We all have our stories. We were in classrooms. In meetings. In bed. We had a friend call. We watched it on live TV. We had a coworker interrupt an interview.
Like you, I have a story.
Mine started on September 7th. Our friend Dave dropped me and Scoot off at Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) airport for a flight to San Jose. It was our first trip back to California after moving to DC two weeks after our wedding. Scoot was to be an usher for his friend, Terence, at his wedding in Monterey. I remember thinking BWI had the longest security line I’d ever seen. (If I only knew.)
On Saturday morning we arrived at the hotel and, despite being very close to Terence since T was a kid, Scoot’s dad was nowhere to be found. We found his wife who told us that he was in the hospital. We had no idea. Scoot was worried. The bride and groom jumped the broom, Scoot performed his duties but we left the reception early to go up to the Bay Area and visit his dad. We spent as much time at the hospital as we could but on Sunday we had to get back on a plane and fly home.
The next morning, we woke up and went to work. I had a temp position near GW hospital working for my mom’s former employee. Scoot was an assistant manager at an Electronics Boutique and was being trained in a nearby mall. After work I got a phone call. The internship I had applied for was mine! That night we called to check in on Scoot’s dad. He was heading home from the hospital! We turned on ESPN and heard that rumors were flying that Michael Jordan was about to come out of retirement to join the Wizards. Our gamble on using our college graduation money to buy season tickets in hopes we’d get to see the greatest player of all time play in person had paid off!
September 10th. What a day.
“Today was too good,” the always superstitious Scoot said as we readied for bed and he set the alarm. “Something bad is going to happen tomorrow.” I rolled my eyes, rolled over and faded off to sleep as Jay Leno cracked jokes on my TV.
I awoke the next morning in a panic. I turned over. Shit! I was late! How did that happen? I checked the alarm. Someone else was talking but I couldn’t make out who it was or what they were saying.
“Hey, Scoot! Remember when you said something bad was going to happen today?” I asked as I shook him awake and he grumbled something. “Yeah, we you forgot to turn on the alarm, genius.”
I realized the TV was still on from the night before. I heard Katie Couric’s voice but the image was a building with smoke coming out of it. Matt Lauer then started talking. Still groggy, I was confused. What was happening? “Scoot, wake up!” I implored.
As we tried to process what was going on, we both turned and saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center on our TV screen.
The hours, days and weeks to follow come to me in photographic flashes much too frequently. Not yet knowing the Pentagon would be next, we rushed to get ready and get in the car so I could try to get to work on time. We talked about one of our favorite movies, Independence Day. The announcer on the car radio said the whole (Capitol) Mall was on fire. There was mass confusion and real news was hard to find. We decided, just before getting on 395, to turn around and go home. Had we continued, we would have been on the road the goes right in front of the Pentagon around the same time American Flight 77 would hit it. I found out hours later that an assistant dean from my grad school was on that plane with her husband and two girls nearly the same age that DJ and Bop are now. :: shudder ::
We got home and turned on the TV, confirming that the Pentagon was in fact hit. Scoot commented that the South tower of the World Trade Center was going to fall. I scoffed, noting that the buildings were designed to withstand airplane impacts. “Look at how it’s leaning,” he said. Not long later, we watched it fall, again on live TV.
We were glued to the television.
Scoot still had to report to work. He wouldn’t leave me alone at home, so I brought my textbooks and hung out at the mall where he was training. When we arrived, I noted an advertisement stand outside of the store. It showed a picture of the Pentagon taken from above, a target in a video game where players commit aerial attacks. I suggested that perhaps they should bring that stand inside. Not long later, the store and mall closed. We went home.
As the day wore on and the winds changed, our apartment – with its inexpensive air conditioning that rarely worked, forcing us to leave our windows open throughout the hot Washington, DC summer – filled with smoke from the Pentagon less than 10 miles away. That smell is burned into my memory, a reminder of the day and the moment I finally allowed myself to flee from the fear of the world I lived in to the much safer confines of sleep.
The remainder of that week flashes back to me as well. I took the Metro into work on Friday, September 14th. As I disembarked the escalator at the Foggy Bottom station, I turned to walk to the offices on N Street. Normally I’d walk straight through Washington Circle but it had a ring of Humvees enclosing it. I flashed back to 8th grade U.S. history when I learned the layout of the streets in D.C. were designed to protect our nation’s most sacred establishments. I walked by men in uniform with an “MP,” on their biceps. It took me a few moments to realize that it stood for Military Police.
I sat at my desk and used Google to find the nearest Methodist church. I spent my lunch hour doing what my fellow Americans were doing, praying and remembering. I soon learned that the pilot of Flight 77 was a member of the Foundry United Methodist Church, the nearest church to work. At the service, the pastor asked for a moment of silence, then invited those in attendance to call out the names of people who were lost a few days earlier. And I sat for minutes – frankly, it felt like HOURS – as name after name after name after name was called out from a standing-room-only crowd. I could do nothing else but cry.
I left the Metro stop on the way home and boarded the bus to our apartment. Others who rode the bus with regularity were on as well, including a young man who I knew worked at the Pentagon. It was the first time I’d seen him since Tuesday and he was in fatigues. I asked about them. “We’re at war,” he replied. “We’re required to be prepared for battle.” I could do nothing but gulp.
Later, I was watching the memorial service at Yankee Stadium and saw a face on a “Missing” poster that looked familiar. I was an early reality TV fan. The Murder in Small Town X final was a week before September 11th and I had watched every episode. The winner, Ángel Juarbe, Jr., was fresh on my mind when I learned he was one of a number of fire fighters in New York who had yet to be located by the time of the Yankees Stadium memorial. Later, his body was found, another of the hundreds of public servants who lost their lives.
As the days moved on, people in other cities talked about their fears. There is never much good that can come from trying to compare fear, tragedy, or nervousness. But as Scoot says, when you lived in DC at that time, you didn’t have to be in the military to feel you’re at risk. September 11th didn’t pass from our minds. It didn’t go away. The tragedy of 9/11 and the many changes it made to our lives smacked us in the face every day. When I visited New York City last year, it hit me in the face once again. I stood on the edge of Ground Zero. And I cried. And I remembered.
Like millions of Americans, I’ll spend today paying my respects to those who lost their lives. I pray for them and their families who are missing them. I pray for those who risked their lives to save others, and who still feel the physical and psychological impacts of their rescue efforts. I pray for our nation’s leaders, that they have the wisdom to keep us safe while upholding the ideals that are the essence of our nation. I pray that those of us with the responsibility to raise post-9/11 babies teach our children to respect this day and the many lessons learned from it. And I pray that none of us ever forget where we were when the world stopped turning on that September day.