Sierra's online journal

Remembering 9/11 September 11, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 5:33 pm
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It was late August, 2001. I don’t remember the exact date. But I remember it was the night before I would move to college. And I couldn’t sleep. Sure, I was excited. But that wasn’t the cause of my insomnia. I was scared. I sat at the kitchen table with my mom, crying over the fact that I’d be leaving home the next morning. And, I was so sure, I’d never be coming back. Momma rubbed my back and assured me that I could come home any time I wanted—as often as I’d like to visit, for summers and school vacations, and even back home to live after graduation.

College Move-In Day

The next day, I put on a brave face as we packed my Dodge Dynasty (plus my parent’s SUV) as full as possible and headed south on I-91. A couple of highways, a bridge, and roughly three hours later, we joined the lines of traffic snaking throughout the CW Post Campus of Long Island University as swarms of freshman lugged boxes, bedding, and appliances from their cars to Brookville Hall. Soon enough, our cars were unpacked, I’d met my roommate, and had posed for a string of family photos before they hugged me goodbye. And suddenly, alone in my freshman dorm room, I wasn’t sure why I had been so scared. Within a few days, classes had begun, I landed an on-campus job at the admissions office, and I had started to make friends.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001 began like any other weekday. I arrived at the admissions office for work at 8am and immediately began stocking the pamphlets that lined the shelves in the lobby. My boss Jeannie, the receptionist was standing in front of the TV in the corner when I came back up to the front desk from the basement where all of our spare printed material was stored. “Oh my gawd,” she’d said in a typical Lawn Guyland drawl, covering her mouth with her hands. Just then, a woman who worked upstairs came running down to the front desk in tears. Her son works at the Trade Center, she said. And she can’t get through to his phone.

Classes were canceled so when I was done at work, I strolled back to my dorm, all the while feeling a sense of relief that none of my loved ones were in the city. It wasn’t until later that afternoon that full-blown panic hit me. The news was on in every dorm room, fellow students were crying in the stairwells, everything on campus seemed chaotic, frantic. The news said that all bridges were closed. As were any westbound roads from Long Island. I felt trapped. Despite pleas from newscasters asking people to not use their phones if at all possible, I picked up mine. This was an emergency, wasn’t it? That’s when I found out that my cell phone wasn’t working. Neither was my land line. I had no way to reach my family. To tell them how scared I was.

Later that night, I got through to my parents and to my sister.

“Are you okay?” Mom wanted to know.

“Did you hear it?” Bree asked.

“Dad, I need you to buy a boat,” I declared. “The bridges are closed and I can’t travel west. So there’s no way out. I need you to come get me. And you’ll have to come by boat.” The request was absurd, I realize now. But it seemed like a logical solution at the time.

The next day, it became even more real to me when I stepped outside. The smell was overwhelming. Burning. And God knows what else. It lingered for about a day then dissipated.

Within a few days, things across campus seemed to calm down a bit. Classes resumed their normal schedules—for the most part. I had one criminal justice course that never went back to normal. The professor, who had introduced herself on the first day of class as the niece of a famous Hollywood director, never recovered from the shock. The first class after the attack, she was visibly shaken. She assigned us some reading then let us leave after about 20 minutes. Over the next couple of weeks, she started showing up to class in her pajamas with her Maltese in tow and proceeded to divulge personal information that her students had no business knowing. She was dating two men. One was NYPD. One was FDNY.  Classes dwindled from 20 minutes to next to nothing. We never discussed the course material or anything from the two text books we were required to purchase. Finally, after a few weeks, she stopped showing up. And us students soon followed suit. We all got A’s from the university for that course. And the professor went on to teach psychology elsewhere a few years later.

Every year on the anniversary of 9/11, our campus held candlelight vigils to remember. And every time I made the trip home for a weekend, I could glance out the window as I drove over the Throg’s Neck Bridge to see the tower of lights that shone where the towers once were.

I didn’t know anyone personally who was lost in the attack. But even still, I was scarred by 9/11. And though I spent the next three and a half years living a mere 40 minute drive from New York City, I only made the trip into the city once. Had that day never happened, I’d like to think I would have taken more advantage of all the theaters, museums, restaurants, and stores just waiting to be discovered in the city. I regret letting the attack color my college experience like I did.

