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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11th, 2001: When America (and my family) changed forever.

 I remember it well. My daughter, who was about to turn 5, and I were having breakfast while watching Quebec's only morning show, ''Salut Bonjour''. She was having her favorite, french toasts, and I was still on my first cup of coffee and my peanut butter toasts.

All of a sudden, they cut to an image of a smoking high rise. I remember thinking ''Well, somebody started the Towering Inferno movie a little early''. It was a little after 8:45am. There were no spoken reporting, no sound, just the harrowing sight of a burning skyscraper, reflecting on the water, filmed from New Jersey.

My daughter asked what was that. I really had no answer to give her, so I said there was a big fire. She was kinda quiet, maybe realizing that in a tall building like that, many people were bound to be there.

 It's now 8:55am, and journalists were still saying it looked like it was an accident. I was getting dressed to take Michelle, my daughter, to the babysitter for the day, all the while watching the very preliminary reports on the news, when shortly after 9:05 am, we saw the second plane hit live. I sat down, in disbelief. For the first time in my life, I was scared by something I knew was happening just a stone's throw away from Montreal. REAL SCARED.

Reports started flooding the news about many planes missing, and the word TERRORIST came on the air like a ton of brick.

There was NO WAY I was letting my daughter go anywhere that day. I told her that I forgot that the babysitter was closed that day, and that daddy was staying with her. I called my ex, Michelle's mom, who works in a high rise in downtown  Montreal, to let her know what was happening and to ask her to leave work RIGHT AWAY and go home, or come to my place, but to get the hell away from any tall buildings. She showed up at my place an hour later, to my great relief.

After calling her, I got on the net while looking at the news on tv. Michelle went to play in her room for a little while but sensed something was up. She asked questions about planes, because we we're going to Disney World that next winter, and I could see she was scared. She saw the second plane hit at the same time I did, and I guess I had a bewildered look on my face, because she asked me if I was scared too. I was. VERY SCARED.

Gathering my thoughts as to what to tell her, I could see that she understood that it was no accident. So I decided to tell her the truth; Bad guys were attacking our freedom, our lives, our continent. ''Why''? (You know the question period at around 4 years old?) ''I don't know honey, they just don't like our way of life, the freedom we give to people''. She looked sad about that. I always told her she was free to say what was on her mind, no matter if it's not what people think.

''Other people don't like when I say what I think?'' she asked.
I didn't know where to begin. She's 4, dammit. How do I explain that some bearded assholes in some third world country don't agree that Americans are free? That they follow the teachings of a violent pedophile? That they rape and kill woman for going outside alone? How do you explain that to a 4 year old used to get what she wants, and say watever she feels like saying? How do you say that to a little girl who enjoys feeding peanuts to squirrels in the park, play with her dollies, water the flower she planted herself in her room? For the first time since I was a father, I couldn't come up with anything.....

It is now 9:40am, and the news broke that a plane hit the Pentagon. THE FUCKING PENTAGON!!!! The head of defense and intelligence didn't see it coming on their building, how can they defend us from what was bound to happen next??

At around 10am, the first tower collapsed in a dust cloud that would cover the whole Manhattan. Images of people covered in debris, walking away from the site, policeman and firefighters going in the opposite direction, making dust fly while blaring their sirens.

My mind is racing. After all, Montreal is only a few miles away from New York. Could they attack us too? Are they placing bombs as I sit here, basically helpless?
The front door flies open. I jumped about 5 feet I was so tense. It was Michelle's mother, who chose to be with us, with me, even after the bitter separation. She hugged me and kissed me. She was very scared too. She went to hug Michelle and we all started bawling. If we're gonna die, we will die as a family. We will not be alone.

10:30am, the second tower fell to the ground. I saw the FDNY and the NYPD race to the scene, and I KNEW they were done for. No one survives that kind of destruction.

I don't know why, but I went and loaded my hunting rifles, a shotgun, and 2 .38 revolvers. I placed them back in the rifle safe, not wanting an accident to happen. If something was gonna happen, I was gonna be ready. I tell you, I NEVER felt the terror I felt on that morning.

I took all the canned goods out of the cupboard, put them in a few back packs, and loaded them in my Dodge. I then went to the basement and took all my camping gear, and loaded them as well. Batteries, propane tank, candles, shovels. When I was done my truck was damn full. I loaded my guns in their separate carrying cases and off we went.

''Where are we going dad?'' I realized I had no idea what I was doing, or where I was going. I put the truck in park, trying to gather my thoughts for a while. I turned on the radio as they said the FAA had now grounded ALL flights. Over our heads, the Canadian F-18's were flying low over the city. The hunting cabin, I told myself.

It then dawned on me that not only it's a 9 hour drive, it's so isolated that no radio or cell phone was working out there. ''We are going to Grandma's''. It's in the Eastern Townships, very low profile, not a place a terrorist would even think of attacking.

About an hour on the road, and we all calmed down, even telling a few jokes to relax the tense situation. Nothing has happened to Montreal, I think it's safe to head back home.

We stopped at McDonald's for lunch on the way back, and people were still glued to their radios to get the latest news. Reports of people jumping out of the WTC burning towers moments before they collapsed, in a last attempt at survival. At that time, they were talking about ten's of thousands of deaths. Policemen from the Sureté Du Québec were talking about how they never saw something like that, that terrorism is now at our doors, how no one is safe from it.

When we made it back home, I realized just how much stuff I had loaded in the truck in such a short time. We carried the equipment back inside, and we all went for a nap. Don't ask me why. We just did. All in my bed. My ex and my daughter clinging to me like they did before the split. My ex telling me she loved me. For some reason the tragedy brought us closer, and even if we went our separate ways after again, the bitter fighting was over.

To the HEROES who lost their lives while trying to save others, I salute you humbly. To all who lost loved ones, know that we think of you often. We will never forget. Ever. God bless you, always.

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