10 Years Ago

The Washington Monument, 2011
The Washington Monument, 2011

Before I went to bed on the night of September 11, 2001, I sat down at the computer and wrote for a while. I’ve moved that file from computer to computer over the years, but never read it until today.

This is it, in its entirety. I haven’t changed a thing, save for correcting one typo.


Started as a normal day.  I was late for work, as usual.  Got to work grumpy; the train driver had closed the doors right in my face.  Not the friendliest of early-morning gestures.  I check my e-mail, nothing too exciting.  I start on my voice mail.  A new message alert pops up – Shannon.  The subject line says, “OH MY GOD!”  I do not open it.  I want to finish my messages first.  I have them on speaker and am listening to Alec from the Argyle when Mary comes in and says, “You’re listening, then.”  I gesture toward the phone and say, “Just voice mail.”  She responds, “Someone has crashed two planes into the World Trade Center.  They are watching it over in Communications.  You might want to go over.”

Like a shot, I am across the hall in Susanna’s office.  Jim, Beth, Dwight and Nadja are there.  Thierry, too, I think.  They are watching CNN, a replay of the tape of the second plane crashing, it was recorded as the news cameras were getting footage of the first crash.  Deliberately aiming for the side of the rear (South, I now know) tower, plowing through, the fireball coming out the other side.  We watch agape, disbelieving.  We comment on the size of the plane, that it looks like a passenger plane, not some little personal aircraft.  But we decide that it is impossible, this cannot be.  Heather has joined us.  We are all stunned.

I am worried that this might be the anti-globalization wackos. It is the World Trade Center, after all.  I go back to my office and call Eileen at the World Bank.  “Go home,” I tell her.  “I don’t think the Bank is a good place to be right now.”  They are all worried, she says, but there has been no announcement that they can go home early.  I tell her to go home as soon as she can.  I open Shannon’s e-mail.  I know already what it will say.  I respond that I am watching it all unfolding on CNN across the hall.

“They’ve bombed the Pentagon!”  I hear as I head back across the hall.  It’s not on the TV; I don’t know where we’ve gotten this information.  Then it scrolls across the bottom of the screen, that an attack has been reported at the Pentagon.  We switch to a local station, ABC, then NBC.  More people are crowding into the office.  A car bomb outside the State Department, an explosion at the Capitol, fires on the Mall, all out there as news, rumors, facts?

In a very few seconds, I understand terrorism.  Because I am terrified.

They are sorting fact from fiction fast and furious, and it becomes clear in a very short time that a plane has crashed into the Pentagon, but the other stories are false.  But it is too late, we are shaken.  The fear has frozen us.  We are not safe.  Our beautiful city is fraught with a danger that up until now was the subject of fictitious movies.  Do we leave the office?  Do we stay? Should we evacuate? Are the trains safe?  There are not enough answers.  There is more than enough dread.  We do not know what to do.

I go back to my office, call Eileen again.  She is going home, they are being evacuated.  It is very close to the White House.  I call Dad, he is glad to hear I am safe.   I call Shannon, tell her I am OK.  I ask her to get in touch with Mike and Deb.  I know they both spend a lot of time in Manhattan, but I cannot get through.  My lines, their lines mostly jammed.  I get another line in a few minutes and leave a message for Joanne. We are closing early, too, but I stay.  No TV at home, I will remain better informed at the office.  We all stay, HHA and Communications, flipping between CNN and NBC, for the next several hours.

The plane crash in Pennsylvania is announced.  The news that all four planes were hijacked passenger jets from three different airports is released.   One of the Towers collapses.  We are not sure at first what has happened.  Maybe another explosion?  The newscasters are not sure either.  The smoke is too dense; it is impossible to see.  The second tower peels down through the sky, behind the anchor’s head, as he reads on, for a moment unaware of what is happening through the window behind him.  I get a phone message from Joanne and an e-mail from Mike.  They are fine.  A huge relief.

Susanna & I decide to give blood, to do what we can to help.  We are delayed by a promised speech from the mayor, which then does not happen.  Eventually, we head to the blood bank at 19th & I, where the line, several people deep, stretches to 20th Street. Having not eaten lunch yet (it was perhaps 1:30, maybe 2:00), spending several hours in the sun waiting to donate seemed like a less than intelligent idea.  Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Most of the remainder of the day I spent at Eileen’s.  She has the antenna to my TV, so we could keep abreast of the latest.  As the circuits cleared, we got online and made calls to let everyone know that we were OK.

And we are.  Or will be.  Once we figure out where all of this fits into our everyday life.  Because the abstract idea of living in a “target city” has become the reality of being a target, which is harder to reconcile than I ever would have thought.

2 thoughts on “10 Years Ago

  1. Eileen September 11, 2011 / 8:53 pm

    The only thing I’d like to say is I was exceedingly grateful to have my big sister so close that day.

  2. Mary Billingsley September 11, 2011 / 8:58 pm

    Really great that you wrote, and saved, this. Amazing recollections from the day. I remember coming into your office. I remember huddling in Beth’s office in front of the tv. I remember retreating to my desk on the mez. to call my family. Interesting to see all the names of our former coworkers.

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