5,100 Miles Too Far Away
(My family is from San Felipe, Chile and after high school, I went back to go to college and get a degree in Engineering. My mom stayed in the US to work and provide for my education.)
I was walking towards the center of San Felipe. I saw people running into the stores. I didn't think much of it although it seemed a bit weird though, Chileans don't rush... for anything.
I was headed for the bank where my sister-in-law worked. The bank manager was at the front desk, saw me and practically hurdled over clients to get to me and said: "I'm so sorry. If there's anything you need... "What are you talking about?!" I responded with all fear and not knowing what was going on. "You haven't heard or seen?" "Heard what? Seen what? I walked here from home." And he turned around to show me the TV they put on the counter. My knees buckled, and all my lungs permitted me to say was "Mom!" At that moment my sister-in-law realized that I was there, ran to me and we cried, holding each other. "I need a phone... NOW!" I don't remember who or how but in seconds I had a landline phone in my hand and it was ringing. And it rang, forever.
The desperation of the unknown has no words or measure. All I needed was to hear my mother's voice on the other end. I had no concept of time and I no longer knew where I was. My focus was dialing her number over and over again. And then... All communication died. My calls no longer went through and all I got was a recording advising to hang up and try again later.
This was a time when cell phones were just coming out in Chile. Social media didn't even exist, and email was still in diapers. This landline phone in my hands was MY only conduit to achieve any type of communication to my mother. There was no way I was leaving or anyone taking it away from me. And everyone knew this.
It was well past noon (maybe 1pm; like I said, I had no knowledge of time and space then so today I cannot tell you with certainty), I was exhausted from stress, crying and emptiness. People from all corners of the town who knew my family, and especially my mom, came to the bank to know of any updates. I had none to give them. My sister-in-law dialed again (her boss hours ago, relieved her of all duties and told her not to leave my side), I looked up at her, as I did hundreds of times already that day, held my breath and waited. Her eyes sprung wide open. "Olivia??!!" I blacked out. I don't remember much but I surely remember hearing the sweet, heavenly, soul quenching sound of her voice saying: "My love, I am ok."
My mom lived and worked only five minutes from Logan Airport when 9/11 happened. She had gotten out of work and was just passing through the Callahan tunnel when the first tower got hit.
As she got closer to home, she heard sirens in the background. Unaware of what was occurring one state away and what had happened not even ten minutes earlier at the airport, she entered the house, turned on the television and started to prepare herself breakfast (my mom is a retired NA and worked the night shift for 20 years).
She recalls that her regular show wasn't on and the news was on every channel. She still hadn't connected the dots. Until she heard a deafening sound outside the house. A siren she said she recognized immediately.
As I briefly mentioned at the beginning, we are from Chile. Chile was under the dictator regime for 25 years. One of the characteristics of living in dictatorship is being under constant vigilance and military order. There are strict curfews, limited permissions and lots and lots of sirens. The second you hear a siren, you run home if you're outside, you hide if you're indoors and you pray that the siren isn't for you or any of your loved ones.
The siren outside my mom's door on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 at approximately 09:03 hrs, was one she feared immediately.
She didn't run outside. She stood motionless in the middle of the living room and stared into the TV screen and for the first time she realized what had happened and what was going on that very minute. She slowly moved towards the phone (her passed memories freezing her to move any faster), picked up the receiver and heard no tone.
Blue lights shown through her windows and she froze once again. Confused on what to do: Does she go outside to find out what is going on, or does she do what her experience has taught her, to wait until she is told what to do?
She chose the latter. And waited. And waited.
She didn't want to sleep for fear of missing any directions of evacuation, another attack or even worse... a bombing. But between being awake for nearly 24 hours, tired from working a long shift and her nerves being shot, she drifted in and out of sleep on the couch.
A sudden and loud bang woke and, in one long jump, ended up in the kitchen. It was someone knocking at the front door. "Yes?"¬Ě she screamed still in the kitchen. "It's me, John. Are you ok?"¬Ě The neighbor. Checking in on my mom. She opened the door and the sight of a familiar face calmed her.
They talked for a few minutes and just as she was closing the door... her phone rang.
As I began to take a sip from my glass of water, I counted my blessings. Never take anything in this life for granted, not even something as simple and as pure as the water you drink. You never know when you won't have that luxury ever again.
Gaby (story excerpt)