We all remember where we were that day, that terrible day ten years ago. I was staring stupidly at the Today show, I had just watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center. Academically, I knew what was happening. Emotionally, I was refusing to believe my eyes and ears.
I already felt horrible. The afternoon before, I’d had an asthma attack. I was home in bed waiting to go see the doctor about adjusting my medication again. I remember blurting out to my empty bedroom, “We’re under attack?” It was a question, not a statement. My mind still reeled from the images and sounds coming from the 19 inch television on top of my bureau.
It seemed so small. It seemed so far away. Then it all came crashing in so very, very close.
Reports were chaotic. We heard a bomb had gone off at Times Square, then the Capital, eventually those would all be unconfirmed. But then one of the local Washington stations reported a plane had hit the Pentagon. I heard the news anchor say, “Can we confirm … Ok, yes, we have confirmation that a plane has crashed into the Pentagon.”
I felt my throat start to close, I was freezing cold despite being under the bed clothes. I yelled to an empty room, “Daddy!”
Every morning from 1993 until 2008, my father traveled up I-95 from Woodbridge, VA to Rosslyn, VA where his office was. It’s about a 28 mile drive. The commute took him through the wind of spaghetti like roads surrounding the Pentagon. Having done the commute with him several times myself and knowing the time he left, I knew that he’d be heading into that area just about that time, just about the time that plane crashed.
I must have dropped my phone three times trying to dial my father’s cell phone then my mother. When she picked up, her voice was tight with panic, “Hello!”
“Mom, have you heard from Da – …”
“No, I thought this call was him. Get off the phone, I haven’t heard from him,” she hung up abruptly.
As, I hung the phone up it rang again. I snatched up the receiver only to find my doctor’s office on the other line asking me if I could come in earlier than my appointment. They wanted to close early.
I drove the five blocks to my parents’ house, shaking the whole way. I sat with my mother on the couch, watching the images of the plane hitting the Trade Center over and over again. We also both warily eyed the cordless phone on the coffee table, willing it to ring.
It didn’t ring for three hours.
As I had feared, my father had been right at the Pentagon either as the plane hit or shortly after. He dialed 911 furiously on his cell phone, but to no avail. Circuits had been overrun or shut down.
It took him over an hour to go the seven miles from the Pentagon to the parking garage at his office. He didn’t say much when he called. Just told my mother he was okay and that his office was closing early. He was going to do a few things and then try to make his way back home.
My family has always been the stiff upper lip sort. None of us are big huggers or criers. My father spent 35 years of his professional career as a journalist. From the short time I spent as a journalist, I know the profession numbs you to many of life’s tragedies. You form a hard outer shell around your tender emotions and don’t get too close to anything, simply out of self-preservation.
When he got home that afternoon, for the first time in my life I saw my father cry. He hugged my mother and I very tightly. Then he sat for several hours, staring dumbly at the television.
The fear we all felt that day was horrific, worse still was the bitter anger. So many of us felt the need to lash out and often in totally the wrong direction. Worse still, so many us either lost a loved one or knew someone who did. There was a constant need to feel like we were doing something about this, but precious little to do.
That Friday, a group of us booked the large conference room at the office. Everyone brought candles and at 3 p.m. went up to that room, turned off the lights and lit the candles. One of the women in the group began to quietly pray. Slowly, we all joined in saying the Lord’s Prayer. It wasn’t much, but we were finally doing something.