Author’s Note: I published this last year and have reposted it today in honor of September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance. This is from my personal perspective living and working in Washington, DC that day.
I remember that it was a beautiful late summer day. Sunny, warm, not a cloud in the sky.
I remember sitting in traffic near the Pentagon on my normal daily commute. I remember kvetching that people just can’t handle a “zipper merge”. Every day, I mutter, why can’t people take turns?
I remember finally getting to my cube in Georgetown, logging into my computer, getting my caffeine fix. Catching up with colleagues, just like any other day.
I remember my cube neighbor rushing in to tell about the first plane crash into WTC. At this point it was shortly before 9:00 AM. I was flabbergasted – a plane? I tried to get online but the Internet was slow. Painfully slow. It was a foreshadowing.
I remember someone finding a radio, turning it on just as a DJ was announcing the second plane had hit. Everyone was silent.
I remember hearing that the Pentagon was hit. At first, we heard it was a bomb. Then, it was a plane. I walked over to the other side of the office. My bosses’ office had a clear view of the Potomac. I could easily see the plume of smoke rising from down the river.
I remember trying to get ahold of my mom, to tell her not to worry. It was so difficult to get an outside line, from the office or from my cell. Finally I reach her, only to find out she hadn’t turned on the TV yet. So it was my job to not only tell her I’m fine but there was a massive attack. At this point, she screams that the other Tower collapsed. Then the plane hit a rural area in Pennsylvania. I freaked out because my parents live in a rural area, but learn that it was another part of the state.
I remember the next few hours were a blur. We gathered in a conference room. We were told to stay put. We didn’t know what was going to happen. Rumors and gossip started to spread. There was a fire on the Mall, a car bomb, a plane circling DC.
I remember that we were finally told to evacuate, along with the rest of the city. Then I was scared – I lived within a couple miles of the Pentagon. My roommate at the time was also a work colleague. Another good friend/colleague lived very close to us. We looked at each other.
I remember thinking, were we going to be able to get “home”?
I remember that we decided to make the drive together. My roommate drove (I left my car at work) and drove over Key Bridge back into Arlington. Yes, I was scared. But in another way we just thinking about how to get out. Your mind goes on auto-pilot though – you just want to get OUT.
I remember that traffic was a mess, so much worse then your typical nightmare commute. As my friend drove, I looked out the window. I remember seeing people walking and running every which way. You weren’t sure if someone was going to run out in front of you. You can hear sirens and see flashing lights everywhere you looked. We had to take a few different turns to get our friend to her condo because the roads were so jammed.
I remember that we finally got her home. Outside her condo we paused with a large group of strangers on Columbia Pike, mesmerized by the smoke and the lights. It was surreal. It was also unbelievable.
I remember that afterwards we stopped at a Safeway. It may seem silly now, but we bought beer and cigarettes. (Yes, there was a period of time that I smoked. A lot.). When we got home, I sat on the back stoop of our townhouse, smoking, drinking, and getting a hold of various family members whenever service would allow me to.
I remember listening to the helicopters flying overhead. I remember thinking that any moment, could be that moment. I remember that time did pass, and that nothing else of that magnitude happened that day. Because what had happened was already more than enough.
I still remember. I won’t forget.