September 11, 2001 was one month to the day after my wedding day. We sailed out of NY harbor on 8/12/01 and took pictures of the towers on a cloudy, drizzly day. I couldn’t fathom that they would be gone a month later and our lives would be changed forever.
Anyone who was old enough to remember, knows exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers in New York City. I had just walked into the office, barely nine months into my first desk job. A coworker stuck her head out of her cube and told me the news. “Really?” My reaction was one of innocent disbelief. “A small plane?” That made sense to me. A small plane getting lost or disabled and hitting a tower. That made sense. Not an airliner… and certainly not an airliner hijacked by religious zealots. “No, an airliner.”
By the time I logged onto my computer, Flight 175 had crashed into the South tower at 9:03 AM. The Internet slowed to a crawl (remember, this was 2001), but for some reason, my computer is able to refresh images on MSNBC.com. It’s one of the few media feeds we are able to get. A crowd develops in the confines of my small cube. We chatter about the events. At 9:43, flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon. “We’re under attack!” someone says. It’s a statement that sounds absurd, but appears more and more real as the minutes tick by.
We discover that a coworker’s sister works in the North Tower. She cannot be reached by phone.
At 10:05 AM, the unthinkable happens. I refreshed my internet feed to see a new picture of the South Tower coming down in a cloud of dust and smoke. “No way it totally collapsed,” says a coworker. “No way the whole thing came down. The top probably just fell off.” If only that were true.
At 10:10 AM, Flight 93 crashes in Pennsylvania.
At 10:28 AM, the second tower collapses.
The coworker’s sister would not survive the day.
Around 1 PM, my company announces that employees may go home at their discretion. I leave immediately. I want to see my wife. I want to go home and feel safe again.
At the time, we lived in an efficiency and were so broke, we didn’t have cable. When my wife got home, we sat in her car and listened to the radio at intervals before going to bed. I stayed home the next day and listened to the radio on and off. We went grocery shopping that night. Living in Northwestern NJ at the time, we were in the direct path of flights coming into the East coast. You were used to seeing planes in the sky. That night, the sky was empty and unsettling. It was as quiet as I have ever known it.
The following weeks were quietly chaotic. I worked in a haze as I dealt with my own feelings about the tragedy. Being so close, the stories of loss and close calls were numerous. “I was supposed to be in the North Tower that morning, but I was running late.” “I lost my uncle.” “There were dozens of cars at the train station left behind by commuters who hadn’t made it back that day.”
A week later, my boss (a woman in her late 70s at the time) makes a point of declaring she doesn’t know what the fuss is about. “More people were killed at Pearl Harbor.” I’m 26 at the time. I have no argument. Now, I would say, “But Pearl Harbor wasn’t in our back yard. And that was a war with clearly defined sides. And there was a military objective behind that attack.” And someone who knows anything could probably come up with a dozen other arguments against that statement. But, that was the defence she had chosen to put up. Otherwise, you had to admit that it had scared the hell out of you. Which it had.
Whether you like to believe it or not, the events of 9/11 changed everyone. It became this generation’s Pearl Harbor, in a war few can define. The experience has made me who I am today, for good or bad. I hope that my son will never have to see an event transpire like that one. I hope he can grow up in a more tolerant world that isn’t driven by greed and power. But, that’s wishful thinking.
At this point, I have the urge to run off into a diatribe about money being the root of all evil, which means I should probably just stop while I’m ahead. A peaceful Patriot Day to you all.
Event times referenced from: http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/09/11/chronology.attack/