Knuckles whiten with each shudder of the airplane, as it knifes through the sky, descending rapidly. Snatches of the pilot's announcement are heard above the din of concerned conversation, "told to put down...Atlanta...." We are supposed to be heading to Florida, why are we stopping in Atlanta, and why so fast?
We waste no time taxiing to a gate, planes are lining up to land, one after another. No answers are offered as we are asked to disembark. Stepping into the terminal, everyone is staring at the television. Following their gaze I watch as a plane flies into the side of a very large building. now I am standing and watching in silence like everyone else. towers fall and the screen goes black, all of the screens in the terminal are black.
Fumbling my cell phone out of my pocket, I try to call my wife, but the call will not go through. People keep pouring out of terminal doors, crowding the halls, all the chairs are quickly taken and people begin slumping against walls, in small groups, trying to get word to loved ones, to find out what is happening outside of the airport. When anyone gets through, word is quickly passed, some true, some exaggerated (as we would find out later), all of it scary.
Baggage begins to back up on conveyors, so several of us begin stacking it in endless piles, strangers bonded together by something to do, something to feel like we are helping, and not helpless and stuck on the island that the airport has become. Someone says the pentagon has been hit, somewhere in Pennsylvania as well. Luggage keeps coming, we keep stacking.
Taking a break, we gather together, eating chicken sandwiches, someone got from one of the stores in the terminal. Police are setting barricades outside the glass doors. There are bodies everywhere, some crying, some sleeping, some praying, many just staring through empty eyes. What does this mean? What is happening? How many are dead? Did I know any of them? Questions, all we have is questions. It has been hours since we were put down here, since we were cut off from the outside world.
My phone rings, my secretary somehow gets through, she has a car waiting for me at one of the rental companies, a hotel room an hour away in Columbus, GA. She will call my wife and let her know I am okay. I still have no luggage, and figure I will stop at a Walmart. Receiving the keys to the rental car, I make my way back through the lobby, asking my new friends if any of them are heading the same direction, saying goodbye.
As I am about to walk out into the evening, the nose of my green suitcase pokes up the conveyor from below, and I smile at small graces. There are tanks in the streets, fear thick in the air. In just a few hours, everything has changed.
I finally speak to my wife and we cry together, in relief, for what has been lost, for those that have been lost. Reaching the hotel, I lay on the bed with the television on, listening to news and press conferences, and somehow find sleep, not knowing what tomorrow may bring.
I wrote something similar a couple years ago, some of you may remember it. It is a day, I will never forget.