I was late for work as usual and was rushing into the elevator to take me to the 9th floor of my office building. It was about 8:50am at the latest. There were several people stuffed into the elevator and it was the first time I heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The information was second or third hand - the man who relayed the news was as in the dark as the rest of us. People responded with the normal sentiments like, "Oh my goodness, really?" and "Oh no. I hope that people weren't hurt." We all thought it was just a terrible accident. I prayed silently for a miracle that no one got hurt and got off my floor to start my work day.
As soon as I rounded the bookcases that separated our section of the office from the rest, my friend Laurie, who sat in the desk next to me, frantically told me that a plane flew into the World Trade Center. We joined our co-workers crowded around the few TVs that were available.
My memory at this point is fuzzy. I don't recall if what I witnessed was in real-time or re-play. Watching all the memorial shows today leads me to believe that we were watching it in real time. I remember the second plane at some point. The next thing I remember was the World Trade Center dissolving into the concrete of Manhattan. At some point I walked from the office and back to my desk in a very sad confusing fog. Ten years later the events have rolled into a sad blurry memory.
I remember a young friend who worked close to the Pentagon call me near hysterics. She had heard and felt the impact of Hijacked Plane 77 as it explode into the outer walls of the Pentagon. . My friend was almost in tears and kept asking me, "What should I do? What should I do?" Although I can’t remember exactly, I told her to get out of there and go home.
Somewhere in that time - that very short time between 8:50am and 10:00am, it became clear that there was another hijacked plane headed to DC with its target either the White House or the Capitol Building. It was at that time that I knew there was a possibility I could be in danger. Our office was just a few blocks away from both the White House and the Capitol. My husband called, because of his close proximity to the Pentagon, his office had been evacuated. I told him about the third plane heading for D.C.. At that time I knew that the White House was being evacuated. It was weird. Danger that close. It could take just a slight miscalculation and our building could be struck.
My husband asked what my plan was. To be honest I was sitting at my desk stunned as was my friend Laurie. We really did not know what to do. I told Jon that our security/facilities people told us that our building was, "the safest place to be". My husband stated very frankly, " How could they possibly know that? That’s probablly what they told those people in the World Trade Center. You need to get home."
Even one of our Partners - the most Senior next to my boss, told Laurie and I that although the suggestion was to stay where we are, that we were free to leave. Reports and rumors were already swirling around about the Metro also being targeted by terrorists Our building was just too close to it all. After hanging up with Jon, I grabbed my laptop bag and stated to my co-worker “I’m leaving.”
I decided that if anything happened, if that missing plane got even slightly off course, I would rather die on my way home to my family than die at my desk house in an ugly cubicle. So I made my way home. On the Metro. I practically held my breath the entire way, wondering if there would be some sort of underground attack. I didn't take a proper breath until I got on my bus that took me to my door, miles away from Downtown DC.
10 years later, I still find it hard to believe that over 2,000 people were killed within minutes of each other. I still can't fathom that when I woke up on the morning of September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center Towers were standing tall and intact, but before lunch were gone. And the world as I knew it had changed. What stays with me since that day 10 years ago is the imagery of hundreds perhaps thousands of people running from the monumental collapse of the towers. I remember their eyes were filled with a combination of fear and exhaustion. The inferno of dust blackened everything for seconds - even my tv screen. The images and sound were eerily reminiscent of all the armageddon and nuclear winter movies I saw as a kid. The white -then black -then gray dust covered NY for what seemed like miles. It sticks with me because I know that within that dust were the remains of thousands of people obliterated because of hatred and insanity. 9/11 scarred our collective soul.
So many killed in the Twin Towers, Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. I can't bear to think about those that knew they were going to die. The passengers on the aircrafts that were manipulated into massive bombs. The people in the stairways of the towers that could hear the world coming down on their heads, or the ones that looked out of their windows to see a commercial jet speeding into their offices.
Everyone who died were the people who made up our communities. They were Black, White , Asian, Indian and Arab. They were male and female, young and old. They were gay and straight, Democratic and Republican. There were Christians, Muslims, Jews, Agnostics, and Atheists. There were new moms and newlyweds, there were people about to celebrate family milestones like birthdays and anniversaries. I think about the people who may have just fallen in love, or broken up with their sweethearts. There were people who had said happy words to their loved ones and those who were just trying to get where they needed to go to do what they needed to do. I think about the school children on one of those jets whose excitement dissolved into confusion and terror before their lives were cut short. All of those people represented every single one of us. We were all there.