Never Take Tomorrow For Granted
I sat there thinking. I wanted to start this off by saying, “It was a day that would forever change the world.” But that was too cliché, too used and, at least to me, a little bit unimpressive. It has been used so many times before and frankly it was just downright boring. I could do much better.
So I searched the depths of my mind until I came up with something else. “The day started off like any other ordinary day.” But that too was falling into the same realms of disappointment. The truth was, the day didn’t start off like any other day. It was far from an ordinary day, at least for me.
So as I paced back and forth, trying to think of the perfect opener, it suddenly hit me.
It was September 11th, 2001, and I was a soldier in the United States Army.
This was a day that impacted everybody in the United States; a day that would be engrained into so many people’s hearts and minds. It was the day we were attacked. The day we lost so much. The day we regret not telling our loved ones “I love you” one more time, and the day we wished we would have held them just a little tighter. It was the day we wished we would have made time to grab a cup of coffee with an old friend. It was a day of regrets, but ones that would eventually make us stronger.
If you are an American, and even if you are not, I am sure you are familiar with the impact this day has had on history and our ongoing lives. We lost many brave men, women and children, not only to the terrorist attacks, but afterwards in the fight against terror. It was the day the al-Qaeda had planned a series of four coordinated suicide attacks against their targets. As Americans, we realized we needed to stand together. Not only to mourn, but to become stronger. Ten years later, we still mourn this day, but we remember what it stands for. America is strong and we are not to be messed with. We will take action and we will defend ourselves. Yet, as we remember this tragedy, we all have a personal story that goes along with it.
Sept. 10, 2001
I was a couple months pregnant and I was exhausted from the hectic weekend. My sister had just gotten married a couple days earlier and I was the maid of honor in her wedding. It was a great celebration, but it made me sad. Not because me sister was getting married, but because my husband was sitting at home instead of celebrating with us. I was able to get a weekend pass so I could attend the wedding, but my husband was not able to do the same. He had to stay home and work.
At the reception, as everybody had a few drinks, danced and got a little crazy, I moped around. I even escaped outside for awhile to make a quick phone call home. Thank goodness cell phones were already affordable for the regular public and we were a tech savy enough couple to jump on the band wagon and get one for each of us right away.
Yet, on this night, not only was I missing my husband, but I wasn’t feeling too good either. This whole pregnancy thing was not agreeing with me at all. The second I knew I was pregnant, I could not stop throwing up. It was weird how it seems to happen that way. One day your fine and then boom, the next day you can’t keep your food down. For me, it wasn’t morning sickness, it was all day sickness. Not to mention, I couldn't help but be depressed at how horribly fat I looked in my bridesmaid dress. I didn’t look pregnant, I looked plump. If you didn’t know I was pregnant, you probably just figured I had a love affair with food.
The Grand March was ultimately what did me in. As the whole bridal party ran in one large circle to some song played by the band, I started to get dizzy and naseous. I held it in for the entire duration of the Grand March, but as soon as we were released, I ran to the bathroom and got rid of the banquet style meal we were served earlier that evening. Naturally, several people were unaware of my condition, therefore rumor spread that I was highly intoxicated. In reality, I was ready to go home and sleep.
As Monday rolled around, the excitement of the wedding was dwindling down and I was packed up and ready to head back to Colorado Springs. My husband and I were both stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado and I had to get back to the daily grind. The party was over but I had a long day of traveling left to do.
My family lives in a smaller area outside of Green Bay, Wisconsin. However, plane tickets to Green Bay come with a hefty price, so we usually flew in and out of Milwaukee to save some cash. Luckily for me, my parents were willing to take the almost 3 hour drive down to the airport.
As normal, I was procrastinating getting myself packed, and as my last suitcase got thrown into the trunk of the car, we were already running late. Almost to the point of making it a possibility of missing my flight. So, we took off in a hurry to head down the road. Almost 15 minutes into the drive, I realized I had forgotten something.
“Dad, I forgot my cellphone.”
“Okay,” he said. “Do you really need it?”
It wasn’t as if I hadn’t made it through the last 21 years without a cell phone, but suddenly I felt completely lost without it.
“Yes,” I said with an exasperated sigh. “What if there is an emergency?”
“We really don’t have time to turn around. You don’t want to miss your flight, do you?”
But Dad…” I whined a little. Ok, maybe it was a lot. It was 10 years ago so my memory of effective whining skills is starting to dwindle some.
“We can always mail it to you and you will have it when you get home.”
“I can’t wait that long!” Finally, after about 5 minutes, I convinced my Dad to turn around so I could quickly retrieve my cell phone. Afterwards, I could have swore he was punishing me for my stupidity. While my Dad doesn’t typically speed, (he learned his lesson from when he was younger), it seemed like he was purposely going as slow as possible. I think I even told him he was driving like a grandpa.
As we drove, I kept checking the time. We hit construction and got stuck in traffic, and as the time dwindled down, I started to regret going back for my cell phone. I was never going to make my flight at this rate, and that would result in me having to sit in the airport for several hours hoping they had something else available for me. That would not work for me. I was already getting home really late, and with being pregnant, I really didn’t need to be cutting even more into my sleep, nor did I want to worry about making different arrangements for getting picked up. I was already exhausted.
