Monday, September 11, 2006

5 years ago

I remember that morning -- it was surreal. It was a Tuesday and I already was worried about the future.

That spring it seemed like you couldn't go a day without hearing that one Austin company or another had layoffs. Even the PR agency I worked for, which had prided itself on never having a layoff, had let some folks go earlier that spring. It was tough for our clients, which in turn meant it was tough for our business.

In March Doug and I bought our first house; the afternoon of the closing I walked into my VP's office and asked him if there was any reason we shouldn't go through with it. "Dara, I'm your boss, but I'm also your friend. I would tell you if you had a reason to be concerned. Believe me, you are the last person in this office who needs to be worried about losing their job." In a strange twist of events, he was right.

Doug and I moved into the house the first weekend of May. We were excited and although we knew the economy was on a downturn, we were optimistic about our future. Doug worked at a start-up and he was spearheading a customer implementation project for big names in the real estate market, which were investors in Doug's start-up. On June 15, the weekend before Doug's project was to go live, the new CEO of the startup decided to pull the plug on the project with no warning. Doug was let go.

Still, I had a good job with the PR agency and we knew we'd be okay. Doug felt he could afford to be picky and find the right job. Then came Friday, Sept. 7. The founder and CEO of my PR agency flew in from Dallas. Business was down and a few months earlier we had been bought by a larger agency. The Austin office had to close. I was one of three people asked to continue with the company on a freelance basis to help close the office. I ended up being the last one out; I turned off the lights.

It was Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 and I was driving to the shell of an office. What once was bursting at the seams with 35 employees now only had three. I was listening to my favorite radio station on my commute when the deejays started talking about a plane flying into the first tower. I called Doug to tell him. I keep driving to the office and then the other plane hit. I called Doug again. I didn't think he was paying attention, but later I found out he turned on the tv after my first call. He saw the second plane on tv as it happened. He was stunned and couldn't speak.

I got into the office and shortly after I arrived, my colleague Jack arrived. We were both a little freaked out. Besides being concerned for our country, because we were out of work, we were concerned about our future. The phone rang. It was Doug. A plane just hit the Pentagon. We didn't know what to think. The third person in our office arrived. She was young, maybe a year out of school. We told her what was going on and it didn't seem to register.

Eventually the three of us left the office and went home. There was no work to be done that day. We knew our lives had changed.

It was 11 months later before Doug found a job, a contract position for the state. To date, Doug continues to contract, working for several months and then being out of work for several months, simply because the jobs are still not back. I started freelancing, working as a consultant for a marketing company, but it was a tough go, both in terms of lack of business and also in terms of the personality of the CEO. After two years I had to leave for the sake of my sanity. A year, and a retail job later, I started grad school. Now I'm teaching, but earning 30% less than what I was making five years ago and 50% less than what I could be making now, that is, if there were jobs at my level. Those are few and far between.

Quite honestly, Doug and I have struggled these last five years. Often we feel like we are treading water, just trying to stay afloat and not moving ahead. Still, we've somehow managed to stay together. That says a lot about us; many couples would not have survived the stress. We still have the house, and have several new, dear friends we've met since then. Without permanent jobs, we've found other ways to define ourselves, through our hobbies and interests, not through what we do. Things which were important then, like would we get married, what about the promotion, those all important stock options, are just not that important any more.

Often, I wonder what would have happened if 9/11 hadn't happened. How would our lives be different? It's difficult to say. Maybe things would be better, maybe not. But like most everyone else, we've had to learn to pick up the pieces, do the best with what we have left and hope that tomorrow is better.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Me too Dara

Thanks for sending
Your blog captures the day well

Best

Jack

Anonymous said...

I also remmember the day well, as I'm sure most people do. I enjoyed reading your account.

Anonymous said...

Austin Bloggers censors their content, please be wary of their practices. They censored my post on September 11th for political motivations.

Doug & Dara said...

I saw your post earlier today and it was a nice rememberance, but wasn't directly related to Austin. That is a requirement of Austin Bloggers. I've posted things about teaching and although I teach at Texas State, they've been pulled because they weren't about Austin or central Texas. Maybe if you had reworded it and talked about Austinites remembering 9/11 it would not have been pulled.

BTW, be careful how you use the word censor. You were not censored. No one stopped your legal freedom of speech. At some point I need to do an entire blog posting on this. Or better yet, have my collegue who teaches Comm Law and is a 1st Amendment scholar do a guest post on what really is censorship. The word tends to be misused. The misuse of censorship, along with the misuse of "over" and spelling a lot "alot" tend to be my biggest pet peeves.

PitBullJim said...

Although I don't live in Austin and am not an Austinite remembering 9/11 (there, maybe this won't be "censored"! :)

I remember 9/11... it was a morning like any other at Farmland Foods... me finally getting to work a little after 8:00 a.m. I was called into the lunch room just after the first plane hit as we had a couple TV's in the cafeteria. I remember they were discussing what had happened... an accident, etc. And then watched as the second plane hit the Twin Towers... and just feeling sick inside, wondering what was going on.

And then reality really hit me... when the plane crashed into the Shanksville, Pennsylvania area. It went down in the area where my family orginally came to America and settled and my great aunt and numerous cousins lived right where they described where Flight 93 had crashed...

I immediately tried to call my dad's cousin as I had her number in my cell phone directory. After several attempts, I reached her brother... their place was about a mile & a half from the crash site and he had been in the basement when the plane went down. He said it was like an explosion and had shook the house. When he went out... he could see the smoke rising in the distance.

He said that his sister (my dad's cousin) and mother (my great aunt) were in New York sightseeing at the World Trade Center and they had not heard from them and could not reach them. It turns out, they went the day before to visit the World Trade Center for some reason... I look at that, that God had them change their plans. They were on their way home when the attacks took place.

We went back to our family reunion in 2003 and have numerous pictures of the Flight 93 crash site. I still think about why they had changed their plans and went a day earlier... just as the estimates are that the numbers of people that should have/could have been in the WTC that day...

God bless the families of all those affected by this. I can't even imagine what they feel.

Gary Goldhammer said...

Great post, very humble and honest. I ran a PR agency at that time, and we also had three people and were dealing with similar financial concerns. For some reason we worked until early afternoon, until we realized we really weren't working but rather existing in a haze with CNN in the background. Congrats on sticking together, too -- it's nice to see people who value each other more than money.