Many people today are sharing their remembrances of 9/11/01, so I thought I would do the same, since my story is a bit different.
You see, my sister and I were in Prague when the towers came down and the planes crashed.
My grandfather (a native Czech) had just had eye surgery, and Michelle and I joined him in Prague to visit him and his family, care for his eyes, and explore the city we had fallen in love with just a couple of years before during our first trip there.
Michelle and I had spent that entire September day out, wandering up "on the hill" by the Strahov Monastery (and inside, as well), soaking in the gorgeous views because Prague truly is like a fairy tale city...
And it wasn't until the evening, when we were on the trolley home that an American overheard our accents, and told us a plane had hit one of the twin towers (which I had only seen for the first time a few days before as we flew into JFK before continuing on to Prague). We assumed a little byplane way off course, until she told us firefighters and EMTs were dying as they rescued people...she was visibly upset, and trying to get to a friend's house to phone America, because NOTHING was getting through.
We didn't know much at all, nor did she, just that it was...bad.
I remember us rushing back to the flat, all the time thinking "who would do this to us?!", and then...flipping on CNN. As night fell in Prague (think of the time difference), it was a bright morning in New York, and we sat, unable to look away for hours...and then days...
We didn't leave the flat, we didn't leave CNN, and when we did go out, Michelle and I desperately listened for English, for American voices. We went and sat in the quiet of St. Nicholas Church (my favorite in Prague, save St. Vitus), and then went to the American Embassy - just to see if we could find other Americans. We didn't go in, but when we arrived the street was so full of flowers and weeping Czechs, that we couldn't help but cry too. The Czechs were so compassionate and kind, but all we wanted to hear were American voices...
And to be able to talk to our families.
Because of the phone lines and the transatlantic nature of our trip, we didn't get to speak to family and friends FOR DAYS. We were trapped for days. We were cut off from America entirely for days, clinging only to CNN...
We went to Karlovy Vary - an amazing spa town that you've seen featured in many famous movies - but I became frightfully ill. Sicker than I've ever been - the flu, maybe, or a bad cold, but I somehow think it was illness exacerbated by the horror of what we were unable to stop watching.
On the day of our flight, we went to the airport 10 hours early - it was the first day that New York flights were running again. We stood in line for so, so long. We hoped to make the flight. We had every single piece of clothing, toiletries, everything, searched for safety. Everyone watched everyone else suspiciously on the flight home, eyes flicking to the side anytime anyone would get up to go the restroom or shifted in their seat. It was the quietest, eeriest flight I can ever remember.
And was the only flight I've ever been on where people clapped and cheered as we touched down, and also the only one where we were escorted in by a fighter jet.
And then we reached JFK airport, which was brimming with people and hysteria and long overdue flights and even longer queues.
We ran (ran!) to make our Cincinnati flight after flying through customs, which we made, despite being hours later, and then touched down, back in the Midwest, glad we hadn't had to rent a car, catch a train, hitch a ride...all scenarios we were imagining if we couldn't get out of JFK - a real possibility with the delays and the packed flights.
We were NOT spending one more day or night away from home. We would have gone to any lengths to find a way.
I remember walking down the airport tunnel in Cincinnati, and then seeing Don (my bro-in-law) standing waiting for us, and all three of us running together, sobbing, sobbing, sobbing...I still cry today when I think of the utter relief, exhaustion, fear and disconnectedness that had dogged Michelle and I for more than a week before we finally reached Don, and home.
When I think of 9/11, I still feel that disconnect that we felt then - something about being out of the country, connected to everyone we loved and every horror only through the TV - that makes me feel apart from it.
I'm grateful Michelle and I were together. I'm grateful to the gracious Czechs who were so sympathetic. I'm grateful we made it home safely on the first flight back. I'm grateful for CNN.
And I'm grateful that today, I can be sad and remember, but back home in America.
That trip changed me - forever.