Far From Home on 9-11

At a bit before 9 pm, 9 am NY time, I’m just getting home from work in Bangkok. I work for Verizon and we are involved in a joint venture in Thailand. The phone rings and it’s my sister in Michigan telling me to turn on the TV. A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, the city in which we grew up. I’m petrified. My husband, who also works for Verizon, was scheduled to attend a meeting there early today. Our daughter, an Assistant Attorney General, works very near the Twin Towers. I call my husband on his cell. No answer. I call on his office landline – call doesn’t go through. I’m frantic. Can’t reach my daughter either.

Call my son. He’s a medical resident at Inova Hospital in DC. Can’t get through. I watch the TV in horror as the second plane hits. Keep trying to reach US to no avail. When the buildings collapse, I’m sure my husband is dead. Finally, my daughter is able to call me to tell me she’s alive and that her Dad is at his office in Midtown because his meeting at the World Trade Center was cancelled. I breathe a prayer of thanks.

After the Pentagon is hit, I was able to reach our son. “Mom,” he says, his voice trembling, “we’re all outside the hospital waiting to help the injured but all the people they’re bring in are dead.” “Hang in there David!” “There will be folks you can help.” Then we hear about Shanksville and Flight 93. My God! What is happening? Are we at war?

Stay up all night, glued to the TV. Heartbroken. My husband slept in his office for weeks, working on getting communications back up and running. The Stock Market is especially important. He and his team work tirelessly to get it restored. So, so angry as more information is uncovered. I want to go home to my beloved NY and be with my family and friends. I want to donate blood in case they need it. I want to go to Ground Zero and help dig for survivors.

Next day everyone I work with at TelecomAsia comes to see me, to offer condolences and support.

My fellow American ex-pats and I share what little information we have about family and friends. Each of us knows someone who probably died. We’re in shock and frustrated that we’re so far from home and we can’t help. Thai folks are not typically demonstrative or “touchy feely.”

But, at the end of the day, when I’m in the streets on Bangkok, I am so touched and humbled by the show of support for the US. I’m a tall blonde, so obviously not Thai. Complete strangers approach me in the street and ask if I am American. Some ask if I’m from New York. When I tell them I am, many hug me and tell me how sad they are for me and my country. Many times, I am moved to tears and they are, too. It begins to restore my faith in humanity. Next day, 9-13, there is a mass at the cathedral in Bangkok.

My American friends and I get there early so we can get a seat inside.

Luckily, we do but from then, it is standing room only and the crowd spills into the street. Such an outpouring of love and support from Thai folks and people from all over the world who work in Bangkok. It is remarkable and further demonstrates the basic goodness of most people.

I can’t get home yet. All flights are cancelled. It’s agonizing to not be in New York with family support the restoration efforts.

Finally, I am able to book a flight home. I am an immigrant and so grateful to be a citizen and especially happy to have grown up in NYC, the greatest city in the world. One of the things I always remember about flying into NY is the sight of the Twin Towers, a sign of home. This time, there’s nothing and I am devastated. I get on the USA Citizen’s line to go through Customs. The Inspector say’s “Welcome home Dorine.” I start crying and he does, too. My husband is waiting for me and we hug and kiss for a long time. We live in a suburb of NYC but he has booked us a room at the Waldorf in Manhattan so he can show me my beloved City is still there and okay. On our way to Manhattan, I keep looking for the Towers. They were the landmark we always used to know we were getting to the City. Gone. To this day, I look for the Twin Towers when we drive down the West Side Highway towards Manhattan. When we go to Ground Zero, we’re wearing Verizon helmets and show our Verizon IDs, so we’re permitted on the sacred grounds. I am totally disoriented. The devastation is overwhelming. I cannot comprehend what I’m seeing but my husband reassures me that it looks much better now than it did on That Day. It helped a bit to see the progress that was made but the horror of what happened on 9-11 will always be with me. And, it still makes me cry, even as I write this. May we never experience a day like that again. God bless America!

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