by Elle Pines
This is a story about several levels of impact of events and love and forgivenes.
Candice Hunter heard about the first plane that hit one of the twin towers of the World Trade center from Jeff and Flash, those crazy radio deejays on Cleveland’s favorite rock station’s buzzard morning zoo show while she was in her car. The first plane was reported as some kind of freak accident; something gone terribly wrong. After 10 minutes, the surprised and frantic report came that a second plane hit the other twin tower. As she heard the play by play of what was happening, she thought it must be some kind of radio prank at first. However, as the reporting went on, she soon realized it was serious. The words “America is under attack” sent chills through her whole body.
She was heading into the office later than usual that day due to the issues with Abby at school. It was a little after 9 am that Tuesday morning as she was exiting the freeway at the East 9th street downtown exit and her first instinct was to turn around and get back on the highway, go home and let Jessie hold her. Then she remembered. Jessie is gone.
She parked in the parking garage, hurried up the escalators and into the office of her small accounting firm as quick as she could. She needed to hear what was happening from real live familiar people. She joined the handful of people gathered in her supervisor Mike’s office watching CNN on his computer. He looked up at her solemnly, and she quietly said “I heard”. Everyone in the entire office was uncannily quiet, stunned, not working, just waiting. For what, nobody knew.
Minutes later the fire alarm went off and everyone proceeded to exit just like they did for dozens of fire drills. However the big difference was this was not a drill. Candice had goose bumps and a nervous feeling in her stomach as she followed the masses down the 5 flights of steps in the emergency exit stairwell. Everyone gathered outside, and appointed floor marshals walked around and accounted for their charges. The chatter among folks now was much louder as everyone tried to rationalize what was going on:
“What the hell is going on?”
“Why did they evacuate us, is something happening here?”
“Who did this?”
“Had to be terrorists.”
“What else is going to happen?”
“I heard all planes were grounded”
“My cell phone isn’t working.”
“Neither is mine.”
About 9:40, one lonely plane went across the sky of downtown Cleveland heading east. Conversations stopped and everyone stared in silence. They would all learn later that it was flight 93 that crashed near Shanksville, PA.
Candice tried her phone, no signal. She wanted to give her Dad a call to let her know she was alright. She really wanted to call Abby’s school too. Christy made her way through the crowd over to Candice and gave her a hug.
“Oh my God what is happening?” Christy sobbed into her shoulder.
Candice just hugged her tight, “I don’t know. This is so bad.”
Bert, the floor marshal for the 5th floor came by and announced that he just heard from the building manager that the mayor is evacuating the city. Everyone must leave except key city personnel and nobody was allowed to reenter the building.
“Oh shoot”, exclaimed Pam who sits across from Candice in the office. “I left my purse with my car keys at my desk”.
“Sorry”, said Bert, “no exceptions”.
Candice overheard and offered to give Pam a lift. Pam lives in Parma, just one suburb away from Candice’s home in Middleburgh Hts. Figuring the buses were going to be a nightmare, she offered Christy a ride too to where she parks her car at the park and ride in Strongsville. Candice was happy for the company of both of them for the strange commute ahead.
The 3 ladies made their way to Candice’s Ford Focus parked in the garage attached to the office building. As soon as they got down the escalator into the garage, it was apparent it was going to take a while to drive out of the garage. Cars were already wrapped around the rows in lines formed to wait their turn to get through one of the 3 exit gates. The line of cars in the row that Candice parked in was blocking her ability to pull out, but luckily someone in a minivan was nice enough to let her out and into the line. Since it looked like it was going to be awhile to make their way to one of the gates, Candice switched on the radio. What they heard made all 3 ladies’ jaws drop. It was about 20 after 10, and they were hearing a report that the 2nd tower to be hit, the south tower, had collapsed about 20 minutes ago.
“Oh Dear Lord” exclaimed Pam.
“Oh my gosh, all the people that must have been in that building!” exclaimed Christy
“Wait Shh Shh”. Candice turned up the radio as the reporter gave live up to the minute coverage of the north tower spearing strait down.
The ladies were silent and teary eyed as they listened to the continued coverage while they made their way slowly to the gate leading to East 9th street.
