I haven’t thought about it much…
I’ve thought about the event, the war, our new safe and secure America, the travel restrictions, the politicians chatter, the “bring our troops home” protests… I’ve thought about just about everything else but the day itself. Even seeing a story in the free daily didn’t really bring any memories back. There’s simply been so much else to be angry or concerned about in the six years since.
I sat down at my desk and looked at my phone. The digital screen plainly shows the date “SEP 11” — it’s identical to the phone in my office from the Ronald Reagan building the day of the attacks. I don’t think I ever really wrote about how the day went. Just the weekend prior I had flown to visit my parents. That day I wrote about how mind-numbingly average the trip home was.
I couldn’t even say when things started happening. I never looked at the time, it didn’t occur to me to do so. You don’t know that a day is going to be life-changing, it just is what it is.
I was in my office, working away as usual which meant I was surfing websites and chatting via IM — we didn’t really have a lot of work to do at the time. My manager Joyce came down the hall to my office more excited than usual and said, “Oh my Lord, Brian come on, a plane just hit the World Trade Center!” One of the offices downstairs had CNN running on one of their screens, so we headed to the lobby to see what was going on. We thought it must be a horrible accident, maybe the plane’s engines gave out or something.
As we were watching and listening to them report on the first plane, the second one hit. I don’t know which one of us had it more together… Joyce, who had a moment of panic and said that we had to get upstairs and tell people to be prepared to go home, or me who was just kinda frozen. I really didn’t understand what was happening. Eventually we headed back upstairs to our offices and started spreading the word. Phones were ringing all over the office, people were talking, not a single news site was reachable over the web, all of them timed out. I was talking to people via IM, some were at home and had access to live news, but there wasn’t a lot of information yet.
By the time the third plane hit the Pentagon, we were already packing up our things to head home. An e-mail was sent out shortly afterwards telling everyone to leave. We had huddled around a radio and gone back downstairs to see CNN. There were a lot of conflicting reports, and there was a report of a car bomb in DC and people were panicking. I realized that the view of the Capitol that I loved so much on my way to work also put it not that many blocks from where I was working, and we were already aware that our building itself had been declared a threat target.
People flooded into the streets and sidewalks, cabs immediately filled up, it was like a million slug lines formed along Pennsylvania Ave, some people drove past with windows rolled down, asking if anyone was going their way, kindly offering rides. I had no idea what to do, really. My car was at the Huntington metro station, I couldn’t hail a cab, my cell phone couldn’t get through. I waited in a long line at a pay phone to call… I didn’t know who to call. I finally called Michael whose office was on The Hill to see if he was ok, and if maybe I could head over to his location and get a ride home but had to leave a message, he wasn’t in. At no point did I think that I wasn’t going to make it back home, it’s just that right then I didn’t know how I was going to make it home.
The thought of taking metro scared me, overheard conversations about the possibility of bombing the trains really got to me. I found a group walking towards Crystal City over the bridge and joined them for a moment before thinking that it was headed right towards the Pentagon and it was part self-, part emotional-preservation that I realized I didn’t want to be so exposed and I probably couldn’t face seeing the Pentagon. I took the Blue Line the long way around home, again choosing underground over exposure, though I guess with the uncertainty of that day, it was hard to know which was safer, you just had to have hope.
Every car was packed, people were not rude or pushy for an unexpected change, but you were body to body in those cars and at every stop people pressed together a bit more to try and let as many people on that could get on. I remember a lady and I kept bumping into each other and kinda smiling it off a bit even though we were definitely up in each other’s very personal space. The trains stopped a lot between stations, mid-tunnel, at some points the lights went out in the cars, the a/c wasn’t working all the time. For what could have been a very panic-laden situation, most everyone managed to keep their cool.
Much of that train ride is a blur actually, I know we bypassed stations but I can’t remember where I got off to change to the Yellow line to get home. My trains on the way home after swapping lines were kind of empty. The traffic flowed pretty smoothly from the station back to my apartment. I went inside, turned on the television and took a long shower. The phone rang while I was getting cleaned up and I checked my voicemail later, a bunch of calls from family members checking on me, family members that never call me — ever. First I called my friend Shawn who lived down the road from me, and also worked in DC then I returned calls starting with the most distant (blood and emotional) first, and then called my brother and my mom & dad.
The rest of the day was an odd mix of relief that I and everyone I knew was safe, and shock as I continued to watch the coverage. It was probably the only time that news has been on my television all day and night.
The next morning I debated going to work at all, eventually opting to drive in. My route took me past the Pentagon. There was still smoke billowing into the sky, emergency services vehicles all over the place. It made for a very somber drive in, and traffic completely slowed down at that point, but no one honked. At the office there were a lot of call-outs that day and honestly not a lot got done. I think it was easier to cope as the day went on and there were no new incidents. By the 13th, co-workers were already griping about the increased (and slower) security procedures in the office. In that way, at least, things were back to normal.
Even writing about it now, I get upset and kinda tear up. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced that sort of confusion and helplessness before or since and I wasn’t really directly impacted by the attacks. Now it’s 6 years later and it seems that the issues we’re dealing with from that day are more domestic than foreign, it’s about politics and toeing the line, or focusing on little things. I can’t believe that Bin Laden releases a new videotape and the thing most new outlets focused on was that he dyed his beard… does that even matter?! Like I said, I guess it feels like there are a lot more important things to be angry and upset about.
Every year since the question has been asked, “Are things back to normal?” It doesn’t feel as much like normal as it does business as usual. Not quite the same thing, just kinda close to it.
* I don’t mean for this entry to take away from the pain and suffering of the people that lost loved ones to both the attacks and the environmental and health-related factors after the fact. I just realized when going back through my archives that I had really put all my feelings about that day behind a wall. Getting them out “on paper” still makes me upset, but it also helps me feel a little bit better too.