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: View of the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty. (Image: US National Park Service ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Weekly Writing Challenge: A Few of My Favorite Things September 5, 2012

Filed under: Weekly Writing Challenge — sierrak83 @ 1:04 am
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The Daily Post’s weekly writing challenge this week was “A Few of My Favorite Things.” We were encouraged to tell a story about our favorite possession. If you’d like to read more about the challenge check out their blog post:



Worth a Thousand Words

I’m a sentimental person so when I first read this week’s writing challenge, I was stumped. There are lots of things in my life that mean the world to me. Things that make me have a minor panic attack to think of them missing. But there has to be a way to narrow it down to the one thing that matters most. Immediately, I started dreaming up worst-case-scenarios….a ravaging house fire, a break-in, a zombie apocalypse. What would I save?

Chris and our kids

The first thought that came to mind, of course, was my family. Certainly if the zombies were knocking on the front door I’d want to sneak Chris and our two furball kids out the back door, right? But people—and yes, my dogs are close enough to count as people—aren’t possessions. And I’d like to think they’d be helping me pack, not requiring saving.

So then important documents came to mind—my birth certificate, our mortgage paperwork, my college diploma. But if only ashes remained of our home, would those things really matter in the grand scheme of things? Couldn’t they all be replaced?

Which led me to the things with the most sentimental value—the hope chest my mom bought me as an early wedding gift a few months before she passed, the urn holding her ashes. But no burglar could possibly lug that hefty piece of wood furniture out without getting caught and who in their right mind would target my mom’s urn before the electronics, anyway?

Our inscriptions: “Always & all ways”

“What is my most prized possession?” I asked Chris on Monday night, wanting to hear what he thought. He held up his left hand, smirked, and grazed his finger over his own wedding band. He was surely remembering our recent fight when a whole day passed without us knowing where his ring was. For the second time this year, mind you. I had cried. I had lectured him. We both tore the house apart. And lo and behold it was found on the floor of his closet; it had literally slipped off his finger while selecting his shirt the night before. We learned that day just how important our wedding bands are to both of us. Because even if we paid a visit to our jeweler and bought an identical ring, it would never be that ring. The one I gave him on our wedding day. So, yeah, my wedding ring is important to me. But I’m a logical person. And I know that my ring is never not on my finger. So if I’m escaping tragedy, it’s coming with me by default.

And then it hit me. The family photo albums.

The albums themselves call certain memories to mind. I remember the lazy summer afternoons of my childhood when mom and I would spread photographs out across the dining room table as we organized them and prepared them for albums. Each photo would get a tiny caption—handwritten by my mother—including the date and name of everyone in the photo. I remember scouring family albums when loved ones passed away, searching for photos to contribute to the photo boards prepared for the funeral home. I remember mom and dad lugging the albums out to show off baby pictures of my sister to her first few boyfriends, regaling them with only the most embarrassing stories from her earliest years. I remember my mom wearily issuing a decree the summer before she passed away: “Someday, before I croak, I’ll finish putting all these photos into albums for you,” she promised, waving her hand over the pile of boxes containing our yet-to-be-archived family history. She was always so eloquent…. (Sadly, the boxes have simply been moved from her office to mine since then.)

When the albums are opened, the photos inside tell their own stories. Immediately, I am transported to a time and a place where I didn’t even exist yet. A simpler time. When my dad was a long-haired bassist for his band Whiskey River and my mom was a cigarette-puffing flower child. When the kitchen walls were as bright as the living room upholstery was floral. When now-divorced couples were in love and late family members were still with us. Browsing through the family albums allows me to experience memories I had forgotten about and events that happened before I was born. Here are some of my favorites that capture the era and/or my childhood the most vividly for me.

Uncle David & my “Grammy Dunham” (Edith) dance on his wedding day

This photo was taken on June 2, 1979 at my uncle David’s wedding reception. Here, he dances with his mother, my grandmother Edith Dunham. This photo (along with the others from that day) make me wish that my generation had weddings like this….semi-formal functions full of family, including kids. Instead, weddings today have turned into $50,000+ productions that often lose sight of what should be the focus of the day—love and family.

