Thursday, September 10, 2009

Eight years

Eight years ago, at just about this time of the afternoon, I was standing in a jail dormitory, conducting a count. I was a shift Lieutenant at the parish jail, relieving my good friend and co-worker, so he could go home and get some sleep. It was a Monday night and he'd be there to relieve me at about 4:30 the next morning. The night wasn't particularly memorable. Counts, feeding, rounds, in-processing, the standard night shift. I don't believe that I released anyone that night.

I wasn't married, although I had met the woman who would later become my wife. My parents were on a well-deserved vacation to see the American West. This was supposed to be the last night of their trip. They'd get on a plane the next morning.

After the shift was over, I went home, kicked off my boots and took a shower. Fell into bed about six a.m. At about 8:00 a.m. the phone rang. A good friend was telling me to turn on the TV. Yeah, right. I hung up the phone and rolled over. Five minutes later the phone rang again. "Get your sorry butt out of bed and turn on the television. We're under attack!" I got up, turned on the TV and made coffee.

My parents did get on the plane that morning, but they were ordered off. All the air traffic in the United States had been canceled.

I was sitting on the couch, groggily wondering what was going on, watching the first tower burn, when I saw what was later identified as UA Flight 175 crash into the second tower. I sat straight up on the couch. I knew that we were at war.

My little house on Bayou Derbonne, in southern Natchitoches Parish was under the airways of a half-dozen airports. On a normal morning it was common to go outside and see a dozen contrails crossing the sky. Between commentaries, I'd step outside and look at the sky. Nothing. It had been years since I had seen the sky totally devoid of air traffic.

Sometime that morning, I got a call from my sister. My parents were stranded in Las Vegas. She was distraught, until I reminded her that Vegas has hotels and restaurants and if you're going to be stranded anywhere, Vegas isn't a bad choice. They got home a week later.

In the interim, I've changed jobs twice, moved twice, and gotten married. My life is a lot better than the folks who were caught in those towers that fateful morning.

I remember. I'm grateful.

It's been eight years.

1 comment:

Rivrdog said...

I heard something about a fire in NYC on my way out of the house to catch the interurban to the Courthouse, where I worked. Nothing amiss on the 45-minute ride downtown.

I get to work and the oncoming shift deputies are all huddled around the TV. One, a retired Major from the USAF like me, clues me in quickly. I go up to the Captain's office and clue her in. She decides to ask the Presiding Judge to cancel court. He refuses.

She calls me back in and says, "Deputy, You've been to war and led in combat, and I haven't. Get this building ready for whatever happens." I was in charge of a building with 200+ workers, 40+ judges, and I had 14 deputies with sidearms and two shotguns.

I first cleared the cars from around the building, then posted two men at each of the three entrances, then set a perimeter patrol. I was outside with the patrol when the first 2 F-15s from the OR Air Guard came by low, with full missile complement, screaming down the valley at 500 feet on afterburner. THAT was eerie, and I had a bad feeling that a missile/plane was inbound, but it didn't happen.

The long day was over at 5pm, and I didn't take off my uniform, but got on the interurban car and stood with my back to the motorman's door the whole way home.

If I was struck blind and never saw another face in my life, I saw dozens of people that day, in that train car, who could do nothing but look at me, and my uniform, and my weapons on my duty belt and I could see that they were all thanking God that I was there.

At the end of the run where I got off, the oncoming relief motorman told me that all during my ride, almost no one got into the second car on the way out of town, they all rode in the head-in car where I was.

For the next year, I wore my full kit both ways, every work day.