Nine years ago, I was thirty-three years old. I was single, but had a boyfriend. I was a freelance Production Coordinator for television and film, yet on that day, I was in between gigs. I lived alone, just outside of Washington DC, except for the cat. I was very different from how I am today. But mentally, I am just as affected.
On September 11, 2001, after the four airplanes had crashed, two into the two large World Trade Center Towers, one in Pennsylvania and one into the Pentagon Building, I happened to be driving home, from a doctors appointment in North West Washington DC, back to my apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland. It was usually a fifteen minute drive. That day, it took me two hours.
Earlier, on the way to the appointment, I’d heard bits and pieces on the radio that an airplane crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings, but that seemed impossible. Unimaginable. So I kept switching the stations, to see if I could get better updates. Maybe find out if it was a hoax or incorrect information. I think when you can’t “see” it, it doesn’t feel like it happened. By the time I arrived at the building where my doctor’s office was, found parking and walked, I finally just had to let go of what I heard, or at least, what I thought I heard.
When I got in the car to return home, however, an hour and a half later, I realized something was truly wrong. By then, two planes had crashed into the two large towers at the World Trade Center, one in a field in Pennsylvania, and closer to home, a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. The traffic I was entering, and in for two hours, was all the people fleeing Washington DC and the Pentagon (which is located in Northern Virginia, literally bordering the DC city limits).
When I think back to seeing all those cars, lined up, merging, waiting on all those crowded roads leading out of the city, especially now that I have two children, I can not imagine being stuck, on that day in that traffic, with them in the backseat. How would I have explained what was going on to children? How could I have calmed them down? Could I have kept my cool?
I have to admit, what was amazing, on that warm September day in 2001, was that no one was honking horns. I didn’t hear any yelling out of car windows or any moms screaming at their kids. I didn’t see any annoyed or angry faces because of the traffic. It was almost a chaotic calm: get me out of the city, but we can do it together. Everyone had their radios on, windows open, eyes on the road. We had different destinations, but we all drove as one, listening sadly and overly anxious for any information we could find out on our radios.
Nine years later, I can see the images clearly, because as soon as I did get home that day, I immediately turned on the television and was willingly assaulted with those sights: the planes crashing, the buildings falling, the Pentagon burning, the people still fleeing. To this day, I still get sickened and tearful when I recall the messages, people who could not get out of the towers or were stuck, inevitably, on a crashing plane, left their loved ones on cell phones, on voice mails, on answering machines. It’s why, when I can, I give clothes to people who need them, money to those without, time to those who need a lift. My personal message was “help others,” no matter who they are because time is short, but helping is fulfilling and decent. It’s what you’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to be decent, even if people aren’t always decent to us. It makes the time valuable.
September 13th, two days after the attacks, I went to visit my boyfriend in Southern, New Jersey. Interstate 95 North and South was eerily empty. A couple of American flags were already hung on bridges above the highway, and electronic signs, that usually warn of accidents or weather said, “No Access to New York. New York Closed.” That put lumps in my throat. Still does to this day.
But now I am married to that boyfriend I was visiting those two days after 9/11, and together we have three cats, his two added to my one. And we have two children and live in Southern, New Jersey, where he was from at the time. I know the incident brought us closer. We both had friends who lived in New York , Pennsylvania and DC, family who grew up in those places. But more importantly, we realized how pertinent we were to each other. How time is fleeting. How the world can be so harsh.
I will never, ever look at or fly in a plane without thinking of that day. My husband travels for work all the time, so I know it is on his mind too. I think of that day, September 11th, more than I would like to admit. Maybe because I have the two children now. Maybe because I lived so close to one of the crashes. Maybe because it changed my view on life – do “it” while you can, or you will regret you never did “it.”
September 11th, 2001, will never flee my memory. And maybe that’s for the best. It keeps us humble. At least it does me.