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September 11

September 11th, 2007 (06:22 pm)

current mood: contemplative

Last year, for the fifth anniversary of September 1, 2001, I watched too much of the television coverage, and ended up depressed and stressed out. Today I chose not to watch, but I still couldn't help remembering that awful day.

I was still in bed that morning, five months pregnant, and reviewing my list of stuff to pack for a trip. I was supposed to start a two-day drive to Indianapolis that day. The phone rang. It was my mother, telling me to turn on the news, that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At first, I assumed it was a horrible accident. But as we watched, still on the phone together, the report came in about a second plane having hit the other tower, and it became clear that this was no accident. Dressed and downstairs a few minutes later, I called my husband at work on Capitol Hill to see if he knew what was happening. He hadn't heard a thing, but was wondering why he couldn't get an internet connection. At this point, we had no reason to think the Capitol complex was in any danger.

I was supposed to be packing, but I couldn't tear myself away from the television as events unfolded in New York. Then the local news station broke in on the network's coverage with its own Special News Report. I was incredulous. What local story could possibly be more important than what was happening in New York City? But the local story was just as horrific -- a plane had just struck the Pentagon.

I ran outside, expecting to see a plume of black smoke rising. I'm close enough to the Pentagon; I should have been able to see it. But the wind was blowing in the other direction, so I could see no sign of what was happening so nearby. I did see several neighbors, standing in front of their houses, searching the sky, just like me. We saw a perfect September morning. The leaves were green and swayed gently in the breeze against a bright blue sky. Then we began to see the fighter jets circling. Soon afterward, a huge "boom" shook the neighborhood. Some neighbors thought it was a sonic boom, but I learned later that the timing corresponded with the moment when the wall of the Pentagon collapsed. A while later, we began to see a large, unmarked white airplane flying low. Someone was afraid it meant another terrorist attack, but a neighbor with intelligence experience said no, it was the "doomsday" plane, the one that's equipped to run the country from, if something should happen to the seat of power.

I heard a rumor (false) on television, saying a bomb had exploded at the State Department. Other rumors (true) said terrorists had planned to fly other planes into the White House and Capitol building. One of them had crashed on a field in Pennsylvania. Many federal office buildings in D.C. were evacuated. Employees were sent home. But with the Metro closed at the Pentagon station, which lies between us and the Hill, my husband's usual commute would be interrupted. Police in our area were asking us to stay off the roads, to free them up for evacuating federal employees and for emergency vehicles speeding to and from the Pentagon. It took hours for my husband to make his way home. I postponed Indianapolis.

I think we knew already that morning that from then on, we lived in a different world. I didn't personally know anyone who died in the attacks that day. But everything is different now -- maybe not so much for people who live in other places, places that were not attacked, places where there's little chance of such an attack. But here, most of us assume it's not a matter of whether terrorists will strike the Washington, D.C., again, but of when.