I made it to the airport just in time. I barely got checked in and to my gate before the plane was loading. But I made it, cell phone in hand and everything.
By the time I got home it was late and I was way past the point of exhaustion. Fortunately for me, I already planned for this and had taken the next day off to recover from all the traveling. My husband, however, still needed to report to work bright and early.
It was roughly 5:30 a.m. and my husband was getting ready for his early morning PT session. (For those of you without a military background, PT stands for physical training. As a soldier, we exercised every morning before heading into work.) Naturally, he wasn’t very quiet, and since I am a light sleeper, he woke me up. Before he left, he gave me a quick kiss good-bye and said he would see me in a couple hours when he returned to get ready for work.
Now I am not going to lie, but I was slightly irritated. I had the chance to sleep in and my eyes were wide awake. So, I flipped on the TV, I surfed a few channels before I stopped it on some show I would definitely not be interested in. I figured it would bore me back into sleep. It worked, and before I knew it, I was back dozing again.
At about 7 o’clock I woke back up to the TV blaring.
“Wow, this is a pretty dramatic movie!” I said to myself as my eyes closed again and I fell back asleep. There were buildings on fire and smoke everywhere. I didn’t have the energy to look at what I was watching, nor did I turn it off.
Shortly after was when the phone started ringing off the hook. I ignored it the first time. I ignored it the second time. By the third time, I was getting irritated. I have always thought it rude to call anybody before 9 a.m., and knowing it was well before that, made me cranky.
So I sat up in bed, saw the same movie was still playing through my sleepy half shut eyes, grabbed the phone and rudely answered with a gruff “Hello!”
“What is going on?” my mom said on the other end of the line.
“What are you talking about?”
By this time I had wiped the sleep out of my eyes and actually looked at the TV set. My mouth dropped open. I was speechless. The first plane had hit at 8:52 a.m. (6:52 a.m. Mountain Time) and the second had hit at 9:03 a.m. (7:03 a.m. Mountain Time).
“I don’t know Mom. I will call you back.”
I hung up the phone and tried calling my husband. He was sure to know more than I did. He picked up on the first ring and told me he was on his way home. I sat and waited. I might have even thrown up a little after watching the TV.
My husband came home shortly after. I don’t believe it was much more than 15 minutes after I had talked to him, but it seemed like it took forever. I heard the door click shut and he came downstairs.
He started grabbing his gear and throwing it in his Army duffle bag.
“What’s going on?”
“I really don’t know,” he said. “But we were sent home to grab all of our gear and return as fast as possible.”
I was full of questions. Where are you going? How long will you be gone for? What is happening? …
“I don’t know” was his only reply, as he quickly changed and finished packing his gear. I quietly watched, wondering when I was going to hear from or see my husband again. It was top secret. No one had a clue where they were heading … they were just doing there duty and waiting for their orders.
As he finished he grabbed his stuff and slung it over his shoulder. He came up to me and gave me a quick kiss, looked at me longingly, put his hand on my belly and told me he loved me. Then he kissed me again, this time with a little more passion, as if it might be the last time he ever got to see me. With that, he walked out of the front door.
I watched him go. I didn’t want him to see me cry. I wanted to be strong. After all, I too was a soldier. But as soon as I heard the car leave the driveway, I no longer held back. Deep down, I knew this was bad. My husband was in a unit that was pure combat. Chances were good, he was going somewhere. Chances were good, it could be dangerous.
The 10th Anniversary
My husband and I were lucky ones. Both of us are still here. Yet, there were so many of our friends who were sent overseas to fight the battle and they never returned. As a photojournalist in the Army, I wrote too many stories of the soldiers who died; wrote too many stories on the families left behind. Each one was heartbreaking. And as I attended each one of their funerals, I knew I would cry as Taps was being played. It wasn’t because I necessarily knew them or their families. It was because as a whole, the War on Terror is destined to have many, many innocent victims.
They aren’t certain of the number of deaths, but it is said that on Sept. 11, 2001, about 3,000 people lost their lives. This included civilians, firefighters, police officers, a few foreigners, possible tourists, maybe a few homeless. The attack was not prejudice. It took anyone who got in its path.
Afterwards, the War on Terror was declared. Since then thousands of soldiers have been sent to fight this battle, coming back wounded or coming back in a body bag. It is estimated that more than 100,000 soldiers have died. That has far surpassed the number of those killed on 9-11.
These people are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, friends… these people are real people. Yet, their memory is only held alive by those who truly knew them and hold them in their heart. They fought proudly for our country, and they gave everything. Their families, too, made sacrifices.
As we hit the 10 year anniversary of this horrific act, take a moment of silence to think of all your fellow brothers and sisters out there… Your American family. Remember their sacrifices and don’t hesitate to thank them, no matter how big or how little of a part they had in this War on Terror. Together we are stronger. Together we will come back.
Don’t forget about your family and your friends. Take this opportunity to tell them how important they are to you and how much you love them. Treasure those moments and hold on to them tight. Remember to never take for granted tomorrow.
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