• Rhonda Layton

Never Forget

I think my body was warning me of horrible day we were about to witness.

A picture of Freedom Tower I took from the Hudson River in 2016.

What I'm about to share, I've never shared publicly before. The nature of it is a bit gross, but I wonder if anyone else has had this type of experience. Almost a foreshadowing of tragedy with physical manifestation. I woke up around 4:30 am, on a typical Tuesday. I grabbed my bag and headed to the gym before work. I had grown accustomed to these early morning routines and the drive usually woke me up, so I'd be ready to start sweating right around 5:00 am.

I don't remember what the plan was that day, but I distinctly remember how my body felt. Off. Something not right. I was in the middle of a set, when I felt a sudden urge to use the restroom. (Sorry if this is gross, but it really helps to explain how my body was aware of what the day would bring).

I ran into the gym bathroom and thankfully no one was in there. I had to go. Really go. What happened to me in the next couple minutes or so had never happened to me ever before that day and it has never happened since that day. I can only deduce my body knew of the tragedy that was about to occur that day. Coincidence? Perhaps. I just don't think so. There's only one way to say this. I pooped that morning more than I ever thought was humanly possible. It wouldn't stop. It just would not stop. After a few minutes, I went back to working out. I felt completely fine, but just kept thinking how disgustingly weird that was. I showered as usual at the gym after finishing up, got back in my car and headed to work. Other than a couple completely abnormal minutes, it was a basically just another day.

As I pulled into the parking garage, the DJ on the radio I normally listened to on my morning drive time, announced that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center buildings in New York City. I thought was so strange, but I couldn't really process anything because the information was so fresh as the story was developing. By the time I parked, got up to the office and went to grab some coffee, some co-workers came in to the break room to share that another plane had hit the other World Trade Center building and we all got completely silent. We just knew. I became so sad. I called my husband from the phone in the breakroom. It was 2001. We weren't allowed to use cell phones in the office. Nor did we have instantaneous news at our fingertips. We were all absorbing the information slowly...bit by bit. You don't really know how to process something like this, so I think your first reaction is call someone you love. It's like time pauses. You see everything that matters and nothing that doesn't. A sudden jolt of perspective. In a flash.

The rest of the day and days and weeks that followed were a bit of a blur. I went home. I was too emotional. I needed to see my family. Call my parents. Talk. Process. Cry. I don't think I was very present for quite some time in my day to day duties. It was just too much for me. I didn't know a single person that lived in New York City, Washington D.C. or anyone that would likely be traveling in the four airplanes that crashed that day. But it felt like I lost my best friend. Every emotion hit me so deeply and I couldn't stop watching the news as the story went from really bad to really horrific and heartbreaking. Still, 20 years later, the replay is my head is just so vivid. I think about the families of the victims during those days and frightening hours of the unknown. I think about those ultra courageous fire fighters and police officers who knew the danger...but walked right into it. I think of the horror of those that made an impossible decision to die so tragically. I think of the miraculous stories of survival. So many stories. Some were able to share. Many were not. I don't know why my body prematurely reacted that day. I just don't know. I do know it sensed a day that would be unlike anything I've ever experienced. Perhaps I learned to really pay attention to the premature physical signs my body was giving me as warning to prepare my soul from the heartbreak that would soon follow. Nonetheless, I never want to experience it again because I never want to witness a tragedy as horrible as this day ever again. I just know it's connected. I never witnessed firsthand or experienced the horrific scene of anything that day or the months that followed September 11, 2001. I've been to New York City several times in the past few years, after everything has been so pristinely rebuilt.

I've only witnessed the beauty of the memorials. I've shared the story with my son, who will only know this day as a piece of history. But, we will Never Forget...

My son’s first visit to New York City in 2015.

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