My sister Bree does “acrobatics” with dad

My dad and us girls were often the subject of family photos because my mother preferred to be behind the lens. I love this photo because it shows a typical night at our house; When dad got home from work, his job as “dad” began. That sometimes meant letting us climb all over him and other times it meant he had to change our doll’s diapers. But I also love this photo for the gaudy floral curtains, the console TV, the brown-and-mustard decor, and the record player resting on top of the stereo speakers. If this photo doesn’t scream ’80s then I don’t know what does.

Cousins Paula and Alysia (close friends of our family)

This photo was from two years before I was born but it features two people I call my “pseudo-family.” This photo helps remind me just how long our families have been as close as we are to this day.

Uncles Johnny, Kevin, DJ plus Aunt Debbie

Uncle Kevin and Aunt Debbie are divorced now but here they were when they were just starting their marriage. I love how relaxed and happy they look in this shot. The other thing that speaks to me in this photo is the clock on the wall in the background. Its face is yellowing here but I’m told it was “white as the driven snow” when my dad bought it. Today, it hangs in my father’s finished basement. And its face is a dark brown shade. He told me that the color change was due to years of him smoking in our old apartment. And he said he hung it in the basement when we moved into our house (around 1990) as a reminder of why he vowed to not smoke in our new place.

One of the very first pictures of me and my mom

My mother hardly ever agreed to be the subject of a photograph. But here she is. Just two months from giving birth to me. Smiling and happy. The dark wood paneling and pop culture reference on her t-shirt are just added ’80s bonuses.

Cake batter!!

Remember when licking the beaters after mom made cake was a privilege—not a cause for concern that you might contract salmonella poisoning? It was also around the time that kids played games that didn’t require chargers or a screen. And you might pause from washing the car on a hot summer day to take a swig from the garden hose. I was barely older than two here but miss those simple times.

Daddy’s girls wrestling with him

This is one of my favorite photos of my sister and me. Bree was 10 years old. I was almost 3. Dad had his hands full.

Back (left to right): Me and cousins Josh and Sasha plus my grandmother Jeanne Beltrandi
Front (left to right): My sister Bree, my cousin Nicole, and Aunt Kelley holding my cousin Fawn

There was never a question as to what we’d be doing on Easter Sunday. At noon, we’d be at Grammy Beltrandi’s house for her annual Easter Egg Hunt. She’d enlist her boys (my uncles), all swigging off their Budweiser cans, to hide a slew of plastic eggs for all us kids. Some were filled with coins. Others were filled with candy. And the special ones—the ones that earned you a prize at the end—were wrapped in tin foil. Clearly the prizes in 1986 were sunglasses.

Uncle Pat and Aunt Janice get married

I didn’t know that they didn’t get married until their first-born Nicole (holding the bouquet behind them) was about 5 or 6 years old. I also had no idea that my great aunt Sandy was the one who married them. I love this photo because, again, it depicts a simple wedding focusing on love and family rather than on glitz and glamour. And check out that car in the background….I may be mistaken, but is that a Chevy Nova?

Pop-Pop fixes my shoe

Grammy Dunham in her glory with family all around

These two photos were both taken on Christmas day in 1986. I may have been too young to remember this particular Christmas, but I remember that Grammy and Pop-Pop always had a huge pot of spaghetti warming on the stove along with all sorts of other homemade dishes and desserts. Their house was a gathering place for family. No one needed to wait for an invitation. No one needed to RSVP. They knew you were coming. And it didn’t matter what time you showed up. Us kids ran throughout the house all day, including up and down the creaky spiral staircase. The adults sat around chatting. No one had anywhere to rush off to. All we had to do was sit and enjoy our time together. Where did these days go?

It seems that every time I open one of our family albums, I discover a new memory I never knew I had. Looking through the photos keeps me grounded and reminds me of what’s important in life. I’d be devastated to lose that ability. And, yes. Someday, before I croak, I’ll finish putting the pictures in albums.