Sunday, September 11, 2011

From a Stationery Store in the Heart of Boston, Remembrances of September 11th

I was not prepared for the events of the work day following 9-11. When you think about stationery, people tend to think letters, wedding invitations, birth announcements and other happy items. But paper plays an important role in all life occasions—including death.
The morning of September 11th, found me folding laundry and watching the CNN morning news on my day off from my job as a manager for Crane & Co. Paper Makers, a stationery store at that time located at the Prudential Center in the heart of Boston. As the first images of the devastation came on TV, I remember standing in front of the screen, a pillow case held mid-fold in disbelief, with the sinking sensation that something very serious was happening. Within minutes of the first tower being hit, the phone rang. It was the associate manager from the store, wanting to know if something important was going on as they had received a “stand-by for further announcements” automated message from the Prudential Center. It felt surreal to explain the stories coming in on the news and to tell them to hold tight and do exactly what the Prudential Center instructed them to, even if that meant locking up and closing the store for the day. Then, like everyone else, I was held a captive witness to the devastating images and news on TV.

For me, that was only the beginning of my experiences connected to September 11th. Strangely, by being in the stationery business, it was the days after September 11th that made the devastation and heartbreak human and personal.

On Wednesday, September 12th, I walked to work, like I did every morning, from the Fenway to The Prudential Center. The city was eerily subdued for a week day work morning. Sirens could be heard, which vividly evoked the sounds and images from the TV the day before. I felt filled with adrenaline. As I walked along the Christian Science Reflecting Pool, a fighter jet flew overhead toward the financial district, and in the fading of the defining and heart bounding roar, I remember thinking, nothing will ever be the same.

I was not prepared for the events of the work day following 9-11. When you think about stationery, people tend to think letters, wedding invitations, birth announcements and other happy items. But paper plays an important role in all life occasions—including death.

The first call I took that morning was from the newly widowed wife of one of the pilots killed in the hijackings. She was calling to order sympathy acknowledgement cards. Her voice held the contrasting notes of logical calm and bewilderment. Having lost my father only two months earlier, it was a combination I knew well from grief. At the end of the call, after giving me her address for shipping, she asked for all possible privacy to be taken with her information as so many people were contacting her. There are reporters in the front yard, she said. After the call, I walked quickly to the backroom, needing a moment off the floor, feeling breathless and holding back tears as I absorbed the reality, not of images on TV, but of the people whose lives were forever changed by the attacks.

The rest of that day, and the days that followed, were emotionally wrenching. Several of our corporate customers had lost employees in the hijacked flights that left Boston. We sold black leather bound guest books for memorials, black bound books for remembrances, black pens to sign them with, black bordered sympathy acknowledgements. There were many moments of standing in the backroom looking for a boxed product, trying to remember a SKU, and feeling heartbroken over the story of lost that you had just heard.

Each night that week, I would closed up the store and, beginning the walk home, marvel at the emptiness of the Prudential Center. It felt as though the city was under a self-imposed curfew. The beat of my shoes echoed as I walked through the empty corridors, which are usually always filled with a steady stream of people.

About two weeks after the attack, on the first day commercial planes were given permission to fly again, I was on my dinner break, at the long since gone, Sbarro pizza place in the Copely Mall. It was a favorite haunt of mine for the quiet, the pizza and the view of the skyline of South Boston. From where I sat, starring out at the cloudy twilight, I began to see the lights of planes lining up to land at Logan. This sight, and its normalcy, after so many days of horrific images, heartbreaking stories and uncertainty in the aftermath of the attacks, filled me with an overwhelming feeling of hope. To this day, I still remember how the line of planes coming in to land looked remarkably beautiful, like a loose string of shinning diamonds against the gray evening sky.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Brenna. That is very beautifully written. One of my memories also has to do with paper. I and two friends of mine, a graphic designer and a photographer met for coffee and tried to make sense where there was none. We felt like we needed to do something to cope with our feelings of sadness and fear. So we came up with a project of making postcards. We reached out to friends, gathering designs, photographs, poetry and prose to put on the cards. We had them printed and layed the sets out in cafes and bars for people to send or keep or write their thoughts on. I still have a set in my desk and took it out today to look at. Along with the newspapers and magazines I had kept that week 10 years ago.