About an hour later, they were finally out of the parking lot. Then the next hurdle was inching through the traffic to get on the freeway. Traffic was at a crawl. Even with traffic cops on foot trying to keep things moving regardless of traffic lights, it took another hour to get just near the freeway.
The freeway looked impossible. You could see cars just stopped for as far as you could see. Pam suggested they try the back roads through Tremont, and then make their way to Pearl Rd. which will take you all the way to the suburbs they were heading to. Candice made her way to the right lane to head in that direction. Things moved a little better, and in about 20 minutes they were at least out the main downtown area and in the inner city neighborhood of Tremont. There was still traffic but it was moving at least 10 to 15 miles per hour most of the time with some stop and go.
Candice had to ask, “Pam, my goodness, why didn’t you grab your purse?”
“Well you’re supposed to leave as quickly as possible and not gather your belonging when the emergency alarm goes off. In all my 25 years, I never stopped and grabbed my purse during fire drills.”
“Are you going to be able to get into your house?”
“Yeah, Sarah’s home today. She’s working on her college admittance application for January.”
Christy took the conversation back to the purse, “that’s one procedure I could never follow, my purse goes everywhere with me. My keys I could deal with, but if I got separated from my make up and credit cards I think I’d have a panic attack.”
Candice chuckled a little, appreciating her friend’s attempt to lighten things up. It took her thoughts for a fleeting moment to trying to remember if she even put makeup on that day. It was definitely not as high of a priority to her as it was to her best friend.
As they continued to make their way through the neighborhood streets, they listened to more news learning about the dreadful explanations about what happened. They learned there were passengers in those planes, and the Pentagon was attacked as well. They also heard about the plight of flight 93. They also started to hear about some of the aftermath in New York City. The black smoke rolling down the streets, the people not accounted for yet in the World Trade Center.
The cell phones were still not working, and as 1:00 in the afternoon approached Candice was getting very anxious about what was going on at Abby’s school. Are they expecting the kids to be picked up? What are they telling the children about the events? When they reached Fulton Avenue, she spotted a drive up pay phone at the edge of the parking lot of a gas station and convenience store. She pulled up and called the school. Busy. She called again, Busy. She kept trying, as if she was trying to win a radio station contest. She finally got through and the office picked up. She was relieved to hear that they planned to keep the children in class until the end of the school day and they will still have after school care available. They anticipated a lot of parents were having difficulties getting there. They couldn’t tell her specifics about the communication to the children but assured her that each class would handle in an age appropriate way. Candice felt somewhat relieved, just knowing that things at the school were not total chaos. But she still had the gut wrenching worry about what was going on in little Abby’s mind about the situation. Age appropriate won’t cut it for Abby right now. The only comfort she could take is that she just talked to Mrs. Healy that morning, so she is very aware of the anxiety Abby has right now. It was a good conversation, and Mrs. Healy did seem genuine in her interest in helping Abby work through this. They even talked very candidly about counseling, since her anxiety seemed to have really escalated in the few weeks now since school started, and Mrs. Healy offered some very good recommendations other than the school counselor. Candice left the meeting feeling good about a plan to take some proactive steps to help Abby and couldn’t wait to get started. Now, she can’t wait to hold her little girl in her arms and tell her it’s OK, Mommy’s here.
She called her parents next, and got the answering machine. Her father carries a cell phone, not that it would do any good right now. Her mother refuses to even carry a cell, but they are always together since they both retired just few years ago. They shop together; go to lunch together, even run errands together. Dad even waits in the salon while Mom gets her hair done. And it’s not that either of them feel dependent on the other, they just literally enjoy each other’s company. Candice can’t imagine where they would be this afternoon in the wake of this news, but she left a message saying she’s ok, making her way home and, and that she has Pam and Christy in the car with her. She knows her Mom will find comfort in knowing she’s not all by herself. Pam made a quick call to Sarah. Christy tried her husband Todd on his cell to no avail, so left a message on her own answering machine at home. She also called her parents. Once the phone calls were done, they got back into the traffic to make their way to Parma.
