But that's not the point of this post. (And now I understand why Damion says I "tend to wander a bit" before I get to the point… oops, I did it again!) ANYWAY…
I suddenly remembered that today is September 11th.
Nine years ago this morning, hijackers flew a couple of airplanes into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, and then into the Pentagon. Another airplane was taken over first by hijackers and then by the every-day ordinary Americans who heard about the other tragedies and took control of their own deaths to crash the plane in Shanksville, PA instead of flying it into the White House.
Wow, just writing that was hard.
I remember being frustrated that morning because somehow some idiot (me) had scheduled two meetings at 9am. Luckily, they were in conference rooms right next to each other and my friend Kia was in one of the meetings. Business as usual, not a problem, right? I stopped Kia outside the conference room a few minutes before 9am and asked her if she would take notes for me.
"Well, an airplane just flew into one of the Twin Towers."
"Hahaha, c'mon Kia, you can't get out it that easy…"
"No, I'm serious! Go check the TV in the kitchen; it's all over the news!"
I ran around the corner to the kitchen and sure enough, there was the North Tower in flames and Katie Couric and Matt Lauer were talking to an eye-witness about what had happened.
I sat there agape in the kitchen, which started to fill up as the rest of the office heard what was going on, and then suddenly… there was another plane. When that happened, I knew it was NOT an accident, it was a deliberate attack. And my eyes started leaking. I thought of all those people trying to get out of the building, and those who suddenly realized they were not going to be able to get out. I thought of the firefighters, EMS, and police who were moving INTO the building. I thought of all the families of those people. And I thought of myself.
Shortly before that time, I'd read a Tom Clancy book called Debt of Honor which detailed an attack on the U.S. where a guy flew a 747 airplane into the U.S. Capitol building. I knew what this was. And I was scared! What the good-googly-moogly was going on in this world? I thought of the impact on the US. What would happen now? Would we go to war again? Would we retaliate? What did the rest of the world think of this? This was just absolutely crazy!
I looked around the kitchen and there were various expressions: fright, confusion, fright, confusion, disbelief, tears, shock, confusion, fright. I work in a very international office and every single person was feeling the same things. And everyone was holding on to someone, whether they knew them well or not. You just didn't want to be alone. The world had just gone insane, so you needed contact!
I went back to my desk and emailed all of my friends in NYC to make sure they were OK (and heard from them, whew). I emailed my family. I went online to see if there was any more news. I wrote on my discussion board. And then I went back to the kitchen.
It was a nice kitchen. The office has since moved into fancier environs which have several plasma flat-screens, but I liked the old kitchen too. We had one 19" TV posted up in a corner. There was a high-top island, with seating for about 10 people, plus two lower tables with another eight seats and a counter that ran down the windows with another 5-10 seats. That morning there were at least 75-100 people squeezing in to share seats, stand by the vending machines, pull in office chairs, and crowd in around the coffee makers to stand four deep at the island. We were a family then, and all talking about what would happen next. Would we stay in the office? Could we? How could we continue working as usual on a day like this?
About 30 minutes later, we were watching the towers and NBC's Chief Pentagon Correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski, was talking about what the military knew about the hijacked planes. They went on to talk to a State Dept person who mentioned that the airports were closed. I got up to get more water, and as I sat back down, my friend leaned over and whispered in a horrified voice: "the Pentagon's been hit!"
"What? No, they're showing the towers, that's what they're talking about!"
"No, Mikleszewski is at the Pentagon and he just felt something hit!"
More shock, disbelief, confusion, and real fear. The Pentagon is not that far away from 20th and L Streets NW where we worked! We hurried over to the south side of the building and sure enough, there was smoke from the Pentagon direction. The shakes began then. And then I thought about my friends who work at the Pentagon. The local news people were wondering whether the White House or other DC places might be targets. And then I thought… "I gotta get home!"
I ran back to my desk, closed down the laptop, and started packing up. As I was doing that, there was an announcement through the office that we were closing, so I didn't feel too guilty. I got my backpack set to go and went back into the kitchen.
And the South tower fell. Gasps, horror, tears.
And then a car bomb exploded in front of the State Dept. about a mile away…
And then the North tower fell too.
Ohmygodohmygodohmygod! Hugs. Tears. Prayers. Shakes. Oh those poor people. Oh those poor people!
And then we heard a rumor about a bomb threat on the Metro at Farragut North… yes, that would be the station I use to get onto the Metro.
So now what? I lived in Bethesda at that time, I didn't drive, there were no buses that went from here to there, and I couldn't take the metro. I guess I'd get a really good workout walking home! All ten miles! (It's really about seven miles, but I didn't know that then...)
