Back in time to September 11, 2001

A year after the attacks of September 11 happened, Holly Lisle did a call for an anniversary anthology she published as Together We Stand.  I saw the call, said to myself, “No way.”

At that point, in 2002, I hadn’t even been able to wrap myself around Desert Storm (that happened in 2015).  Yet, the anthology call nagged at me.  I finally sat down and wrote this, which was published in the anthology.

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The world started on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, and it slowly began to peel away like the layers of an onion.

The first layer, the top one, peeled away when the two planes crashed into the Twin Towers. There were murmurings around work as we tried to sort out what was happening. All we had were vague news stories as reports continued to come in. We could not comprehend anything other than it was a terrible accident.

Then the third plane came in. It struck the Pentagon, sixteen miles from my work. We were evacuated to the basement. My boss immediately found each of us and made sure we were all right.

We sat in the basement, waiting, not knowing what was happening, and imagining all kinds of things. After about half an hour, we were told to evacuate the building and go home.

Home for me was in Arlington. Home was about two miles from the Pentagon. I didn’t even know what would be there when I arrived. Or if I would be able to reach it.

I sat on the freeway with thousands of other cars in the sweltering heat. It was not a typical Washington, DC traffic jam. No one cursed. No one honked. No one fussed. We all had a moment of perfect understanding.

On the shoulder next to me, police car after police car raced toward the Pentagon. And when the shoulder ended, we all moved out of the way as one to let a military convoy through. One soldier hopped out of his truck to help direct us.

While I sat in traffic, I continually tried to call my grandmother on my cell phone. Others were doing the same, so the networks were all tied up. Finally I got through. I kept it short: “Tell everyone I’m okay.” She would get the word out to the rest of the family.

Four hours later, I discovered home was still there. As I stood out on the sidewalk, I saw the smoke rising from the Pentagon. The streets were deserted. The atmosphere was subdued.

It stayed that way until Sunday, when the next layer peeled away. I remember it was a beautiful day outside. The sky was bright blue, and the temperature comfortable. I emerged from my shell, and it was suddenly very important that I do something for myself.

I discovered I wasn’t the only one. Everyone in the county of Arlington seemed to wake up at the same time, and step into the sunlight to take in the day. We were cautious, but we weren’t going to hide any longer.

One email from Canada and two from England arrived—friends checking in to see if I was all right. Their emails were short, as were mine. I don’t think any of us were ready to talk too much about it yet.

It was still hard enough just to do normal everyday things. I hadn’t looked at a newspaper since September 12. I knew I wanted to save them, but I simply couldn’t deal with reading them. Instead, I tossed them on the sofa each day.

Another layer peeled away when I was finally able to look at a few of them again.

One day, I opened The Washington Post to discover a list of the people on one of the hijacked flights. I found myself automatically scanning the lists, not expecting to see anyone I knew. Then a name caught my eye and I stopped, staring. Was that who I thought it was? Did I know him?

Yes, I did. I’d met him nearly twenty years ago. I looked at the picture of him in the paper, thinking how different he looked from the man I’d met in California. He looked happier. Now he was dead. Just like that.

I tried not to think about what his last minutes had been like.

My cowriter called me about the novel we were working on. Same book time, same book place? I didn’t need to think about it. I needed to write.

Gradually, we began to distance ourselves from the events of that day. It was a sort of setting aside, a moving on—a necessary part of the process. The layers were now flaking away in bits and pieces.

In August 2002, actor David Hedison was starring in a play on Cape Cod. [ETA: He passed away July 2019.] One of my friends from England flew down so we could both attend his performance. We drove up from Virginia, and as we crossed Rhode Island, we began to see American flags on the overpasses. One had nearly thirty of them, of varying sizes, all carefully arranged.

Seeing that peeled away another layer. We started talking about September 11 and what we had each experienced. You know what? Even though we were an ocean apart, we had gone through the same thing. It happened to the United States, but the whole world felt it.

Was that the final layer? Not yet. I know there will be more.

Letting go of Army Things

I’m still in the process of tackling the black hole of my closet.  I pulled out nearly everything in the closet:

Boxes stacked on the floor, along with presskits, photos, and fanzines.

