Alan Jackson's Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning) was playing on the radio this morning.
911: September 11, 2001.
I know exactly where I was: at home, in the living room, waiting for my grand-daughter Shelley to finish getting dressed. The television had been on while we had eaten breakfast. That had been a solemn affair as we digested our bran flakes along with the phone call the night before.
We had been putting new line on Shelley's reel in anticipation of September's usually fine fishing. She was reeling across from me while I was sitting in my chair holding a pencil stuck through the spool, feeding line out to her. The phone rang. Since I have hearing problems, I keep the volume settings high. Shelley listened as the police officer ... regretted to inform....as next of kin...had been found dead...alcohol...pills...but appeared to be natural causes...there would be an autopsy... had died at home...Shelley's fishing line lay pooled and tangled at the foot of the couch, where she had dropped it the evening before as she ran to her room.
This was my daughter who had died, but my own grief was secondary to Shelley's pain. Her mother had been trying for years to quit drinking with no success: the demons that drove her, I had realized too late, were in part my doing. I had provided the material things for my child; unforunately, I had been too wrapped up in myself to be the father I should have been. I failed to give my child the tools she needed to cope with life and had barely seen my daughter after she married David after her eighteenth birthday and moved out west.
If it had not been for David, Shelley's father, I might have lost contact with my grand-daughter, too. David made sure Shelley spent many weeks of her childhood in Ontario. He worked at long-haul truck driving and would give me a call when he was heading this way. I generally met him somewhere, and would keep Shelley until the call came and she went home again. By the time she was seven and her father was killed driving his rig near Toronto, I had a fair idea David had been sending my grand-daughter to me whenever her mother's drinking was getting out of hand.
After David's death, I only saw Shelley during her summer holidays. As long as I covered the travel expenses, I was welcome to Shelley for eight weeks. It was no financial hardship for me, but I kick myself now to think how things might have been if I had been more involved with Shelley the other ten months of the year. As it turned out, by the time she was fourteen, Shelley came to live with me permanently. And now her mother was dead.
As I reached over to shut off the television, the sight of the two towers stopped me in my tracks. There was smoke coming out of one of them and when I turned up the volume, the reporter was saying a passenger plane had just crashed into the tower. I quickly shut off the set as Shelley joined me. There was no way I was going to share that bit of news with her as we headed up to the city to make her mother's funeral arrangements.
Once on the highway, I pulled in at the Trading Post for gas. Shelley got out and went into the restaurant for a coffee and hot chocolate to go, while I pumped and paid for the gas. Finished with gassing up, I was surprised when she still wasn't done in the restaurant. There weren't many cars in the lot: tourist season was past its peak. Pulling my truck out of the gas bay I parked, just as Shelley appeared at the door waving me to join her.
That morning there were a dozen or so people in the restaurant; mostly travellers lingering over their breakfast coffee. Shelley simply pointed to the television. I listened to a reporter's shaken voice saying a second plane had crashed into the World Trade Center's other tower. Then the now famous video clip of the moment of impact rolled on. Shelley and I walked outside into the sunshine, got in the truck and sat there, holding hands, crying tears of our shared and personal grief.
Where were you?