Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seven Years Later

I lived in Washington, DC on 9/11.

All the remembrances start the same way, don't they? What a gloriously beautiful September day it was. We woke up humming little happy tunes because of the break in the weather and the clear blue sky. We were later than usual that day. My husband and I aren't morning people - we were usually out of the house somewhere around 9ish, he'd drop me off at work, and cross the river to his job in Virginia. I got out of the shower about ten minutes before 9, my husband jumped in. I walked into our room, toweling off my hair, to see Diane and Charlie on the couch saying they weren't sure what was happening, but here was footage of some sort of plane, a small plane?, crashing into the World Trade Center. I watched a few minutes, it got more confusing. The important national news broke into the morning fluff show, and no one really knew anything, except that something not normal was happening. "I think - I think - I think maybe we're being attacked?!" I called into the bathroom. My husband came in the room, what? We got dressed and ready, watching a very confused scene.

Finally made it downstairs, and turned on the kitchen TV, continuing our routine of getting ready, but a a much slower pace than normal. Suddenly they cut from New York to local scenes - a shot from DC, looking at the Pentagon. We don't know what's going on, but there's smoke coming from what seems to be one side, or behind, or near the Pentagon. I looked at my husband - I don't think you're going to work today. I don't think you should cross the river.

We drifted into the living room. It's hard to describe now how confusing it all was. He wasn't going to go to work, but we both thought I still should. We knew it was planes, big planes, but didn't know much else.

We saw the first tower go down. My husband covered his face with his hands - the bastards. It was still confusing. I called work - do you all know what's going on? They didn't. Turn on the TV. My husband took me to work - 5 minutes away by car. I walked into my office. My phone rang - a colleague, a friend, in San Francisco - are you ok? yes, I'm ok. I guess. We don't know.

I got a call from another California colleague - why aren't you on the conference call? Um, have you seen the news? I know it's early there, but I don't think we're having a conference call today. I had my radio on. Report of a car bomb at the state department. Report of a bomb going off by the Washington Monument, taking it down. I frantically looked out my window - could I usually see the monument from my window? I couldn't remember, but couldn't see it. I ran down the hall because you could see it from the front windows. It was still there. I started to cry a bit. Our small office was in shock - only 8 people, we huddled together watching the TV. We'd peel off and call friends, call family, field calls. More than half the time there was no getting through. One of my best friend's husband worked in the Pentagon, for the Navy. I never reached her, but other friends called, he was ok. Later I was back in my office, my phone rang again, my dad. The only time I've ever heard him sound afraid - why are you at work? Get out of there. There are reports of other planes, headed to DC. Go home. The Metro was closed. The buses weren't running. People were walking in droves up the middle of the street, trying to get home. The pay phone in front of our building had a line 25 people long waiting to use it.

I was a senior person at work. I felt I needed to stay until everyone knew how they were getting home. The one person who absolutely needed public transportation agreed to go home with another colleague who lived close to me, a 35 minute walk home. My husband called, please come home. I need you here.

I made it home just after lunch. We huddled together on the couch, watching, watching. We didn't turn the TV off for the rest of the week. We lay in bed watching, until we drifted into uneasy sleep. We woke early, snapping alert for the latest news. The sky was quiet - no planes, no helicopters. Later that week I was walking the dog and heard a helicopter overhead and flinched in fear. By Saturday I needed to run an errand that took me across the river, into Virginia, past the Pentagon. Traffic was snarled with various road closures, and I sat in the car, trying not to breathe the noxious burning fumes that still hung in the air.

Of the 8 of us in the office, every single person knew someone who died in NY, in Pennsylvania, in the Pentagon. I knew a woman on the plane that hit the Pentagon - not well, she had done a project with other colleagues a few jobs past. My former colleagues were bitter and devastated. My co-worker who lived close by me had a close friend on a plane. I've forgotten which. My other co-workers had gone to school with someone in the WTC, or a neighbor of their parents, or some other connection. Every one of us had some personal connection, mine the most distant. In the weeks after, we stocked the office with flashlights, with granola bars, with emergency kits. We developed evacuation plans. We watched overhead as the planes started back up - DC was no-fly for longer than anywhere else. Every time a plane or helicopter flew by, we stopped and watched.

I still, sometimes, with DC friends, feel the need to talk about those days. Where we were, what we did.

I ran an errand this morning, got home, saw a neighbor had the flag out. I briefly wondered why, and then in a snap remembered. And put our flag out. I still feel the need to tell my story, my version, where I was, what I did that day 7 years ago when the world, literally, stood still in shock and horror.


Mimi said...

I'm so glad that you shared that with us. It's interesting how so many of us want to remember and tell about where we were that day as well as to hear other's experiences.

I knew one military gal that was working in another part of the Pentagon, and I was tucked away here in New England at my job as a teacher and didn't hear about it until over an hour after it happened. In the days that followed it was not always easy to get through some of their fears about what happened and some of their parent's reactions to it.

And this is one of those things that we don't want to forget and become complacent, right?

Astarte said...

I was in Lanham, MD when it happened, and we could see the smoke from the Pentagon from my office. I was terrified that I wouldn't get home before something else happened, before planes just started randomly falling from the sky, before the buildings around me blew up, too. I couldn't get ahold of DH because of the phone lines being all clogged up. The time between when I got home, and when he got home with Josie, were the longest moments of my life. I remember seeing the few planes that were allowed to remain flying over the next few days and being horrified that there were even still planes in the sky, and then the military carriers started to fly over, bringing materials to the middle east. We lived on the flight path to Andrews AFB, so the roar of huge planes landing and taking off was constant, and sounded exactly like the whine of a bomb dropping. I felt like at any time one of them would turn out to be a real bomb, and we would all die a firey, Terminator 2-style nuclear death. Even worse was the night that one of the air force jets patrolling broke the sound barrier right over our house. I thought it was another plane attack, and leaped out of bed to look out the window to see where the smoke was. What a terrible, stressful, horrifying time that was.

niobe said...

9/11 is one of the very first things (I mean, other than family or friend-related stuff) that my son remembers. Somehow, I find that terribly sad.