Today is September 11th. Seeing posts and pictures and remembrances from friends on social media has gotten me thinking about my experience on that day. This post is not going to have any big moral platitudes, or thoughts of hope and prayer to offer. It’s just my story of that day. It may interest you, it may not. I just felt like writing it down.
I was living in Santa Monica, California in a small one room studio apartment. My engagement had ended just a few months before. Sometime before 7 am, my ex-fiancee called. He is a construction worker and usually had very early work days, so though it was not weird that he was up that early, it was very odd that he was calling me. I remember in that half awake state, looking at the caller ID and thinking I should just ignore it. But I also remember thinking that it was weird he should be calling me as we hadn’t spoken in months. Something must be wrong. So I answered. I don’t remember what I said, I just remember his response was “Does your Dad still work at the Pentagon?” Without explanation, he told me to turn on my television. I did. Just in time to watch the south tower fall.
I got off the phone and frantically started calling home. My Dad’s cell phone, my stepmother’s cell phone, my brothers, my mother – anyone back in DC who would know what was happening and if my father had been in the building. Or if my stepmother had. The lines were jammed and I couldn’t get through to anyone. I had no idea what to do. So I got up, got dressed and went to work. The office was silent when I arrived. A number of employees hadn’t come in, those that did spent most of the day sitting in front of the televisions that had been set up in the main lobby.
My immediate coworkers knew my father and stepmother worked for the Air Force and the Department of Defense, they knew my dad worked at the Pentagon. The only thing keeping me from a full-on meltdown at that point was the fact that my father had officially retired the year before. But he was still actively working for his former employers as an outside contractor and in that building several times a week. There was no way to know whether he’d been there or not. Or if my stepmother had been. At some point, I got through to my mother, but she didn’t know anything. My bosses were letting anyone go who wanted to, so I left. I went home. I kept calling.
About 1 pm here in LA, I got through to my sister-in-law. She told me that my father was actually out of town, on a business trip – he’d left the night before. But my stepmother had been at the Pentagon. Thankfully, she was on the other side of the building. If you’ve ever been to, or even seen an aerial photograph of the Pentagon, you know it is a fortress. It is layers deep and built of solid stone. Still, when I finally spoke to my stepmother later that day, she told me it’d felt like a strong earthquake.
Once I found out that my family were all okay and accounted for, the thing I remember most about that day was feeling helpless. Wishing I was there, that I could do something to actively help. A friend and I went to the Red Cross later that afternoon to try to donate blood – as that was all we could think to do that could possibly be helpful. We were turned away – the line was 3 blocks long – and they couldn’t handle the amount of donations coming in.
But mostly I remember the silence. Everywhere I went that day, it was quiet. Just quiet. No one spoke unless there was a need, there was no laughter; just stunned silence everywhere. It’s the memory of that silence that sticks with me.