Mexico, Canada, anywhere else.” I had not heard Steve with this panic tone before.
 “We can go to Italy. The flight will be just a bit more than the price of tickets for Denise and the boys to fly to Oregon, or us flying to Miami.” I shouted at both of them.
“No one is safe on planes anymore! Or ships! Or trains! Hell, we are so unaware of our surroundings most of the time, someone can take aim at us anywhere.” Steve was fuming, throwing things across the room, cans, tools.
“They’ll catch the culprits and we’ll be back to normal in no time.” I was not sure myself of any thing I was saying, but I felt better saying it.
The next morning, with a couple of hours of sleep under our belts, we went back to work. Gloom and doom  hovered on each freeway exit, under every bridge.  We drove to and from work, avoiding any other errand, any place where crowds might congregate.  In the evening, we remained glued to the television set, listening to the news, worrying.
In a couple of days, guards were planted at many government buildings.  Our school began to search students’ bags; visitors had to be cleared; nobody was moving around in the usual pattern.
 Faculty meetings were cancelled.
 Everybody rushed home after work.
There was an eerie calm everywhere. People were more polite to each other, sensing doom or rampant anger might come from up with the least amount of encouragement.
We picked up our mail with caution.  Packages were examined carefully before being opened.  Anthrax had been found in somebody mailbox and people had been poisoned for no apparent reason.  Not just airport were being flagged with danger signs, color coded so the public had an idea on how to proceed, but everywhere else.  Our school developed coded messages for the P.A. system, in case of terrorists or strange shooters.  We practiced lock-downs.
We called Ryan to check on him once or twice a day.  He began to be annoyed by all this fuss; we demanded that he kept his cell phone on and on him day and night. He told us that he wasn’t going to give in to the fear of the nation. He was going to go about his business as usual.
People in stores, waiting at gas stations,  had an unusual guarded and alert look about them; we all became more conscious of our surroundings, paying attention to packages or bags left unattended, watching other people for signs of unusual behavior. 
Anyone who looked foreign, who had an accent became suddenly suspect.  Ryan told us that Afghanistan and Pakistan  students at his college had been arrested, and their roommates  detained for hours. Even some good friends of his from high school were now being considered suspect and their lives were changing.  After years in the same neighborhood, some people left, afraid of their own neighbors.
I wondered how and if Steve's disappearance might have anything thing to do with terrorism, with friends or students, or colleagues we might have known, with people we might have met on the tour. I wondered, and was paralized with the same fear.  In this romantic ciry we  were supposed to get back to normal after a very long year of fear and panic eating at every fiber in our bodies.


  1. oh my, I remember crying for 3 days straight - and yes, there was such an eerie calm right afterwards. i thought the world had changed forever, and i was afraid of war - half of my family is in the military - i was afraid of losing someone

  2. Yes, we were all paralized with fear!

  3. It was a horrible, horrible event. And I think we were all changed by it.

  4. Is this true?? I thought it was fiction. Now you have me! My apologies for the just like woman comment if this is true, please forgive!

  5. That these characters experienced the incidents of 9/11 is not so far-fetched, right?
    This is mostly fiction, except for these and some other incidents we can relate to.

  6. Written in vivid detail, Rosaria. It took me back in time, too, though I didn't have the interactions with people that your "character" did when this happened. My son called me that morning. I was in St. George, Utah, he was in San Diego. "Together" for almost an hour we watched in horrified shock the destruction scene playing out over and over again on the TV. It was one of those times I'll never forget.

  7. Ten years later, and we still feel the weight of that event.

  8. i have to say i was involved in the back story but then surprised to learn of the narrator's question, I wondered how and if Steve's disappearance might have anything thing to do with terrorism, with friends or students, or colleagues we might have known, with people we might have met on the tour. this woman's fear is deep seeded. that or i have no idea of what's going on in this story. either way, even being a lazy reader rosaria, i have to ensure you i'll be back for more, not because you're dear to me, but because the story itself is so intriguing.