Candice turned down the volume on the radio, just leaving it loud enough to hear any local alerts or God forbid any additional incidents. She felt so numb from all the horrible news, and couldn’t even process it all and at the same time keep her worry for Abby in check. Christy broke the silence, providing somewhat the perfect distraction. She asked if Candice heard from Jess lately.
Christy was there for the beginning of Candice’s life chapter with Jess. The summer they started at the accounting firm, the popular thing to do on Fridays after work was head down to the flats for happy hour. The flats are an older part of the city along the lower lands along the Cuyahoga River, an old industrial area turned into trendy bars and restaurants. They met Jess at Fagan’s, a very large open club that was the perfect venue for local bands. Jess was the lead singer in an alternative rock band called The Stand. Candice can still remember how Christy flirted profusely with the entire band, dragging Candice as close as possible to the stage to dance. Of course the singer is the focal point, so Candice had no choice but to study the scruffy but cute lead singer. His black hair was long but wavy and stylish. He had on a flannel shirt and ripped jeans, but obviously freshly laundered, no grease monkey stains or anything like that. He didn’t have a shirt on under his flannel shirt; it was summer after all, so she could see the corners of a tattoo on his muscular chest peaking out. He was not the kind of guy that Candice dated ever, not in high school, not in college. He was definitely more Christy’s type. However, at some point during the band’s performance of Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box”, Candice and Jess locked eyes and it changed the course of both their lives for ever. OK correction, it changed Candice’s life. Jess is still doing whatever he would have been doing whether he crossed paths with her or not somewhere in Seattle.
Candice brought herself out of the memory and addressed Christy’s question. “He called 2 weeks ago. He said the band is working their way through Seattle for a few more months then thinking about going to Oregon for a while. They are making decent money, so he’s been sending me a little to help out.”
“Well that’s noble of him” responded Christy, with some sarcasm.
After a pause, Candice went on. “You know what bugs me, he asks about her, but never asks to speak to her. He seems to make it a point to call when she would be sleeping, or he’ll call me at work. It just breaks my heart. When I start going into the problems she’s having, all of a sudden he has to go”.
Pam offered some words of wisdom, “you can’t fix him honey; all you can do is take care of that little girl. Be there for her, he doesn’t know how to. So how did the teacher meeting to?”
Candice spent the next half hour or so talking about the teacher conference that morning.
Mrs. Healy sent a note home the day before asking Candice to meet early that morning for a brief conference. Abby has been having difficulties since Jess left 6 months ago. She is very anxious, worrying about many things a 6 year old shouldn’t worry about or not at least to the level she takes it. She worries about germs, homework to excess, will the big dog that lives a street away from their condo jump over the fence and come get her, will her teeth come loose at night and be accidentally swallowed, will the bad guy on the news that the police are looking for come find her and Mommy (which due to those worries, Candice recently resorted to waiting until 11:00 pm to catch the news). Since the new school year has started, Monday’s are particularly hard for Abby. After letting her guard down a bit and starting to feel more relaxed on the weekend, she has a very hard time adjusting back to the school day routine. On Monday of this particular week, Abby had a little temper tantrum in the morning refusing to participate in group circle time focusing on reading. Then after lunch, she insisted she wear her light jacket and keep her book bag at her desk (instead of keeping both on the hook in the hallway) so that she’s ready for Mommy. Because of what Jess did, it’s no surprise that the biggest fear Abby has is what if Mommy doesn’t come and get her at the end of the day.
It felt good to talk about Abby with them, and it was a great way to pass some of the driving time. Before she knew it, she was at Pam’s house. She stepped out of the car long enough to give Pam a big hug, and give a wave to Sarah who she noticed stepped onto the front porch. She’s such a sweet girl, Candice thought. Maybe it’s fate that she decided to wait another semester before starting at Ohio University. In the wake of things that happened today, Candice is very glad she is there at home for Pam.
After they left Pam’s, Christy suggested they pick up Abby now since they pass the school on the way to Strongsville. “I know you will feel worlds better when you can touch and feel her. Plus I haven’t seen the little button in a while”. Candice noticed it was nearly 3, about the time regular school lets out, so she jumped at the opportunity.