This was originally posted on September 11, 2004. I’ve made a few edits to bring things into today’s situation, added a final thought.
Ten years ago today.
I was getting ready for work. It was just another Tuesday morning. I was dating my ex at the time, and he had already left for work, so I was going about my usual routine. I showered, got dressed, and had some breakfast. Everything about that morning was par for the course.
Except that I turned the TV on.
You see, I was and still am not a TV-in-the-morning type of person. I rarely ever catch the Today show or Good Morning America, unless I’m home sick or on vacation, and even then it’s rare. So my turning on the TV while getting ready for work that morning was very random.
I turned on Good Morning America. Diane Sawyer was talking to some family about some wonderful thing that had happened and they were all smiles, feeling happy and good about whatever it was they were talking about. I don’t remember. I just remember thinking “Typical morning-show sappy stuff,” and kept going about my business.
They broke for commercial, showed one commercial, and then came back, abruptly.
There were Diane and Charles Gibson, sitting in another room. They looked very serious.
“We have something to show you. We don’t know very much about this, but there is something major going on at the World Trade Center…”
And they showed the tower. Ablaze. A huge gash cut out of it. My mouth dropped. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
It was approximately 8:50AM, Central time. The first plane had hit at about 8:45AM.
As I watched in amazement, the commentators tried to describe what had been happening up until then. It was believed that it was a plane, but nobody was sure how big of a plane it had been. As far as anyone knew, there was no footage of it, and it had happened so fast that not many people saw it. But now our eyes were glued. Our attention was focused. And at three minutes after 9:00, our lives changed forever.
I watched the second plane fly into the second tower. In real time. As it happened.
I never felt such fear in my entire life. For some reason, I knew right away that we were under attack. I knew that nobody at that moment was safe. If whoever did this could plan it so that two separate planes could fly into the two towers of the World Trade Center on the same day, just minutes between each other, then they were capable of anything.
“Oh my GOD… Oh my GOD…” said the voices on TV.
I called my roommate in to see what was going on. He was supposed to be flying to New York that week.
“Uh… I don’t think you’re going to New York,” I told him.
Oddly enough, the first name that popped into my mind was Osama bin Laden.
Just weeks before this, reports had been coming out of Afghanistan about centuries-old relics being destroyed by bin Laden’s Taliban regime. They were denouncing all capitalist countries, especially America. They were predicting jihad on America.
I watched intently, thinking that this could get really ugly. bin Laden’s name was familiar, also, because he was named as the person of blame in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
They seemed determined to destroy those towers. And when that second plane hit, I thought to myself “They finally did it.”
I didn’t know quite what to do at that point. I called my ex, who was on a train heading downtown, and told him what was going on. He said that people had been getting phone calls left and right but he couldn’t figure out what was going on. I told him I was going in to work. I didn’t know what else to do.
So I left.
It was an absolutely gorgeous day outside. The air was cool, and the sun was warm. Fall had not quite set in on the region yet. It was a beautiful late summer day.
But the air was incredibly still. It was eerie. I kept running what I had seen on the television just moments before in my head, over and over. “We are under attack,” I told myself, “and I am going to work. Am I nuts?”
The train ride to work was even worse. People who knew each other were talking extremely softly to each other. Some were on their cell phones. Others just stared out the window. I was like a funeral. I realized that I wasn’t the only one who felt the way I did. What do you do in this situation? What do you say?
I got off the train and walked the rest of the way to work. Over to the north is the Hancock Building. To the east, the AON Tower. To the south, Sears Tower. I watched the skies feverishly, hoping to God that nothing was coming. I paid special observation to the AON Tower, and noticed how much it reminded me of the World Trade Center. I started to cry.
I got to work and started my ascent, 38 floors up. Silence in the elevator.
When I got to my floor, everyone was milling about. Some were crying, some were talking. Nobody was working. Everyone was in a panic. “Why are we here? What is going on? The Internet is down. We can’t find anything out!”
I told them that I had watched it happen on TV. A couple ladies were a bit hysterical.
I called my mom and dad to get updates. Tower 1 had collapsed by then. My mom begged me to go home. “I don’t want you downtown with all of this going on. Get out of there.”
“This will not work. We won’t be here long,” I thought.
Sure enough, at 10:30 the announcement came that we were to go home. I grabbed my things and got out, fast.
The train ride back was even more morose than the ride in. People seemed stunned into silence. When the train came out of the subway, I remember glancing back toward downtown in case of any further activity. Before I knew it, I was home again.
My ex and I watched TV from the time I got home until 2 in the morning. I saw the towers fall so many times that I could see it with my eyes closed. I saw the Pentagon, the military center of the United States, in flames and rubble. I saw the aftermath of the plane that went down in Pennsylvania, and wondered which target it was truly heading for. I repeatedly saw the video of people running as fast as they could after the enormous plumes of dust and paper and glass racing behind them. And I saw the war-zone-like aftermath, with bloodied, dirtied, and barely alive people, wandering aimlessly as they try to figure out for themselves how they got there–how this happened to them and to their city. I saw the streets lined and littered with destroyed fire trucks and automobiles; glass blown out of buildings still standing, trees and traffic lights, bent and broken and twisted, and papers.. the papers… everywhere you looked were papers.
September 11, 2001 was just like any other day when it started.
September 11, 2001 was a day that I will never forget for the rest of my life by the time it ended.
Every year on the anniversary of the attacks, I relive these moments. As I read through them just now, I remember every moment of that day as if it happened just hours ago.
At this very moment, it’s 11:44am. Ten years ago at this very moment, I was probably walking back to my apartment from the train station. I remember, as I mentioned in the initial article, how still and peaceful the day was. I remember thinking that maybe it was because there were no planes flying overhead. All air travel was suspended that day. So between the glorious, warm sunshine and the cool breezes, it felt otherworldly to be outdoors that day.
“Never forget,” we say every year at this time. I never forget, anytime. It’s hard not to remember.
I didn’t lose anyone close to me that day. In fact, I don’t know anyone who perished that day at all. But everyone lost something that day. And in some ways, we still haven’t found it again. I don’t know that we ever will.