By Debbie Decker
The week of October 21st, 2001, I had to fly to Orange County, California, for a meeting for my job. I’m not a “happy flyer” to begin with and I hadn’t been on a plane since the hijackings of September 11th. I wasn’t very happy about the whole situation.
Getting to the airport was weird and getting my bag checked in was weird. Seeing armed guards in little old podunk Sacramento Airport was VERY weird. The flight to Orange County was blessedly short, just over an hour, and uneventful.
I spent two days being away from my home and family, smiling and being smart and charming at my meeting. After that, I was pretty well frazzled. I felt very stressed about having to get back on a plane. I slogged onto the plane, down the aisle, and plopped down in my seat, dreading the flight home.
Across the aisle were two girls, traveling alone. I was shocked — how could their parents send their children, ALONE, onto a plane after what had happened on planes on September 11th? And what about these children? Weren’t they completely freaked out? My son, at age 12, hadn’t come to the airport to see me off on this trip, saying, “Airports are evil.” My 10-year-old daughter had been pretty upset at seeing the soldiers in the airport and had hugged me extra hard before I left.
The girl on the aisle next to me was reading through a textbook and I leaned over and turned on the overhead light for her. She smiled her thanks and went back to her work. After a bit, she struck up a conversation with me. I discovered her name was Cassey (with an “EY”, as she was careful to point out).
She would be 11 years old in November, and was traveling to visit her father in Sacramento. In the course of our conversation, I found out that Cassey belonged to a complicated blended family. Her routine was to fly from Orange County to Sacramento to visit her father every three weeks or so. Flying was just a part of her life. She hadn’t seen her dad since September, and she had missed him.
I listened to Cassey talk on, delighted by her exuberance and openness. We talked about her pets, her dance classes, and her complicated familial relationships.
The events in New York had made her sad and she told me about what her school was doing to help. They had talked about the events in class and had taken time to express themselves with art and music. But the events of September 11th had not made her afraid to get on with her life. She was such an example of strength and kindness for a stressed- out, frightened grown-up on a plane. Cassey really helped me.