If you were around ten years ago today, you most likely heard or experienced the horror that is referred to, at least in the States, as simply "nine-eleven". Everyone has their own story as to where they were and what they were doing on 9/11. I remember hearing about this phenomenon when I was a child... "where were you when JFK was assassinated?"... "do you remember what you were doing when Elvis died?"... "do you remember where you were when the wall between East and West Germany came down?"... "what about the space shuttle Challenger?" Some of those events I have listed, I was alive for... in fact, all of them except one. I remember all of them. But nothing had as big of an effect on me as the attacks on the World Trade Center and Washington D.C.
On 9/11/01, I was no longer living in New York, and even when I was there, I didn't live in The City. I suspect that if I were still living in my hometown in western NY state, I probably would have not felt any different than living where I do now in mid-Ohio. Except, maybe...I wouldn't feel ashamed over some parts of the day.
The day started, for me, as any other. I went to work like every other day. I had the same frustrations as every other day. I listened to the radio... but this day I'd put in a CD. I remember leaving my office and walking toward the door of the suite only to have an office-mate come in, nearly in a panic. He said, "a plane just hit the world trade center!" I looked at him, dumbfounded. Not because I was upset, but because I didn't understand WHERE the world trade center (shame) was, and... I simply didn't believe him (more shame). This person had quite a history of embellishing stories and being very dramatic. I continued on my way out of the suite, across the hall, and into our other suite only to bump in to the Senior Director of our office. He said, "a plane just hit the world trade center!" I nodded, feeling something growing in the pit of my stomach that this was more serious than I suspected and replied, "Mike just told me that!" The Senior Director asked me to try and get our training room TV to work so we could see the news, so I headed back over to the suite where my office was.
On my way to jerry-rig the TV to have reception (with a paperclip, I might add), I stopped by another co-worker's office and repeated what everyone else had told me. She was sitting close to her radio, and she said they had just broken into the middle of the song and announced it.
Those that were in the office all filtered in to the conference room, where I set up the TV. We sat there, watching the smoke coming out of the North Tower, silence in the room. My brain was spinning. I wasn't sure what I was seeing. I ... it's horrible to say this... but I was truly unaffected (shame). I thought, for sure, that the fire was going to be put out, that people inside had an escape plan and route... that this was a weird fluke. What was that pilot thinking? I started wondering why the helicopters filming this didn't drop ropes down to people in the windows... or ... something.
As we are watching, my brain spinning, I see a plane fly toward the World Trade Center and an explosion. I look at the others around the table and I ask, "was that a plane? Did that plane just hit the other tower??" No one could answer me... we weren't sure if it was some sort of re-run broadcast from the first plane hitting... but then the newscasters confirmed what we had seen. On live TV. In my head I was just repeating, "oh my God, oh my God, oh my God." What was I seeing? What was going on? Surely TWO pilots couldn't have screwed up that badly?
The newscasters didn't even know what was going on. I don't remember anyone mentioning"terrorists". No one mentioned "hijacking". Not yet. Not for a while. As the group of us sat in the conference room we chatted lightly. Some people left to work (we work for a social services agency... like a hospital, we provide supports to people and couldn't just stop), others joined us. People came and went... some in quiet shock, some in tears.
I left briefly to try and contact my husband. He hadn't seen any of this and was trying to pull up CNN.com online. They were jammed up so bad, he couldn't get any news. I fed him updates throughout the day via email.
After a few minutes, I rejoined the group watching TV. Soft conversation about what was going on, between commentary from the newscasters, kept my mind from spinning out of control. I could not tear my eyes from the TV screen. A new picture flashed for a moment on the screen and then, seconds later, it went back to the Trade Center towers. Everyone looked around at each other, then the screen went back to the picture we'd all briefly seen. I said, "Is that the Pentagon?! What happened?" No one answered. We didn't know. Newscasters stated that there was an explosion and fire at the Pentagon. A few minutes later, newscasters confirmed that a plane had hit the Pentagon, I remember saying aloud, "What is going ON?" Soon after, there was talk about terrorists and hijacked planes. I vaguely remember hearing that all airports in the country had shut down, something I have never experienced in my lifetime.
I was frozen in my seat. I could not keep my eyes off the TV. A half-an hour later, the second tower that was hit disappears in a cloud of smoke and dust. The silence in the room around me was deafening. I still remember feeling that detached feeling... knowing that this was going to change my world, but at the same time, reacting to it as if it were a big Hollywood movie with amazing special effects. Another half-hour passes and again, as I watch, the other Trade Center tower collapses. Soon after, there are reports of another plane crashed in Pennsylvania. My half-numb brain can't figure out why the terrorists would crash a plane in a field. It's the next day before I understand what happened to the fourth hijacked plane.
Over time, we all return to working, always coming back to watch the TV for updates. We light a candle in the afternoon and have a moment of silence. Some people left for home. I continually update my husband via email. I feel guilty for not believing Mike when he told me about the plane that morning. The image of the second plane hitting the second tower is burned into my brain due to the numerous times the TV news replayed it. I am scared.
When the workday is over, I head home. I am hyper aware of how little traffic is on the road... how blue the skies were...of an American flag blowing high up in the breeze. I live near the airport and as I head home, it is weird to not see any planes come in to land or taking off on their way to cities unknown. I walk into my house and lie down on my bed, my windows open. I am struck with how quiet it is. I never realized how much noise the airport...and the highway traffic nearby... made in my every day life. I've never heard such silence in my home. All low humming...of car traffic and air traffic...was simply gone. It would be three days until I hear it again; the sound returning was just as strange.
I heard my neighbors talking to each other across my back yard, so I went out to join them until The Hubs got home from work. We turned the TV on so he could see what he hadn't been able to all day from work. By then, someone out there in the government or media had stopped the networks from replaying the images of the second plane hitting the second tower. It would cause too much trauma (?) to the public. It already had. Still, we were transfixed, watching every minute until The Girl, who was just shy of 6 years old at the time, came over for visitation. We turned off the TV to keep her from seeing it (she would later develop a fear of flying from watching the TV show Lost). Because of this, we miss President Bush's address to the country.
But we already knew...the world as we knew it...our world...had forever changed.
I will never forget.