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9/11, A Day Of Surreal Reality

This is the first time that I have attempted relate my personal experiences of 9/11/01. As I begin I'm not sure that I will be able to find the correct words to describe how my day unfolded or how I felt on that day. I have certainly not forgotten, I will never forget. I just don't know if I can accurately describe my emotions relating to that day, or to my feelings that still linger. I was lucky, I did not lose any family members or friends that day as so many people did. What I did lose was my sense of security, my sense of well being. It goes well beyond that but that's the closest that I can come to putting it into words. I suppose I will just start at the beginning and see what happens.

That day started for me just as most other days. I dropped my son off at school and headed to work. September 11 is my son's birthday, he turned 12 that year. I remember thinking what a picture perfect day it was. The sun was shining about as bright as I have ever seen it, the sky was a beautiful bright blue and the air was so clean, clear and crisp. You don't see too many mornings that are as gorgeous as this one was when you live in the city. As I drove to work my mind was full of thoughts about what we would do to celebrate his birthday. Being a week night I thought maybe we would just go out to eat, wherever he wanted to go, and then head home to have some cake & ice cream. We would be able to truly celebrate his birthday when the weekend arrived.

I had finally gotten through the usual traffic jam at the North Kings Highway & Telegraph Road intersection and was pulling up beside the Hoffman Building which was on my way to the office when I heard on the car radio that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center Towers. At that point they really didn't say much about it and I assumed that it was a small private plane that had either somehow gotten way off course or that something had happened to the pilot in mid flight which caused the plane to veer off course. I also assumed that the plane had hit one of those radio towers on top of the building, not slammed into the building. I mean, things like that just don't happen, right? After I passed the Hoffman Building it was only a short drive to my office in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia and it didn't take me too long to get there. Before I knew it I was pulling into the underground parking lot of my building. I knew I would not have a problem finding a place to park. I worked for a small trade association and, except for me, the entire staff was out of town for our annual trade show. It would be an easy day, all I had to do was answer the few phone calls that came in and find things to keep myself busy all day. As a matter of fact, it should have been an easy week, no one was due back in town until the following week. I parked the car, grabbed my purse and my tote bag and headed upstairs.

Once I unlocked the office and went in I did what I normally did every morning, I put my purse and bag down and went into the kitchen to get a glass of ice and a Coca-Cola. I'm not much of a breakfast eater and I don't drink coffee however I always have a glass of Coke beside me. The office was quiet but not in a bad way, a peaceful way. I turned on the copy machine and the postage machine and went to check the phone messages. There were a couple of messages but nothing I had to deal with right away so I proceeded to sit at my desk and get ready for my day. I lit a cigarette (we owned the building so we were allowed to smoke in the office), turned on my computer and then I turned on the radio. That was the last normal thing that I remember. By the time I turned on the radio the second plane had hit the second tower and life as I and everyone else knew it ceased to exist. All of a sudden it was a new world and a new reality, both of which would be very unwelcome and always fearful.

I can remember sitting there in that office which, just moments before, had seemed so peaceful and normal but then turned to being unnerving and deathly still. My first thoughts were of my son. Was he safe? Was he upset? What was going on at the school? I tried to call but each time the line was busy. That really came as no surprise but as each second went by that I was unable to reach them my anxiety level rose. I had no choice, I took a Xanax. My nerves were already getting the better of me. I knew I needed to calm down. It seems like seconds after I took that Xanax the announcement came on the radio that the Pentagon had been hit also. My panic level rose to heights that it had never been to before. My office was roughly two or three miles away from the Pentagon. I sat there at my desk and used every single line that we had on that phone to dial the school's phone number nonstop until I finally got through to them. I knew the secretary that answered the phone, it was the type of school where the staff knew all the parents and the parents knew all of the staff. She assured me that Adam and all of the children were okay. The county police were there and also the National Guard had been called in to maintain security at the school. They already had counselors talking to the children, especially the ones whose parents worked at the Pentagon. She told me of course I was more than welcome to come and pick up Adam however, it was chaos in the parking lot and the surrounding neighborhood at that point because I was not the only parent that wanted to come and gather their children near them. There was only one small side street in and out of the school and cars were already lined up on the street trying to get to the school. I said okay, I will wait a bit as long as Adam was okay.

After I hung up the phone I made a huge mistake. The windows by my desk faced in the opposite direction of where the Pentagon was located. For some unknown reason I decided to go into one of the offices on the other side of the building to see if I could see anything. What I saw out the window is something that I will never forget and truly wish that I had never seen in the first place. I could not see the actual building but I could see the dark, ominous black smoke rising up in the air against that blue sky that had appeared to be so picture perfect only a short time before. I saw the Pentagon burning, I saw the destruction of life as we knew it up to that point. As I stood there just staring out that window I started to shake. Not the nervous kind of shaking when your hands shake, the kind of shaking that starts from somewhere deep inside of you. I can only describe it as shaking from the inside out. And then I started to cry. I sat down right there and just sobbed. I am not a particularly "religious" person. I have my beliefs and I have my own relationship with God but I do not pray several times a day however, I prayed that day. I don't really remember all that I prayed for that day. I do remember praying for those that were at the World Trade Center, for those that were at the Pentagon and also for my son. What kind of a world had I brought him into? What would life hold for him now? I remember praying for this country, for us to be able to get through this somehow. At that point no one knew if it was over or not. I didn't hear about the plane going down in Pennsylvania until after I went back to my desk where the radio was. I prayed for those souls also.