This is most of it, though there’s a separate pile of books, and a small pile of movie posters in tubes.  The two piles in the back are donations, and electronic discard.

As part of all this clean-up, I decided to give away two items that came from Desert Storm.

The first was a prayer rug that I purchased at the airport while I was waiting to go home on emergency leave.

The reason I’m donating it to the thrift shop is that so much changed since then.  We had September 11, and I was in DC when the Pentagon was hit.  I experienced all of that and was terrified and in shock for two weeks.  Plus the political climate here is just poisonous…it’s just not something I want contaminating me.  And the rug was sitting rolled up in the closet and that’s all it was going to do.

The second thing was a small ceramic Siamese cat.  It was given to me by my best friend going into Desert Storm.  I believe she gave it to me after the war ended.

The war and an event that happened during the war destroyed her.  I watched this bright cheerful friend dip into depression and great anger.  A lot of us–the lower enlisted–tried to help her (leadership appeared disconnected to the problem from our level), but she was stuck.  She was smoking three packs a day and not taking care of herself.  A relationship with a married man finally ended, and she decided to married to a guy she’d known for two weeks–for the reason, “I need a man in my life, and it might as well be him.”  This man gave even the male soldiers the creeps.  Two weeks after she got married, she was divorced.  It was so hard for me to watch, and I found she was dragging me down.  I had to quietly separate myself from her.  She eventually failed the physical training test multiple times by intent and got kicked out.  I have no idea what happened to her.

While I liked the ceramic cat, it also reminded me not of the good times I had with her, but all the bad things when she went downhill.

Sometimes some memories are best left without any reminders.

Losing Track and Finding it Again

It’s hard to believe that when I grew up, I typed a novel on my mother’s manual typewriter.  It was one of those Royal typewriters that you see commonly associated with writers.  I went from that to an electric, to a Heathkit H-89 to a Commodore 64.

This week I’ve been tackling a big project: the paper copies of the stories and non-fiction I wrote.

It’s part of that black hole of my closet that I’m cleaning up.  They’ve been long stuffed into plastic boxes, out of sight in the box, but the box itself always in view.  So it’s a form of clutter.

I pulled everything out and started going through it.  What did I already have in digital form…yeah, somehow I had printed versions of the stories and digital versions.  In some cases, I had multiple copies of revisions printed and stored.  And for some stories, they were either before Microsoft Word or, for whatever, reason, I only have the paper version.

It was just easy to lose track of what I had because it was in a file folder.   There’s a long history of everyone struggling with forms of the data, for as long as we’ve had data.

My grandmother was in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.  The film was shot out where she lived in Northern California.  Assuming her memory is correct for the title, this is likely the film.  She would have been two at the time.  She tried to find the film in later years, but it no longer exists.  A lot of those films were done on nitrate, and then put into storage once the studio went onto the next release.  By the time places like UCLA got in there to transfer to safety film, the reels had disintegrated.  Or caught fire, since nitrate film was pretty flammable.

Then there’s Motown.  When I was doing temp work in Los Angeles—my Google-fu tells me it was probably 1983 or 1984—I got a job documenting inventory for Motown. They were being sold, so we had to inventory all their music.  They gave us stacks of music reels, which were about the size of pizzas.  We would open the boxes up see what was written on the reels, and then type that on the inventory.  Massive inventory, and they had no idea what they had.

But what I’m doing now is kind of fun and nostalgic to look it.  It’s my life at the time, and where I was at as writer.  It’s also some of the things I liked. There’s an article I write—might post it here if anyone is interested—on meeting William Windom in 1997.  It was for an anthology call that never happened.  But I enjoyed writing it, and I enjoyed meeting him.  I have photos, but those are in another box I haven’t cracked open yet.

It was at Starcon, which was the big gathering of actors at that time. I believe it was over 100.  Most notably, it was the only gathering of most of the actors from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (Allan Hunt, Del Monroe, and Terry Becker.  Bob Dowdell turned it down, and David Hedison was unavailable.  Richard Basehart had passed away).

It was early in the day, and I was just roaming the aisles to see who was there.  He flagged me over, and guess what we chatted about?

We were both veterans!

Very cool.