Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11, 2001

I will never forget where I was five years ago today.

It was slightly after 9 a.m. I was at work, sitting at my desk when someone said, “A plane hit the World Trade Center.”

I dismissed it. Thought it was a joke. Then my co-workers in the office next to mine turned on the radio. I thought it was a small prop plane.

Wrong.

We sat listening in horror. Then we turned to the Internet.

The World Trade Center was on fire.

No one could work. Five of us ended up in an office that had a TV. We sat in the darkened room, watching the fuzzy reception.

We watched, horrified, as the news replayed the second plane hitting Tower 2. We watched, dumbstruck, as Tower 2 crumbled. We watched footage of the Pentagon after it was struck. I remember distinctly thinking, “OMG, this is like the end of the world, nothing will ever be the same again.”

We watched chilling footage of people trapped in Tower 1, waving white sheets, desperate for rescue that would never come. We watched the jumpers falling down, rather than remaining amid the smoky inferno.

I remember my friend, Gina, saying that just last week, she’d been in the towers, on the observation deck. Her trip to NY to visit relatives included a little sight-seeing.

One week later, they were attacked.

For weeks after September 11, I would lie in bed at night, wondering how anyone could hate so much. I’d cringe when a plane would fly too low overhead. DH, who had his private pilot’s license, quit flying that day. He hasn’t flown a plane since.

A few weeks earlier, I had just finished the first draft of a book I loved. It was an historical called The Falcon & the Dove and had an Egyptian hero. I figured I’d never sell the book after the attacks. I set it aside and began working on a Colonial to pour out my emotions. The book, featured an American Patriot spy in pre-Revoluntionary War Williamsburg. It never sold.

The Falcon & the Dove did. It was my first published book. How ironic life is.

After September 11, information trickled out about the hijackers. And I got chilled anew.

They were here, in my backyard, my hometown. I could have passed them by, literally, and never have known.

Deerfield Beach is a lovely, middle-class city of about 60,000 people. DH and I met here, at a church group, where we played volleyball on the beach. We were married at the same church 11 years ago, and when we bought a home, decided to settle in Deerfield Beach. It had a small-town feel about it that Fort Lauderdale lacks. Boca was too snobby for us, Pompano too meh, and we loved the neighborhood where we bought our house.

We enjoyed walking in the evening on the sidewalk bordering Deerfield Beach’s beach. It’s very charming, where seniors sit in lounge chairs and play swing tunes on their radios as they gossip, joggers huff by and tourists push strollers. The sidewalk is a walking path that takes you straight down to the big bend, where the Embassy Suites is, past little mom and pop motels like the Crystal Cay. As you come off the bridge on Hillsboro, there were a cluster of small motels where you could rent rooms for as little as $45 a night off season. One of them was the Panther Motel.

It was the Panther Motel where Marwan al-Shehhi checked in August 26 with a group of men. He checked out Sunday, September 9.

On September 11, Marwan al-Shehhi flew Flight 175 into the South Tower.

On September 9, the motel’s owner found a bag they’d left in the trash. It contained flight manuals and airport listings. An employee later found a box cutter.

Al-Shehhi took three others to the Crystal Cay Motel, just down the street from the Panther Motel. One of the news reports I read interviewed a bystander who used to sit outside his efficiency, watching the world go by. He watched al-Shehhi drive the three men back and forth. One time they returned from grocery shopping and their neighbor noted they had a box of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes.

They probably bought groceries at the same Publix where my FIL shops. Drove down my streets. Maybe even walked my beach. They blended. And yet inside, they were boiling with hate for us.

I believe that the seeds of hatred come in any form, and any kind of religion can twist such fanatics into ugly vessels of destruction. Muslim, Jew, Christian, it doesn’t matter. I once worked with a man who proudly professed his Christian faith…and in the same breath would ramble on about the true Aryan race. He kept a book about Hitler, his hero, in his desk. He hated. Deeply.

I don’t know what happened to that guy. The world knows what happened to al-Shehhi and the others.

You can’t stay at the Panther motel anymore, in the room where al-Shehhi and the others spent their last days plotting, waiting, and hating Americans so much they were willing to toss away their lives to kill innocents. It’s gone, just as the World Trade Center is gone. In its place are high rise condos. DH and I don’t like them, for they’ve forever changed the landscape of our pretty little beach area.

Some things in life are forever changed. And will never be the same again.

Friday, the highway patrol stopped a flatbed truck headed north on I-95, in Deerfield Beach, my small, cozy hometown. Suspicious cargo. News helicopters swirled overhead. A camouflage tarp was thrown back, exposing what looked like torpedoes.

What were they?

Pontoons for a boat.

The world has changed. And it will never be the same, ever again.

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