September 11th found me employed at Kmart and bored at a front register. I recall that my smock was too big and I hoped that my new engagement ring would be ready to pick up from the jewelers. There was a sudden flurry of activity as an older lady who worked in the back offices ran up front to tell the front desk clerk, Melanie, that something awful had happened and to come see the news. Melanie left me in charge and followed her back. After a few minutes, she came back up front and told me what happened. The older lady, whose face I can still see but whose name I’ve forgotten, came back up front in a full fledged panic attack because her niece worked at the Sears tower, and the news media was reporting a possible threat to that tower and that they hoped there would be an evacuation. Melanie also had a connection at the Sears tower and they left to be with family. I was sent to break by the store manager.
Three shoppers stood in the employee break room, with their carts, when I went in to get a drink. I stood with them to watch the coverage when an African American lady said, “Look!” We watched in horror as the second plane hit. I couldn’t handle it, and left to finish my break outside and to find out if anyone had heard if our co-workers’ family members were safe. When I came in from my break, the front desk phone began to ring off the hook. People were calling to find out if we had any American flags. The store manager, Chris, and another employee retrieved what was left from the Fourth of July holiday and set up a display up front-next to the jewelry counter and women’s wear. Folks left work to buy the flags and each one would tell me more details of the event when I rang up their purchase. The flags were sold at full price and we were sold out in thirty minutes. By the end of the lunch hour, even the leftover flag themed picnic supplies and coffee mugs were gone.
Throughout the day, shoppers would give me an update on what was on the news. I quickly discovered that any response other than “I’m fine” would be met with a tsk-tsk or “You should be glad that you weren’t in one of those towers-or God forbid!-one of those planes.” Pretty soon, I just greeted customers with a “Hello!” and left out the “How are you today?”. Corporate headquarters made the decision that all of the guns and ammunition should be locked away. Another worker, William, was in charge of securing them. I passed him on his way to lunch as I was headed to the back to clock out for mine. A glance over at sporting goods revealed that the keys were in the gun cabinet, and several guns were laying in an opened gun case on the floor. Boxes of ammunition were in the case as well. So much for security.
As most of you know, the rest of the day brought more terrible news and like many of you, I was glad to leave work and head home to be with family. My fiancee at the time walked in around quitting time to bring me my newly re-sized ring before he went back to work. I was in such a hurry that I didn’t look at it too closely until I got home. On the way to the mailbox, I noticed that one of the prongs had been broken by the jeweler. Soon after we were a country at war (and still are). Several of my friends were sent out and quite a few of the older men that I know tried to enlist.
That marriage didn’t last, and looking back if I’d believed in omens I probably would’ve called off the wedding. But I didn’t and here we all are. Impacted by events we couldn’t control and twelve years wiser.