I started the day at the gym, unbelievably. A local cancer center my company was at that time affiliated with had opened one onsite and my company was allowed to use it. I’d gone a few time but was planning to start making it a morning routine. I rushed through my morning workout, showered and hopped back in the car and dashed over to work, worrying about being late.
I got to the office and started to settle in, booting up the computer and getting ready for my day to start. I had signed up to receive CNN breaking news reports via email and it wasn’t long after getting in that I got the first – that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. Like so many, I assumed it was a small plane and clicked in to CNN. The page wouldn’t display. I tried FoxNews…same thing. I got up and went into our IT Director’s office and said that something was wrong with our internet connection – I couldn’t connect to CNN. He said he’d check it and I went back to my office.
I can’t remember exactly the next thing that happened. I remember him coming in and saying that the internet was fine. He mentioned that a plane had hit the World Trade Center and I think we talked about that for another moment, how odd that that could happen.
Then another breaking news email came through, staying that it was not a small plane but instead a commercial airliner that had hit the tower. Thinking back now, I still feel like the world stopped there for just a moment.
And then the next plane hit.
I was absolutely terrified. I couldn’t even begin to grasp the magnitude of what was happening, just an hour and a half away from us. I picked up the phone and dialed my mom but got a recording that the call could not go through because of the lines being busy. I know I tried several times and finally must have gotten through but the exact sequence escapes me. I know I called friends to make sure they were safe and to just have someone to share the absolute stun I was feeling. I think I called Nancy specifically to make sure that her husband wasn’t in New York City for work that day. He was safe and I was relieved. I know I talked to Lisa & Mike as well and we sat on the phone in silence for a while in complete and utter disbelief. I know someone called me too (and maybe it was Lisa, I cannot recall) to make sure I was not in New York for work that day. I thank God today that I was not.
Coworkers came in and out of my office and we all didn’t know what to do. By this time some of us were listening to the local news radio station. I made a point to go and talk to my friend Lisa, who was a Christian. I was still very new in the faith at that time but I knew I needed to pray and keep praying. Lisa was my touchstone that day, for that very reason. I knew that she understood and that she was praying too.
When we heard that a third plane had hit the Pentagon, I think many of us began to panic. Our CEO, COO and Office Manager, as well as other staff, had been in DC the day before for a Board meeting and were scheduled to be on Amtrak on their way out precisely at that time. Were they ok? What would happen next? Would the trains be targeted? We didn’t know but thankfully were able to get in touch with one of them. She said they were fine, worried, but fine, and that the train had temporarily stopped. I don’t remember how long it stopped but we heard they were on their way home and we were thankful.
At the time, we shared a building with people from the local cancer center. My friend Jean knew them and they told us we could come over and watch their tv. We walked in to a small room where many people were gathered, murmuring to one an other in disbelief. It was then, almost immediately, that the first tower fell before our eyes. It was absolutely unbelieveable and literally gut-wrenching. I truly did not grasp what was happening as they began to replay it over and over. Tears welled in my eyes as I prayed for the souls who were lost.
I didn’t want to see anymore and remember sitting again, alone in my office. Our CEO arrived then. It turned out he had taken an earlier train out of DC and had stopped home when it all happened. He had a friend who worked in the World Trade Center or nearby, I cannot recall correctly, and had tried to reach him to no avail. He was visibily shaken and upset – and I had never seen him this way before or ever again. He came to each of our offices and told us he wanted us to go home, and be with our families.
I made a few more calls – I think to Lisa and my mom – and got in my car. But I was afraid. We live about 45 minutes from a major metropolitan area on the East Coast and they were shutting everything down. There seemed to be a real possibility that we were a target as well.
The roads were eerily empty as I drove home and that too made me afraid. I remember coming home and immediately turning on CNN and calling my mom and Lisa again. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if I should go somewhere else. I couldn’t stop crying and I was afraid of being alone. Lisa told me I could come to their house but honestly, I was also afraid to get back in the car on the empty highway. I talked to my mom again and we agreed that it wasn’t sensible either for me to drive up to their house. We simply did not know what was going on.
We were at war.
And we did not know with whom.
Or what the next target would be.
The next days passed in a blur. I know I went to work and we all went through the motions of what we had to do, still knowing that the magnitude of this attack would weigh heavy on us for days, months, maybe even years to come.
I remember driving up to Mike & Lisa’s to help them get some things done at the new house they were moving into. I drove base the local naval air station and started to cry when I saw the cement barricades all around and the servicemen with their machine guns at the front gate. We’re used to military aircraft here but the increase in flights of all types was apparent. I watched them do maneuvers as I drove up the highway, and wondered how soon our men & women would be going to war.
My friend Jessica was to be married in Milwaukee on September 22nd. She and her fiancé both worked for an airline and had decided to move forward with the wedding. She and I talked about how I was going to get there – though I had tickets on their airline – and finally decided that flying was the best option. My dad assured me that I would be safe – probably safer than another other time I’d flown in my life.
I steeled myself to be brave, driving down to the airport. I held my head up as I walked through the terminal. But when I saw the National Guardsmen with their machine guns armed and ready throughout, I almost could not bear it. How could this be?
The airport was literally deserted and my flight was probably about a quarter full. I stared each person in the face as I walked by them to board and wondered which one was the air marshal. If there was one aboard, I couldn’t tell.
The flight was somber and quiet. I was always happy to land safely, but never as much as on this day.
I wasn’t sure how I would handle this day, all the rememberance coverage on television and radio…and thought perhaps I’d not listen, not watch. But that is not me and as I listened to people on my local Christian station this morning talk about where they were, all the emotions came flooding back. I think I cried the whole ride into work today.
I cried for those who were lost, for that deep empathy I felt for the people who’s stories I have heard, and most all, for the loss of that feeling of safety and security I once had in our nation.
It shall be no more.