Sunday, September 11, 2011

My former life ended 10 years ago today

I'm going to take a big risk and for the second time in two weeks write a blog that has little to nothing to do with quilting. Somehow today I just feel compelled to reflect.

Ten years ago this morning, I was in American Airlines operations at Logan airpost in Boston, signing in for a quick overnight trip to Dallas to complete my annual emergency training. There were about 11 of us heading down on an 8:15 flight, and many of us were chatting with other flight attendants who happened to be in operations that morning signing in for their flight - American Airlines flight 11 to Los Angeles. I remember saying Hi in passing to Amy Sweeney, a woman I had worked with many times and who was always very sweet and kind as well as very professional with the passengers. When I think of how she had to use that professionalism that morning I know there was no one better to be a calming presence...but that doesn't make it better.

I remember about 2 hours into our flight, a fellow training-bound crew member seated behind me came back from talking with some other flight attendants in the galley and told us "Something huge is going down. Planes are flying into buildings in NYC....we're landing as soon as the captain can." Surely he was kidding. Planes didn't fly into buildings. Within minutes, the captain told us our country was under attack, that no one was to think about getting out of their seat for the next 20 minutes, and we'd be on the ground in Memphis asap. I spent the rest of the flight praying to God we didn't have any terrorists on our plane.

By the time we hit the ground, we all knew the towers were down and as we sat on the runway all I could do was try to call someone, anyone to let them know I was okay. My husband wasn't picking up at home. My parents' line was busy. My sister wasn't home. (You have to remember, 10 years ago not everyone had cellphones.) Finally I got hold of my friend Heather, who as luck would have it was home sick from work. All I remember about the conversation was telling her I was alive, that I loved her, and could she please call everyone we knew to tell them the same? Because she was, and is, a fabulous friend, she didn't even tell me she was practically on her death bed from stomach flu - she just did it.

I remember finally getting ahold of Joe, who had been sent home from work because his boss knew I was flying out of Boston that day. All we could do was cry. I'd worked flight 11 more than 100 times in my 9 year career. There was no way that couldn't have been me.

I remember the relief my parents had when I finally got ahold of them, my mom in a battle for her own life against ovarian cancer. Sometimes I wonder if I was spared that day because God knew our family couldn't handle any more crap right then.

I remember standing in the lounge in Memphis with the rest of the passengers in stunned silence as we saw our first footage of what most of America had seen 20 times over by then. The pole I was leaning on was all that held me up.

I remember how eerie the sky was over the next 23 hours as all 11 of us on the way to training piled into a rented van and drove back home to New England. Perfectly blue, perfectly gorgeous, and perfectly empty of air traffic.

I remember reading the list Joe had written of everyone who had called wanting to make sure I was okay and crying my eyes out to think that so many people whom we hadn't seen in months or years cared enough to find our number and call.

I remember telling him I didn't care if we had to eat pasta every day for the rest of our lives, there was no way in hell I was going back to work as a flight attendant.

In truth, I did go back - once. I did manage to complete the training about a month later, and I did one trip in late October before I was awarded an overage leave for 6 months. I got pregnant with Paige and Eva on the last week of the leave, and that was that. I was given the best reason of all to quit, and I have never looked back.

But I will never forget.

7 comments:

Corinne said...

Beth, thanks for sharing your story. It's was worth your writing and worth our reading.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing, Beth. I can't imagine my life without you in it- nor do I want to!

Angie

Doris said...

Thanks for sharing something so painful. So glad you are still with us and your 3 little girls too!!

Doris

Anne said...

Beth, thanks for telling your story . When I think of this day I actually think of YOU for this reason (and my uncle who was on United that day) and how I worried about you both as soon as I heard but was blessed and lucky to still have you in my life. My heart goes out to all the victims and their families....

Anonymous said...

Ah, the amazing lessons you have been taught....and now you teach those around you. You are an incredible woman full of love and life to go forward.

Pam said...

OH MY GOsh Beth! I had no idea. Thank God you are alive and well & thank you for sharing your story. Blessings to you and yours

Beth Helfter said...

Thank you all for your notes. I am blessed to have each of you in my life.

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