“Elaine, Elaine! My cell phone’s not working, can I borrow yours? I have to call Grammy!” I agreed, wondering about the panic in my mom’s voice. Every fall I go to the beach for a week with my parents and my aunt and uncle. They help take care of my grandmother, my invalid grandfather and my bed-ridden great-grandmother in Northern Virginia, so staying in touch with them even on vacation was very important. Still half asleep, I listened to the conversation in the other room: “Are you all right? Isn’t it horrible? The guys have canceled their golf game, we may come back home. I just can’t believe this is happening! Have you heard from Cathy? Has she talked to Greg? What about my brother?” WHAT was happening? Did someone blow up DC? I dressed quickly and went upstairs, to morning sunshine streaming through the many windows. Everybody’s attention was focused on the television, where the World Trade Centers were burning. Then it switched to dark smoke from the Pentagon.
We stayed inside the whole day, ignoring the beautiful weather and the lapping waves. We watched TV and kept making phone calls home, trying to connect to family and friends. Have you heard from her? Where is he? Can you find them? Go down your mental list. Are they safe? Is everyone ok? Should we come home? Are you sure? I need to hear your voice. An uncle worked for a contractor for the new section of the Pentagon. Finally we heard – he was safe, he had been transferred over to another project in DC that morning. another uncle was also a Pentagon contractor, but he was at the beach with us. A third uncle was a policeman. We found out he had been sent to Dulles Airport to help with evacuation.
We felt helpless – we weren’t at home! The lines were busy, they couldn’t connect, sometimes there wasn’t even a dial tone. House phones could get through better than cell phones, and then it would be the other way around. We tried the Internet – I received several frantic e-mails from friends, and sent out a few myself. I knew people who were going to school in New York, and had friends who worked in the Pentagon. Cheney was hidden, DC was being evacuated by any means possible. Traffic was a mess, people were walking out of the city. The news kept going to New York – what was going on at home? One of the planes had taken off from Dulles Airport, just a few miles away from home. Did we know anyone who had been on that plane? The Not Knowing was the worst part.
When I finally got in touch with my boss, she had shut down the office and assured me everyone was ok. The streets at home were deserted, everything was closing down. Her daughter and her new grandson were fine. Several family friends had gone over to my grandparent’s house to check on them. My sister was also on vacation, in Virginia Beach, we didn’t hear from her until evening. She had heard that they were closing bridges and tunnels, so we probably couldn’t get home that night anyway. We decided to stay the week until things started to calm down. The beach was deserted, and so were most of the stores. We found one deli open, run by Russian students who were working in the US for the summer. They had already canceled their New York trip and were anxious about going home.
We stayed the rest of the week, the tv always on, the same images being shown over and over. We saw the president’s speech, the ceremonies at the church in DC, the interviews. Then the wind picked up, we were receiving the remnants of a hurricane. The house swayed in the rough weather. We ran to the windows every time we heard something in the air, and watched as F-16’s flew up and down the coast. My uncle had brought a telescope, but instead of the stars, we set it up in a wind-free portion of the deck and watched a big ship on the horizon struggle through rough waves. What kind of ship was it? Cargo? Military? We never did find out.
The drive home was quiet. All along the roads, flags and signs were up, showing support and sympathy. Back at work, the tv stayed on, not tuned to the public access station I worked for, but the news. If something else was going to happen, I didn’t want to hear about it through half of a phone conversation.
Our family was fortunate, although my uncles lost a few co-workers that day. Things slowly quieted down. Then – someone started sending Anthrax through the mail. The building my dad worked in was shut down, and everyone had to take Cipro and work in temporary quarters while the place was cleaned out. The same terrorists or new ones? They didn’t seem to be blaming this one on Al Quaida. This didn’t have nearly the same impact as the events of September 11, though. That day, everything froze. I don’t remember the sun going down, the clock moving, time for lunch or dinner. We ate when we remembered. I looked outside at one point, hearing what sounded like a plane, and suddenly realized how dark it was. How much darker would it get?