These are my recollections of September 11th, 2001. Originally posted on “Clever Title Goes Here” on September 11th, 2006.
803 N. Van Dorn Street is approximately three miles as the crow flies from the Pentagon, and that was my address in the city of Alexandria. My birthday evening was spent at a tapas bar, where five hours later I was projectile vomiting from eating bad mussels. The next morning, I didn’t go out to Fairfax, where I worked. I was home, in bed, three miles from the Pentagon with no idea that my entire existence was about to change.
When I woke up, I went to my computer (always) to check e-mail and to talk to friends in Houston. My Republican friend, Jim, instant messaged me frantically. “Leslie, a plane has just hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center. TURN ON THE NEWS. As I went to the television, I heard a sonic boom that sounded like it was just across the street. The walls rattled. My neighbor told me that the noise was so loud that one of the pictures had come off her wall. Because of the distance of the Pentagon from my house, I didn’t suspect what had happened until I saw a feed of it on CNN. It was then that I went into complete and total shock.
The phone lines were jammed, and my panic grew as I couldn’t reach my wife, my parents, my sister… anyone. I sat alone in my house and wondered how long I personally was going to be under attack. I was so numb with shock that it didn’t occur to me to think of anybody else, because survival mode had taken over. I am not kidding when I say that the federal air space above my house was flooded within the hour. Fighter jets flew above my head for the next 54 hours- one every ten minutes.
Finally, my wife was let go from work and sent home, and when she came through the door, we held each other so tightly that we each thought we might suffocate, but neither wanted to let go. The feeling in the room was that we didn’t have to go back to Houston, but we wanted to get the hell out of DC. The only thing that stopped us was that we didn’t know which city would be under attack next, and it was probably better to stay in the house with the fighter jets over it than no fighter jets at all.
My parents and my in-laws had no idea what was going on, and they couldn’t reach us by phone. I don’t remember if they contacted us by e-mail, but it was several days before we could talk to them. By the time we were connected, we were overcome with emotion at hearing their voices. My in-laws wanted us to pack up and move immediately. My dad was the voice of calm in the situation, saying that Houston was under just as much threat right then because of the massive amount of refineries in the area, and we might as well stay put.
The end of the day was terrifying. We didn’t want to go to sleep. We sat on the kitchen floor and cried so hard that we were shaking with grief. We prayed for all the people who had been lost, and their families who had to really experience it. Oh, wait- no. We weren’t really that selfless. We were scared out of our minds, and even though we could see past ourselves into the lives of others, at least a good hour of the shaking was not knowing what the hell to do. Analyzation made us paralyzed.
The months afterward were tough. The part of the Pentagon that had been hit was visible to the freeway, and getting into DC took hours for those first few days because so many people stopped to cry and gape.
At Christmastime, we flew home through National Airport. There were little boys, 18-year-olds, with fully automatic weapons at every turn. People were getting frustrated and loud as they had to unwrap all of their presents, and to me it was a little bit silly. Why get upset when we were practically at Defcon OH MY FUCK? For the first time, I had a woman probe the zipper on my jeans and the underwire on my bra. At that time, we did not have to take off our shoes… but we did wish that we’d booked through Dulles.
Slowly, things got back to normal… though lots of sermons at church were about the tragedy and the rebuilding plan. I’m not sure that you ever get over it, nor do you learn to live with it- as I so eloquently heard on the news yesterday. You just live it.
And tell it. And retell it.