Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Twelve Years Ago

I was living in DC at the time, working for a graphic design firm. I was walking to the office and stopped in the little corner store to get my then-usual quart of milk that I was drinking every morning. The news was on a small TV but the sound was off. So I wasn't really sure what I was watching. I watched for a few minutes, as the building was burning and smoke was filling the sky.  I asked the guy behind the counter what it was all about.  He said he has just turned the TV on and wasn't sure himself.  It seemed too fake to be real.

I entered the office and sat down at my desk. Nancy, the Production Manager, frantically came in the office and asked, "Have you heard?" We started receiving phone calls as rumors began to fly around DC. At first we heard that a plane had landed on the steps of the Capitol Building. And then we heard it had landed on the Mall. And then we heard another was headed towards the White House, just 10 blocks away.

My boss, the principal designer, brought a small television from her home upstairs (the business was in the combined basement apartments of two townhouses). We watched as the first building collapsed, and then the second. And we were told a plane had crashed in rural Pennsylvania (40 miles from my parents' house) and another had crashed into the Pentagon.

The TV news was telling America that the Pentagon was located in DC. My parents, not knowing exactly where I was working in relation to the Pentagon (which is actually in Virginia), called me at work, frantic. The phone lines had been jammed, and it took them a few hours to get through to me. I can't imagine how panicked they must have felt.

Outside the window, people in suits were walking home. Some seemed to be strolling casually, others were running. This was about 11:00AM. All of us at the design studio wanted to go home as well. No one knew if it was over, if it was just the first wave, if there was more to come. I lived and worked 10 blocks from the White House. Anything seemed possible.

I wanted to go home, pack a bag, and drive to my parents' house. We heard rumors of streets being blocked, so that no one could get out of the city. Was it worth the effort? Was it even safe to go outside or travel? Were there gases or poisons in the air? Would I get stuck if I tried to drive anywhere?

My boss wouldn't let us leave. "Nancy's husband is out of town, Dop and Chris both live alone. I don't see the point". So we stayed at work all day, but didn't actually do any work. I think my boss - an unmarried woman in her 40's - just didn't want to be alone either.

I left work at 6:00 and walked home. I turned on the television and watched the same scenes over and over and over and over. Each time, it sunk in a little deeper, made me a little sadder.

That night, a group of friends and I all sat outside on the sidewalk in a big circle with candles. We held hands, we cried, and we prayed. The world as we had come to know it was now changed forever. We figured nothing would ever be like it was.

And it still isn't.  But we'll get there.