Although this is not an actual account of what happened to me on September 11th, I was in fact a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines and woke up that morning in Indianapolis, IN to this sight all around me. I was not yet 21 years old and I was stranded in that hotel for over a week. I will never forget flying an empty plane out of there and empty planes for several days to come. The thought still haunts me..
STAY CALM by Grace Davis
The Captain’s voice, a silencing boom, resonated through the plane, “Flight attendants please secure the cabin for landing.” Immediate panic as each of us realized we were 37,000 feet in the air, followed by curious passengers who would only be answered with darting glances from their youthful crew. Pounding hearts, racing minds, and a noticeable buzz zinging off the walls of the cabin. BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. STAY CALM.
Southwest Airlines Flight #2367 was not scheduled to land in Chicago-Midway for at least another hour. Why, then, were we being asked to secure the cabin for landing? Was our bird out of fuel? Was there an equipment malfunction? And most importantly, why had we not been informed of our situation by our pilots? My 20 year old heart took a nose dive deep into the queasy pit of my stomach as I realized something was wrong. Something was very wrong. We were about to go down. STAY CALM. I was the Lead on this flight and, by God I was going to pull it together. Hands were raising, bells were ringing and a sound slowly crept into my ears, not a sound close to me. It was coming from the aft of the plane, overwhelming however distant. Yet I could hear it, piercing and small. A child was whimpering. Vacant blue eyes, speckled green eyes, dark amber eyes, short lashes, thick lashes were consuming my every move. Fear was suffocating the 737 Boeing and without answers mayhem would ensue.
“ What is going on,” I gasped. “There is an emergency and we must divert into Indianapolis. Please STAY CALM and keep the cabin CALM. We are not sure of the exact details but have been notified we must land immediately. Again, you must STAY CALM.” I turned. I faced them. I praised God nothing was wrong with our plane and set out to do what I was trained to do. STAY CALM. I explained the situation to my crewmembers and decided to address the empty faces seeking a shepherd. A sound wafted through the intercom system. A sound so hollow and flat it was unfamiliar to me, unrecognizable, distant: my own voice. “For reasons beyond our control we have been diverted to Indianapolis. Please STAY CALM. The plane is in complete working order and we are not in an emergency landing situation. I will advise you of the details as they become known to me. Again, we appreciate your cooperation and ask that you STAY CALM. Please make sure your seatbelts are fastened, your tray tables are in their full upright and locked position and that all of your carry on items are completely stowed. Flight attendants, please be seated for landing.”
The mind reels. Perhaps it is something as minor as weather. That must be it. The weather in Chicago is……it’s September…..too windy. It must be too windy to land in Chicago. STAY CALM. You’ve worked hundreds of flights. No, more than that. You’ve worked at least five hundred. It cannot possibly be the weather. Maybe Captain Thomas is not feeling well. Perhaps something is going on with his heart. Shit, what if he’s having a stroke? He’s got to be over 60. Jesus, what will we do if the Captain has a stroke during landing? Don’t look into their eyes. They will see right through you. They will sense your fear. She’s crying, 3A is crying and, my God, 14B has a newborn in her lap. STAY CALM. STAY CALM. I need to call my parents. Wait. They are in Paris and your cell is in your bag anyway and they will see your hands trembling. Something is wrong. Something is terribly, terribly wrong. Your fists are dripping sweat. Unclench your fists. They see your fists. Breathe. Why is my heart slowing down? Shouldn’t it be racing? Does it feel death lurking 30,000 feet in the air? What if the landing gear is jacked up and he’s just not telling us? Shit, I am going to die on this plane. I am 20 years old and I am going to die. What if there is a hole and everything breaks in half? That’s not possible right? We won’t all get sucked out of some gaping hole into thin air? Dear God, please just let us land safely. I beg you, for myself, I am 20 years old. I have so much life left to live, but mostly for these innocent people, babies crying, mothers patting, heads bowing. God, forgive me for all the crappy things I’ve done in my life. I’m sorry I had too many beers at happy hour and I’m sorry for using a fake ID to get into happy hour. Do you hear me God? I am not old enough to die. I am not even old enough to drink. I’m sorry for not going to church enough. I am a glorified cocktail waitress. I am not prepared to be the last hope these people have. God, I will do ANYTHING you ask. I will STAY CALM.
What the hell? We are circling. Why are we circling? Why aren’t we landing? This is taking entirely too long. People are shifting; their shoulders lowering. They know. They feel the scales teetering. They are reaching. Their breaths are becoming rapid. Will it be their last breath? Should they write a note? Ha. Should they make a call? STAY CALM. STAY CALM. Enough. I’m going in there and asking them what in God’s name is going on.
“A hi-jacked plane has flown into the World Trade Center. STAY CALM.”
Thursday, November 3, 2011-Many months ago, a vegetarian friend of mine introduced me to an author by the name of Johnathan Safran Foer. After all the Super Size Mes and other crazy food documentaries, his non-fiction book, Eating Animals, actually made me stop eating meat....for about a month. I remember reading the book and feeling differently about myself...something had stirred in me. I felt a bit smarter, a bit more open minded and a bit changed. Me, little ole me, started thinking bigger thoughts.
Amarillo College sponsors a Commonreader program every year. They select an author/book and host all sorts of activities around it ie visual arts contest, art exhibit, etc. This year's author was none other than JSF and my English prof suggested we enter the writing contest for extra credit. The prompt was to write a poem or personal about JSF's latest book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close or something related to 9-11.
I completely forgot about the competition until the day before and threw something together so I could get the extra points for entering. A few days later Mr. S notified me I had placed third out of over 50 entries. I was, I'll say it, ECFRIGGINSTATIC. Yesterday the Amarillo Museum of Art had a reception for Joel Meyerowitz photography display followed by a lecture at Amarillo Globe News Center.
I almost did not go. I felt silly about being proud amongst the two other 18 year old winners. I felt silly about being 31 and attending a junior college. But I went, and Dr. Matney recognized me and my work was displayed all over the place and something hit me. BE PROUD. Look how far you have come in the last year. You write well. It's not the best ever but at least you dang tried and you just shook JSF's tiny hand, cool no?. You are bettering yourself to better your daughter's life. And when I called home to check on my greatest accomplishment, she said in her tiny little voice Mama, I am so proud of you!