Throughout this year I am doing a series of posts to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I have yet to write about where I was and my recollections. I think I’ve avoided putting it into written words for a number of reasons – most of which are in a vein of mental self-defense. I’ve decided that today is the day, however, to finally let some of those defenses down. This is my story.
Like most Americans, I woke up and went through the usual morning rituals then headed to work. There was no way I could have known what was going unfold that morning and how it would change all of our lives forever.
I was running late that morning and decided to hit the nearby Panera Bread restaurant for coffee for my bosses to smooth over my tardiness. I had not seen the news or had the radio on, but instead was listening to a mixed tape in my car on the drive. I was blissfully unaware that a plane had careened into one of the World Trade Center towers.
Upon entering my office, I was descended on by our receptionist and barraged with ‘where have you been?’ and ‘I can’t believe it, can you?’. I was at first thinking my bosses were royally teed off at me for being 15 minutes late – an event that happened once a week like clockwork for me at the time.
She had one of my arms in a vice-like grip as she pulled me towards the conference room. There was a television on and a large number of our employees were packed into it. I saw a shot of one of the World Trade Towers on fire. Smoke roiling from a gaping hole. The reporter was saying that a plane had flown into the tower.
I could hardly believe my eyes and ears. The whole time our receptionist was whispering to me about it, to be honest, I do not remember a word she said. I was transfixed on the television as the cameraman was tracking another plane close to the other tower.
Then it happened.
That plane flew right into the second tower – right there, live, in front of all of us.
I can remember cries and a lot of ‘Oh my God’ from those around me. It took me a moment to realize I was hyperventilating. I vaguely remember one of my colleagues led me into the hall and sat me on the ground with my head between my legs.
I was crying and I kept saying, “This is not an accident.. this is war.” Within a few moments, I got up and stumbled to the ladies room. I was pretty sure I was going to be sick. I knew it in my gut this was a terrorist act and who had probably committed it.
Jihad had come to America.
After taking time to compose myself, I made my way back to the conference room. I worked in a male-dominated office at the time, but not a single man in that room had dry eyes. Many were openly weeping, others too stunned to do anything but stare at the television replay of the horror we just witnessed.
Then the reporter on TV started talking about reports coming in that the FAA was grounding flights and that some other planes were ‘missing’. My heart skipped a beat wondering what the next target was going to be.
Then the news comes. The Pentagon has been hit.
Crying in the room has now given way to anger and fear and everyone who has one is on their cell phone. I was one of them. My cousin and several friends lived in New York City; one of them only three blocks away and worked at the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The lines were busy. I kept trying.
Over and over I hit redial only to be met with a recording that ‘all lines were busy’. I left a message for my Aunt living in Upstate New York. She called back and reported my cousin was safe. That was somehow both a big relief and yet not enough of one. I remember mumbling, “someone is going to pay for this.”
There is a palpable sense of fear and anger in the room. It seemed like moments later but in reality, it was more like over an hour later – the South Tower collapses. The tears and inability to breathe came flooding right back as I watched in abject horror.
Reports then start to come in about a fourth plane. One that seemingly was headed for either the White House or the Capitol Building, but instead had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
We would later come to know that the passengers had taken matters into their own hands and engaged their hijackers. They sacrificed their own lives, and in doing so, probably saved many, many lives.
Close-ups of the remaining tower from multiple angles are being shown and replays of the footage of the second plane as well. There was a brief moment of a close up on the tower of something falling. The broadcaster was hypothesizing it was pieces of the building or some kind of debris. It was seconds later they cut away as the reporter covering it was crying ‘oh my God it’s people’. For as long as I live, I will never forget that.
It is about approximately thirty minutes later that the North Tower collapses.
The Twin Towers are no more. Giant debris clouds surge through lower Manhattan and people are running for their lives. All traffic in and out of Manhattan has been sealed off and images of people covered in debris walking out of the area. I am now sitting at the conference room table, holding the hand of one of my co-worker’s so tightly I have pins and needles in my fingers.
Our bosses urged us to try to return to our cubes and to put our things in order. We were being sent home early as no one was able to keep it together for more than a few minutes at a time.
I was tasked with contacting our contractors working in New York City at the time to confirm their whereabouts. We had over 30 of them at the time, so the receptionist and I set to calling them. One by one, we accounted for each of them – thank God.
I still had not gotten a hold of one of my college friends I knew to be working at an accounting firm in the North Tower. I reached out to several friends we shared. It took almost a whole day to find him, but as it turned out by fate, chance or destiny – he was late to work that morning. He has been just a block away and witnessed the plane hit. He packed up all his belongings, broke his lease and left New York City a month later. He has never returned.
After completing my assigned task, I got up and picked up my still full, but now cold, coffee from Panera and walked to my car. It was about 1:30 pm by that point as I headed up the highway for home.
I passed went under two bridges – each had cop cars on it and I noted the military jets flying overhead several times. It felt like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone. All that day and into the night, my boyfriend (now husband) sat and watched the continuing coverage.
As I had suspected, the news revealed piece at a time that the planes had been hijacked by Al Qaeda terrorists. America was no longer in the column of untouchable. The largest and most terrible terrorist act in history had just been committed on our soil, using our own technology and we would later find out that 19 hijackers had murdered of 2, 752 of our citizens.
When you think about it, that number is fairly low given what they tried to do – in reality, these jihadists had tried murder at least half a million, maybe more. This is why we must remember. Things have not changed, my friends. More plots have been foiled, but the odds are not in our favor.
Remember 9/11. Never forget.