I don’t think I’ve ever written down my days events of this date. But, looking back now, twelve years of hindsight, I feel I can actually put down in words that unfortunate date in American history.
I was working for the Portsmouth Police Department and I was midnights, I started my shift at 2330 hours (11:30 pm for all you non-military folks out there) on September 10th, 2001. The world was still safe, and no one anywhere in the general population had ever heard of Al-Quiada. After roll call we all headed out to our assignments, I was fortunate enough to be assigned a “floating” position, which meant I was on call to back up anyone or fill in for a unit that had to bring a suspect in for questioning or arrest. Now, I should say this at the outset, in the past, the date September 11 was also known as “National Emergency Personnel Day (Get it 911 the phone number you call for help?)
So knowing this and also knowing that the Police Dispatchers are usually overlooked I made my first stop to a local donut shop and picked up a couple dozen donuts for the voices on the other side of the radio and telephone. This was something I had done in the past and I always felt the dispatching unit appreciated my effort in showing my gratitude for all that they do. The rest of the shift went off without a problem. A few arrests were made but it was mostly a quiet night. When my shift was over, at 0800, I made my way home, kissed my wife and daughter, had a snack and went to bed.
The reason for this was because I had to get up at 1500 hours and get ready for my part time job. Yes, the same part time job I still have today. I slept like a new born baby that morning. No phone calls, because I turned the ringers off and I placed my pager on the nightstand next to my alarm. When I woke up, I took a shower, changed into my work clothes and drove to work. I didn’t listen turn on the television, nor turn on the radio in my car. I drove in silence and tried to shift my mindset from Law Enforcement Officer to Cheerful Waiter.
When I walked into the kitchen of the restaurant I immediately knew something was wrong. The Chef/Owner had a small black and white television on and he was watching with great interest and ignoring his pre-dinner prep. I had seen the television mounted on top of the walk in refrigerator for years but I had never seen it broadcasting pictures. I ignored what was being said and went right to work cleaning my section of the restaurant. About halfway through my work, I went into the kitchen to get a broom and saw the Chef had not moved. I stopped and looked up at the grainy black and white pictures. What I saw almost made me fall to my knees. The images, each of us have ingrained in our collective memories, was being broadcast. I don’t know what was being said but I knew the world had changed.
When I asked the Chef what had happened he looked at me as if I had just asked him why the sun is shining. I then told him I had been asleep since 0800 and he gave me a brief run down of the terrorists attack. I dropped the broom and dust-pan I had collected and immediately called my duty officer. By the time I got through to her ten minutes had passed, I asked her if I needed to come in to work, if I could go to New York or Washington, she just told me to report to work at the normal time.
I felt helpless, lost, insignificant and a total failure. Why? Because I was unable to do anything. Here I was, a man who had trained all his life to help people and during the most horrific event outside of the Civil War, I was told to stand-by and wait. Surly is a word that could describe me at that moment in my life. I called my wife, she told me more of what had happened and asked if I was okay. I lied. In truth I was seething inside and wanted to hunt down anyone and anything to help right the worlds axis. I prayed that I would be sent North, that prayer went unanswered.
The few customers that came in that night looked as if they had just walked out of their own personal war-zone. But one set of customers, people who I had never seen before nor have I seen since came in and were laughing, joking and having a grand time. I tried my best to ignore them. But my nature got the best of me. As I was handing out their entrees I asked them “How can you be so happy after all that has happened today?” the party of four looked at me as if I had just shit in the middle of their table. An elderly woman looked at me and asked what I was talking about. I told her and her table-mates, with all the graphic detail and un-adulterated honesty I could muster. They all looked shocked and then informed me they had been traveling down the inter-coastal waterway all day and had not listened to any news report.
After I left them and their food I went back to watch more of the news reports in the kitchen. When a commercial came on I went back to check on them. They asked for their check and some boxes. I complied and stood near them as they boxed up their uneaten food. One gentleman handed me his credit card without even looking at the bill. I performed my duties and when I got back to the table they were already standing, waiting for me to give them their receipt. When they left, we locked the doors and shut down early for the night.
I went into work early and changed. When I got to the roll-call room it was filled with other officers who were scheduled off or on vacation or just there to pull extra shifts. That night, none of us talked about what was going on in the world, we just stood there trying to understand the actions of people who seemed to hate us so much for no apparent reason that they would rather die than try to figure out a way to understand.
That’s my story. I could go into deeper detail but right now, I just don’t have it in me.