By Jody Hagemann.
I am a native New Yorker and an only child. I was twenty five years old. The doctors called at around 8:45 am on September 11, 2001 to let my mother know she had lung cancer. The phone call was cut off when the one of the Twin Towers came down. My parents tried to call the doctors back, to no avail.
Where was I?
My parents knew I was on a plane in Cleveland about to depart for Madison, Wisconsin at 9 am for business. We were removed from the plane, told something happened in New York and we could not fly that day. In the airport, an announcement was made that a plane with a bomb on board was heading towards the Cleveland airport and we were to evacuate immediately. I ran with hundreds of others out the front door of the airport into the bright blue sky and onto the nearby expressway. There was silence. We stood, we waited, heard nothing. Not a plane in the sky.
No plane with a bomb ever appeared. (Later on we realized it was the plane that went down in Shanksville, PA – it had come into the Cleveland airspace).
I ended up getting a rental car with the man that was sitting behind me on my flight.
We got two hotel rooms nearby, our luggage still on the plane that we weren’t allowed to access. We ate lunch in the hotel, introducing ourselves, realizing we were in for a long haul. We were both from the NYC area and the magnitude of the event was settling in. The uncertainty of our friends and family hung over us like the weight like the xray coat you wear at the dentist. Our phone calls back home were met with busy signals. Our phones were silent. Many hours later, we made contact with family and friends. I managed to reach my boyfriend at the time and all I heard was the roar of a crowd. He said he was walking over the Brooklyn Bridge.
We went to Target to buy toiletries. The roads were empty. Target was empty. The airport called us to retrieve our luggage later that night. We went to our rooms, thinking we’d set out in the morning to drive home. Around 11 pm, my traveling partner knocked on my door and asked if I would be up for a trip to Detroit (five hours away). His boss was stranded. No one was sleeping that night, no reason not to make the trip.
Five hours later, there we were, at a Holiday Inn in the outskirts of Detroit. This middle aged man flew into our backseat, eager to get home to his family in NJ. We were able to floor this rental Hyundai for 12 straight hours back to Newark Airport. We stopped once at a diner along the way, it was filled with FBI agents. The three of us, strangers, continued to fill with dread as to what we were going to encounter when we got home. We made small talk all those hours, tried to talk about everything BUT what had happened. My family and friends now scared I’m driving home with two strangers. I wasn’t concerned in the least.
We came over the high point of Route 280, nearing Newark, and saw the smoke emanating from the Manhattan skyline. Reality was setting in – hard. I was dropped off at my car at Newark airport, exchanging phone numbers and contact information with “strangers” who I now shared a bond. A bond I never asked for or wanted. I drove home, walked in the door; my parents were sitting in the living room. My father stood up, said “your mother has cancer.”
I fell to my knees, exhausted from the lack of sleep and the magnitude of the news.
Days later I slowly made contact with family and friends. I went to a bar in Brooklyn to see some friends. To hug them, to feel they were really flesh and bone and alive. I went in my handbag, no driver’s license. The bouncer let me into the bar anyway. I was puzzled, but realized I would make my way to DMV for a replacement license. It felt like a minor inconvenience compared to what I was dealing with personally with my mother as well as the enormity of the terror attacks.
A couple of days later, a neatly printed envelope arrived with no return address. Inside my driver’s license and a note that said “I found your license on the floor of the Cleveland airport and wanted to return it to you. I wish you and all of your fellow New Yorkers peace during this time of tragedy. Signed, a Friend in Cleveland”. I must have dropped it running out of the airport that morning. Thankfully my travel home had required no form of identification. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, appreciation, flooded with emotion. I called Cleveland’s biggest newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and asked to run this story on their front page. I profusely thanked my anonymous friend for their thoughtfulness in a time of national tragedy.
Back in New York, I went to the homes of friends that were “missing”. I attended funerals of those lost in the attacks. My mother died a little over a month later. My life was forever altered. I thought about the kindness of my fellow man. I began my journey with resiliency, the ability to recover after misfortune and change.
Jody Hagemann is freelance writer born and raised in New York City. She is currently employed as a product manager for a global telecommunications company. Jody received her Masters of Communication and Information Studies from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. An avid traveler and animal lover, she enjoys gardening and mobile technology.