September 11, 2001: America Remembers

Where were you on the morning of September 11, 2001? I was right here in my office, just like every other work day. It was a beautiful day – one of those where it’s hard to be at work, it’s so nice out. My twins, then 4, had just started preschool the week before, and were still adjusting to it. I had logged on to my computer and had my browser pointed to MSN’s home page, which, at 8 a.m. when I got here, had your everyday run-of-the-mill stuff on it.

At about 8:40 a.m., I was at the drinking fountain down the hall, filling my water glass, when a co-worker came by and asked me if I’d heard the news. I said no, and he said an airplane had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. Puzzled, I asked, “you mean, like, an accident?” He said “no – it’s a terrorist attack!” I ran back to my desk and tried to refresh MSN. The network was overloaded and I couldn’t get the page to load, which told me the news was true. I turned on my radio, and the music station I keep it tuned to was all news coverage. I spent the morning piecing the story together from the radio and the Internet, when I could actually get a news page to load (which was rarely). I listened to Peter Jennings on ABC News cover the events live. I remember that, when the first tower fell, there was dead silence on the air for a good 10-15 seconds. I have never heard a newscaster like Peter Jennings speechless during a broadcast, except for that day.

At around 9:30 that morning, our CEO sent an email to “all” about the attacks, saying there would be TV coverage in our break room for those who wished to see it. I chose to try to keep working and leave the radio on, but I did go watch some of the coverage later. I kept that email in my Inbox for 3 years before I could finally bring myself to file it.

I had a lunch date with a friend that day. I called her mid-morning and asked her if we should still have lunch. We agreed that we should – no reason to give those terrorists what they wanted and have our lives grind to a halt. We had planned to go to a sports bar, and all the big screens had news coverage of the horrific events. That was where I first saw the video of the towers falling. It was, like so many have said, like watching a bad movie. I likened it to “Independence Day” where the aliens blew up the White House. My brain wanted to believe this was fake, too; but I knew it was real.

During the day, I frantically emailed colleagues and friends who lived in New York. It took a couple of days, but miraculously, I heard back from all of them – no one was hurt. Physically, anyway. Their stories of the day were beyond horrifying.

Back at work that afternoon, I walked outside with coworkers, like I had done every day for the past 2 years. Our office is on several airline flight paths, and normally there are planes flying overhead all day. We remarked at the eerie silence in the sky, with all airline travel halted for the day.

It was shortly after 5 p.m. when I arrived at my twins’ preschool to pick them up. I could tell that the teachers had all they could do to keep it together emotionally, but they were doing their best not to let on to the young children what had happened. An Indian mother and father arrived at the same time I did, to pick up their daughter. Although they spoke almost no English, I remember the non-verbal communication we shared that day. I could tell that everyone, regardless of nationality, was as affected as I was.

My van’s gas tank was on Empty that day, and I had planned to stop on the way home for gas. The first station I passed had signs saying “Out Of Gas.” I was surprised – it reminded me of the oil embargo days back in the 1970s. A few blocks away, at the next station, the lines of cars waiting for gas were 10 deep and wound out into the road. I started to worry. Finally, when we got to the gas station a block from home, the line of cars was so long and traffic was so backed up that we couldn’t even get to our street to get home. I was on the verge of panic at this point, and my children sensed it and starting crying. So I drove cross-country, over the curb and through the right-of-way, to our street and on home. I put in a movie for the kids so they wouldn’t see anything on TV. My husband went back out later that night for gas. It took him an hour and he paid $1.89/gallon – a bargain now, but it was about 20-30 cents higher than gas prices were when I left for work that morning. We were afraid we were on the verge of war, so he went out again and bought stockpiles of water and canned food. We didn’t end up needing them, but you couldn’t tell for sure at the time. Nothing was certain any more. Our lives, our security, our peace, had been shattered.

It was a terrible, life-changing day on September 11, 2001. I had nightmares for weeks afterward, even though I wasn’t there personally. I had nightmares on the 1-year anniversary, too. It was heartening, though, to see the outpouring of concern and caring that emerged around the globe. There are a couple good posts about the online community’s response to the events, at SE Roundtable and the Online Spin blog. If there was any good to come of that day, it’s the demonstration of how quickly the Internet can disseminate information and begin relief efforts. We should be proud of that.

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