I sat down to write something funny about my kids, but I just didn’t have it in me today. It seems irresponsible to ignore such a horrific day in our nation’s history. One that affected me for years, but I’ve never written about. I thought about keeping a journal at the time, but instead tried to steer my thoughts away from that day, hoping that I would stop dreaming about planes crashing into me.
I know I was lucky. I was in D.C. and feared for my life, but here I am today and that sunny, clear day is still fresh in my mind, 11 years later.
I thought this morning how different my experience of 9/11 would have been if I were living in California then. It’s unlikely I would have even been awake, and since I don’t turn on the TV in the morning, I would have been blissfully unaware of the chaos unfolding on the East Coast, at least until I got to the office. Instead, I was in D.C., two blocks from the Capitol. We saw news online about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center and thought, “what a horrible accident,” then turned on the TV in my boss’s office just in time to see the second plane hit live on the Today Show. It was suddenly clear that this was not an accident, but who would do such a thing?
Shortly after that plane hit, there were reports from the Pentagon, that a bomb or other explosion had occurred. It took some time before news outlets realized it was a third plane. Reports of bombs and fires at the White House and elsewhere in the city incited panic, making us feel like we were under attack. The sonic boom we heard as fighter jets scrambled over the city could have easily been construed as an explosion, and my office closed at that point.
News reports said that Flight 93 was still unaccounted for and could be headed for D.C. I didn’t drive to work, and the Metro was flooded with screaming Capitol Hill staffers, trying to get away from what was thought to be the next target. I lived in Arlington at the time, across the Potomac and next to the fiery Pentagon, so I wasn’t sure how I’d get home. My coworker had driven to work and lived in Alexandria, so she offered to bring me to her house, along with another young coworker. My driver was nearly nine months pregnant, and as we sat in horrible traffic next to the Capitol building, I had two hopes: that we wouldn’t watch a plane crash next to us and that she wouldn’t go into labor in the car.
Cell phones were working only sporadically, but I got a call from my mom that eased some of my fears. She worked for United Airlines, and was crying because Flight 93 had gone down in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t public knowledge yet, and she knew the pilot. I was sad for his family and the others on the plane, but relieved. Crashing in a field causes far less damage than it would in a densely populated city.
I don’t remember how long it took to get to my coworker’s home, but I remember how eerily calm her street was. Kids were playing quietly outside and it was the most beautiful day. The type of day that you love living in D.C. Sunny and warm, but no humidity with a nice breeze. We spent the afternoon glued to the TV, and it was very bizarre to see news on every channel, even MTV. Later in the day, my roommate came to pick me up and we passed the smoky Pentagon on our way home. It continued to smoke for days, a constant reminder. My other roommate had walked home across the Memorial Bridge from her Chinatown office. She threw away her shoes when she got home. Her feet were bloody with blisters.
My boyfriend at the time worked for the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He was whisked off with the senator to a secure location. He arrived at my house around midnight, with fear and tears in his eyes. He knew things he couldn’t share, and though we knew that the whole world doesn’t love America, it was frightening to be attacked on our own soil.
As horrible as that day was for me, I know people had it much, much worse. And there were so many close calls. A high school friend who lived in Florida was in the World Trade Center that day for job training – he made it out okay. My dad’s friend worked on the 90th floor of the WTC, but had a dentist appointment that morning that probably saved his life. We were the lucky ones. Our nation lost innocent people. Moms, dads, children.
After 9/11, D.C. was a different place. Quiet. Somber. But also more friendly and resilient. Patriotic. Strangers smiled at one another, flags flew and the man playing the trumpet outside of Union Station changed his repertoire to “America, the Beautiful” and the “Star-Spangled Banner.” We were a city changed, a nation changed, but we were united. That would be the only good thing to come of such a devastating day. In the past few years, we seem to have forgotten the horrible day that brought our country together. The country is more safe today, but also more divided.
Today, Tuesday, September 11, had a very different start from this day in 2001. I woke up early, got the kids ready and drove to work in a beachy fog. 2,600 miles and what feels like a lifetime away from that fateful Tuesday morning. Someday I can tell my kids the story (or show them this post) of the day our country changed forever. Hopefully by then we’ll be back to the great country we once were.
In the meantime, I’m thankful that I was one of the lucky ones and I’ll never forget those we lost on 9/11.