I really have no idea how long it took me to regain my composure. I made it back to my desk and then an overwhelming nausea came over me. I rushed to the bathroom and tried to rid myself of all the evil that had taken over the world that day. Once I pulled myself together it dawned on me how eerily still everything was. Not only inside the office but outside on the street. The normal hustle and bustle was replaced by a stillness that I suppose only happens in the aftermath of a horrific event. There was no traffic, there were no people, it seemed like there was no life at all. Oddly enough, the phone did not ring once up to this point. When it did I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was the husband of one of my co-workers. He wondered if I was going to be there for a while. He worked in Washington DC and was walking out. There was no other way out, the streets of downtown DC were gridlocked. His wife's car was parked at our office and he was going to walk there and then take her car home. I told him where he could find the door opener if I was not there and he was fine with that. Right after he called my co-workers started calling to see if I was okay. They were on the West Coast, three hours behind us and were just waking up to the news.

After the barrage of phone calls it was deathly quiet again. I had the radio on but yet there was a dead quiet that I could not seem to escape. I started to notice a few military vehicles occasionally driving by but not much else was out on the streets. Then I heard an airplane overhead. It sounded like it was flying low, right over the building almost. At first I panicked a little bit, I knew that President Bush had grounded all commercial aircraft. I jumped up and looked out the window and realized that it was a fighter jet overhead. I welcomed the sight of that fighter jet with both relief and fear. Relief that it was not yet another hijacked plane, fear that I now lived in a world where fighter jets flying overhead in American air space were necessary to protect us from harm. About that time the phone rang again. It was Michelle, my daycare provider and also one of my dearest friends. She wanted to let me know that she had gone to the school and had picked up Adam and the rest of her kids, they were safe at her house. I said "Good, I'm on my way".

When I left my office building I tried very hard not to look in the rear view mirror at the still smoldering Pentagon smoke. I made it to Michelle's house very quickly and there, for the first time, I saw the images that most of America had already seen. I saw the planes hit the towers, I saw the live newscasts of the actual events as they were happening. I was sick all over again. I told Michelle that I just needed to get home. As we were driving home I made my usual right hand turn onto Route 1 from Huntington Avenue and started to drive up Beacon Hill. As we approached the top Adam said "Oh my God Mom, look!!". At the crest of that hill you could see very clearly the destruction that had been done to the Pentagon. The black smoke still rising up into the sky was just like something straight out of Hell itself. We stood there for a minute and looked at that smoke rising up into the sky, taking with it a United States of America that future generations will never know. To this day I still believe that Adam and I watched life as we knew it slowly disappear.

Ten years later we as a nation have overcome this tragedy for the most part. The toll on the individuals that were more directly involved may never fully be known. For the families of the people lost in the Twin Towers, in the Pentagon and on those planes life will certainly never be what it once was. For the first responders who were at the scenes of these horrific events and worked tirelessly to save all that they could without regard for their own safety and lives, life will certainly never be the same. For those that were in charge of this country at the time and had to make difficult decisions which were sometimes met with harsh criticism life will never be the same. Then there are also those, like myself, who lived through it firsthand. We were not on the front lines so to speak but we were close by watching the events happen and unfold around us while we sat helplessly in fear and disbelief, watching our country, our cities, our fellow human beings fall victim to a group of then nameless cowards. For those of us that remember and lived through that day we will not and cannot forget. Personally I will forever remember the fear, the uncertainty and the loss of that day. What is even sadder is that people who were very young or not yet born on that day will never know the America that I knew, that I grew up in. The America where you could board a plane without having to take your shoes off and you could take your shampoo on the plane with you. The America where you could attend a large, public gathering and not have to worry about a bomb going off or a plane crashing into a nearby building. They will never know what America was like before 9/11. I forever lost my sense of well being that day and gained a sense of apprehension, anxiety and fear that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. It will not change for me, however, my hope is that somehow, someday this country can get back what these people took from us as that would be the true victory...

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Reader Comments  (4)

Paws4Critters Pet Stuff
Paws4Critters Pet Stuff | September 10th 2011 at 1315718672

Great post. I wasn't there "first hand", but you did give me an idea to write something from my perspective. So... I will save any further comments on the day itself for my writing. May God bless you and the America we both once knew. :)
Enchanted Jewelry & Collectibles
Enchanted Jewelry & Collectibles | September 10th 2011 at 1315719358

Thanks! God Bless Us All...
Ayuni Gifts of the World
Ayuni Gifts of the World | September 10th 2011 at 1315722857

Thanks for sharing your experience.... I only saw it on television - but I have seen terror attacks up close. They shake you to your core....
Enchanted Jewelry & Collectibles
Enchanted Jewelry & Collectibles | September 10th 2011 at 1315723219

I was too close for me but not as close as you have been Ayuni. God Bless You, you are a strong woman...

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