A plane was hijacked when I was 34, in 1985, . I happened to be in London. Later an Air India jet exploded in what was determined to be a terrorist attack.
As I was going home the next day via Air India I was a bit nervous, and did the only sane thing a person could do: At breakfast in the hotel coffee shop, polled the patrons about whether or not I should change my reservation. (You would be shocked about how many people can get into a thing like this).
There was a lot of conversation, back and forth, and it was determined that lightening doesn’t strike twice….So I went.
We sat on the plane and sat. Finally I saw men scurrying about. We had to use what I would call a slide to get to the tarmac that had been padded just for us.
We were taken to an isolated area of Heathrow where we weren’t given anything to eat or drink for the first couple of hours. This was good as we weren’t allowed to use the bathrooms. Nor could we use the telephones which angered me. But the British authorities didn’t want the press knowing about this. I was so innocent then I couldn’t see how anybody would use the phone to call anyone but family and/or friends. Finally they gave us soft drinks and some food, and were taken to the bathrooms in groups.
Later we were taken out to the tarmac to identify our luggage. The inspectors opened our packages, and insisted on repackaging them exactly as they had been. One piece of luggage wasn’t claimed, I found out later.
The plane ride home was uneventful. “Uneventful” being the nicest word in the English language. Though it was about four AM, my parents, who weren’t supposed to be there, were waiting for me. I was never so glad to see them. They drove me to my apartment and my father handed me a list of people who had called as I was almost a day late. I was shocked to realize so many people cared enough to track my parents number down. (My mother had thrown in a list of relatives.)
I don’t usually go to Europe twice in a year, actually this was a first and a last, but my parents asked me to go to Europe with them several months later. We drove from Salzburg to Rome. They learned that I was a funny wonderful adult and I learned that they were wonderful. Period.
The Achille Lauro was hijacked, and Leon Klinghoffer, an older Jew in a wheelchair, was singled out and thrown overboard by the ship’s barber and waiter who were forced to do that heinous act. Fortunately his body was discovered.
My family left for the US from Rome. We were told that the plane was going to be late as they waiting for three people. The captain didn’t say we were waiting for two live escorts and a body.
When we arrived at Kennedy we were taken to an isolated area (I was getting used to this) and given a very cursory customs check. We didn’t know that Mayor Koch had decided to have a ceremony honoring Mr. Klinghoffer at the normal gate. Actually that’s when we learned that Mr. Klinghoffer’s body was on the plane.
I went back to Europe a few years later. Nothing newsworthy happened. I thought my curse was over. Ha!
My father died in 1991. On December 7, 1993, I was going to Long Island to visit my mother who lived in a town off the Hicksville station. I had a choice of the 5:33 or the 5:37. It would have usually been a no brainer to me, but I was very tired and almost got on the 5:33. The last stop on the 5:33 was Hicksville; it was the first stop on the 5:37.
I took the 5:37, and even got a seat. I don’t remember the ride being particularly long though it should have been as Colin Ferguson (not the actor) was on the 5:31. He killed six people and injured thirteen more.
Carolyn McCarthy’s husband was one of the people killed and her son was gravely injured. If any good came of this, and I do believe good can come from tragedy but not that everything happens for a reason, it was Carolyn McCarthy who saw her way out of the light through action. Ms. McCarthy became one of the staunchest advocates for gun control. and has been a Congresswoman ever since.
I had no idea what was happening until I got to my mother’s and the phone rang. My best friend’s husband was a cameraman/editor for CNN, and she wanted to know if I was alright. The phone didn’t stop ringing for awhile. I had no idea so many people knew I was going to Long Island. It wasn’t as if we had social media then and even if we had I never discuss my day to day life–unless I’m bored at an airport on the way home.
I wasn’t living in Manhattan then but Riverdale, the Bronx. I remember the night of the first Trade Center bombing very well. I had a dead-on view of the buildings. That night I could see way into Staten Island, and to borrow Jon Stewart’s line, and distort it——I saw something better than The Trade Center——The Statue of Liberty. But I knew that the next day everything would be back to normal.
In 1997 I bought a coop on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was a beautiful apartment in a gorgeous building, and I was proud to live there despite not having room for a dishwasher, and washer/dryer. The dishwasher really didn’t matter as I had ten restaurants on speed dial. But I can’t explain how much I began coveting a washer/dryer. And outdoor space that wasn’t public. And….
But I knew me. I would talk about leaving New York constantly and never ever do anything.
Then came 9/11. I remember waking up late that morning, turning on the radio, and the DJ said “turn on your TV.” Strangely, I thought nothing of that but followed her edict.
I lived five miles uptown from The Trade Center, and for years have been apologizing about that. “Well, smoke came into my apartment but really that was nothing….”
I’m no longer going to apologize. It was the most traumatic event I have ever lived through and I have lived through some zingers. But everyone I knew who was in The Trade Center, and, I knew many people who worked there, survived.
I always thought the miracle of 9/11 was how many people survived, and that the terrorists timing sucked. A few hours later, stores would have been packed, tourists would have been all over the place. It would have been much more of a mess.
9/11 changed everything in my life. Mine!
My mother died suddenly the next month. For years I didn’t know if I was mourning her or buildings. I loved my mother so much. She deserved and deserves my undivided mourning. I’m never at a loss for words, and I don’t know if I ever will be able to explain these feelings properly.
I don’t know if I will ever want to discuss 9/11, the day.
New York became a much pricier, louder, crowded city. Maybe it would have become that anyway but I think it would have taken more time.
I moved from New York, and miss it every damn day. But I know the New York I miss exists only in my imagination and memories. Maybe that happens after you reach 50. Maybe….I don’t know…
I do know that this weekend for the first time I realized that if the attacks had been coordinated as they had been in Paris I might not be here. I know that’s a big if but I think people who lived and/or worked in New York that day have every right to our feelings.
I can’t apologize for relating to the Paris attacks. I wouldn’t have been in Lebanon (most likely) or Syria (definitely). I could have easily been in Paris; many people I care about could have been in Paris. Or now—their children.
And many people, just like you and me, were in Paris this weekend.
Viva La Paree!