And I felt just a little selfish. I heard of the people who jumped out of the towers because they couldn't take it. I later saw footage of the people who had to walk out of Manhattan wearing whatever they had on, covered with the detritus of the WTC, having no idea where they were going, no idea if their friends and family (and pets) were alive, no idea if their HOME still existed. And I was bummed about walking home a few miles. I think the main thing though was walking home alone.
Kia was a life saver for me in many ways that day, because she offered me a ride up to Silver Spring where I could then take the one of the "J" buses back over to Bethesda. As we were leaving the office, the fire alarms went off. PERFECT! Like we were not already freaked out enough! Turned out to be another bomb threat. So we were definitely leaving…
Luckily, Kia had parked in a different building so we were able to get her car out and start our long trek to Silver Spring -- along with EVERYONE else in DC -- around 11am.
It was like a snow day, with everyone in the world trying to get out of DC -- except that it was the most beautiful, gorgeous, sunshiny Tuesday. It seemed so weird. The sky was absolutely clear, azure blue. No airplanes. Lots of sunshine. No snow, no rain, not a natural catastrophe -- it was man-made this time.
Kia had given two other people a ride as well, and we listened avidly to the radio to find out what was happening. We heard about UA 93 and we worried. We heard about the other buildings falling. We heard survivors talking and we cried. I think it took about three hours to drive a little less than seven miles to the Metro station in Silver Spring. Another hour for the bus to get me to Bethesda, and I was home by about 3pm-ish. Alone.
My voice mail was full of messages from people outside of DC calling to see if I was OK, and I remembering thinking that that was so bizarre… why worry about me? I'm not in NYC; I don't work at the Pentagon! And then I remembered that there had been rumors that the fourth plane was headed for the White House… which is about four blocks from my office. And the bomb threat in the Metro, and the one in my building. OK, I can see the worry.
So I called everyone back to let them know I was fine but freaked out, and got to freak out along with them. By this point, I was exhausted from all of the fear and emotion. I had cried and pulled myself together at least four times already and it was only 3:30pm! Once I finished all my calls, I finally turned the TV back on again. I changed clothes and sat down with my two kitties to watch the news and cry.
And I couldn't take it.
I washed my face, put on some mascara, hugged my cats again (much to Jamocha's disgust and Calypso's sheer joy) and headed two blocks away to my favorite pub (short walk there, short crawl home). I walked down the stairs into the dank, dark basement that used to be Flanagan's, and was interested to see that none of the tables were lighted up or occupied, but the bar was packed. A couple of guys let me squeeze onto a stool between them, and the bartender poured me a beer while asking where I was when it happened.
I started crying. But this time, I immediately had arms around me, friends patting my back, and a strong hand holding my hand. It helped. It really helped.
As we heard more and more about what had happened, watched the footage over and over, heard about the bravery of the passengers of UA 93, watched as more buildings collapsed, and saw the beginnings of the search for survivors, I turned and looked around the rest of the pub. The restaurant portion was still mostly dark, but the bar was shoulder to shoulder and about four people deep. We had also become a family that evening. I don't know how long I stayed at Flanagan's, but I know I poured myself into the bed that night. Getting hammered probably isn't the best way to handle a major traumatic event, but it sure was better getting drunk with my new "family" than getting drunk all by my lonesome!
The U.S. started bombing runs in Afghanistan that night. Someone brought in the late edition of the Washington Post, and put up a poster of a target with Osama Bin Laden's face on it. I had to laugh a bit at that, but it wasn't a happy laugh, more of an ironic chuckle. I just knew we were going to war again, and I didn't like the idea. Of course, I liked the idea of blowing up the Twin Towers and the Pentagon even less. It really was not a good day.
I woke up the next day with a massive tears and beers hangover (I hate crying!), and was happy to find out that my office was closed. Well, pretty much everything was closed. I don't know what I did that day or the next, because it's a blur to me. I probably watched the news. I remember going back to work a few days later and being absolutely shocked, but somewhat comforted, by the Humvees and armed guardsmen (and women) on every corner in DC. The skies were still empty, and the world was still upside down and we were going to war again in the Middle East, but I just felt it was going to get better.
So, has it?
Maybe I'll write about that next time.
Meanwhile, take care of yourself and your loved ones. Thank a soldier. Remember the people who died in the Towers, the Pentagon and the passengers of all four airplanes, especially UA 93, and their bravery. Remember the people who went into the burning buildings to save people. Remember what it meant to you when it happened. Remember what it changed in you.
Mostly, remember that it was all the fault of a few fanatics, and NOT the entire population of Muslims in the world. Extremism is wrong no matter what the faith.