It was way to early to be waking up, I remember, as I heard the cell phone ringing and took no time at all to decide to ignore it. If somebody really wanted to get a hold of me, they would try my home line. I tried to go back to sleep, but before I knew it, the land line was ringing, this person was persistent. Annoyed, I got up and checked my cell phone. It was Michele. She knew better than to call before 8am, something must be wrong.
The conversation between her and I was fragmented and frantic. Had I been watching the news? Had I heard from John? Was he supposed to fly anywhere today? Where exactly was he flying from and when exactly was his flight? Very concerned, but not wanting to tell me as much, she implored me to turn on the news and contact John as fast as I could. Then, when I did get a hold of him, please call her back immediately….
I flipped on the “Today Show” - Matt and Katie were clearly upset, something big was going on, and they obviously hadn’t completely figured out the scope of it yet, either. In fact, as I sat there transfixed, they shared the shocking news that the second tower had just been hit by a different plane – clearly, this wasn’t an accident…..
I started dialing John’s cell phone as I franticly searched for his itinerary. This was supposed to be a very short business trip, John was to be home within a couple of days so we could prepare for our first family trip to Disneyland that upcoming weekend. His cell phone sent me directly to voice mail – “CALL ME AS SOON AS YOU GET THIS MESSAGE!” Fortunately, I was able to find his itinerary, and though it gave me little insight to his flights for the day, it did have the hotel’s phone number where he was staying in New Jersey. Miraculously, I was connected straight through to the hotel operator. I asked for John Riley’s room….and…..then, the sweet sound of my husband’s groggy voice. “Oh, John, thank God you’re there and safe.” He was very confused at the intensity of my greeting. He had no idea what was going on. In an effort to maintain integrity while traveling, he’d made a promise to himself to not watch tv on his own. I stayed on the line while he walked across the hallway to the concierge lounge. He let me go and promised to call soon when he began to witness with his own eyes the second tower fall……..
As promised, I called Michele right back – it was only then that she shared her fears that he was on the United flight headed towards DC. The terror she had felt knowing that John only flew United and was set to leave from the very same airport that day – overwhelming. Immediately, after hanging up with her, I dropped to my knees and bawled, and prayed, and praised. It could have been me that would become a widow that morning. It could have been the baby girl inside of me, still 3 months from greeting the world, that would have never been able to greet her daddy. And, it could have been the 2 and ½ year old boy, who knelt beside me and watched as Mommy cried and told him how much God had saved Daddy, that might never have remembered a time with him.
We didn’t make it to Disneyland that weekend – instead we reunited as a family in Boise. Because of the FBI quarantine on his hotel, John wasn’t even able to leave for the first 2 and a half days. Why the quarantine? Well, as it turns out, one of the hijackers stayed the night prior in that very same Marriott. John recollects seeing him come out of an elevator and thinking the guy looked a little odd. Odd doesn’t begin to describe it.
Getting home became John’s obsession. Flights were cancelled, and no one had answers as to when. So, he began driving. Originally, he planned just to drive as far as Chicago, believing he’d have a better chance of getting a flight from there. With that in mind, he “adopted” a passenger to ride along with him, whom he commissioned to talk endlessly just to keep him awake. She was a 50 something United employee….. a God-given companion that John ended up sharing the Message with. When Chicago proved no more helpful for flights – he rented a deluxe vehicle (on the company card) and headed west. It was a remarkable journey for him, meeting strangers who, due to circumstances, embraced him as family.
It was hard waiting at home for him, which is why I chose to start driving east early Saturday morning with Brayden (and obviously Mikayla in utero) in tow. The skies were so clear, no planes, no white fuzzy trails from exhaust – it was so surreal. It wasn’t until we embraced at the Fairfield Inn at Boise that things began to feel normal again. We ate at Red Robin, had Baskin and Robbins ice cream, and watched “Shrek” from Pay per View that night. Our family, at least, was going to come out of this thing alright. But, oh, the pain, the injustice, the loss, the sacrifices, the sadness – will never be forgotten.
The night of September 11th, we went to my parent’s house. Brayden was playing unsupervised on their older treadmill and before we knew it, he was wailing. He had fallen and the belt literally took the skin down to the bone on his ankle. It was nasty, but not ER material. I doctored it in the days that followed, but the scar will probably always remain. I call it his September 11th scar – for him, it’s visible, for the rest of us, most likely not – but invisible or not, there is a scar we all feel from that fateful day that forever changed history.