I’m writing this at 2 o’clock in the morning on Tuesday, June 11th, 2013. September 11th, 2001 was a Tuesday.
I was in the 7th grade on September 11th. As a 12 year-old middle schooler growing up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., it wasn’t unusual to have a friend say “my parents work in the Pentagon”–and leave it at that. Both of my best (at the time) friends’ parents were Pentagon employees in 2001, though thankfully they both survived unscathed. As far as I can remember, September 11th started as any ordinary day. It was a Tuesday. It was my grandma’s 75th birthday. The first mention of things happening was in my 2nd period history class. Rumors began flying around; “a plane flew into the World Trade Center” was all I knew. Teachers weren’t allowed to show us what was happening in an attempt to keep us in the dark and proceed like it was any other normal school day. By the time I was in gym (4th period), I heard, “the Pentagon’s on fire”. But I wasn’t too concerned about that. It was just a fire. Everyone was concerned with what was happening in New York. By then, people were starting to suspect terrorism. Finally, at the very end of the school day, our principal came over the intercom.
“I know there have been reports of terror attacks on New York, the Pentagon, and Pittsburgh–” I froze, hanging on every word. My grandparents lived in Pittsburgh, though, of course, this was United 93, which crashed outside of Somerset, PA, over an hour away. But I didn’t know that yet. I was worried my grandparents were dead. My principal continued, saying to remain strong, that school might be cancelled the following day, and to come to the office if we had no way of getting home quickly. My middle school faced east, towards the Pentagon. We weren’t that far away from it, ans I swear I remember seeing smoke above the trees. I would find out later that three people from my town were killed in the Pentagon and on American Airlines Flight 77 that day.
I met up with my sister–a high school freshman–on the bus back home. She watched some of the news footage in one of her classes, and saw the towers fall. When we got to our bus stop, I was surprised to see my mom’s minivan waiting for us; being latchkey kids, we were used to just walking home from the stop. She never picked us up from the bus stop except on Fridays, when she sometimes got off work early. She assured me that my grandparents were fine as we drove back home, which was comforting. My dad was home early, too–another surprise.
It was then, at home on our TV, I saw footage of the attacks being replayed over and over again on the news. We spent all night in front of the TV, in shock. It was the first time I heard about people jumping to their deaths, their falling figures burning themselves into my memory. School was indeed cancelled the following day.
What was most horrifying to me was when my dad began drawing up “escape plans”. Being so close to DC, he reasoned, it was necessary to expect another attack at any time. “They might use nuclear weapons next next time.” In the event of another attack, we would take our camper and high-tail it out of DC and head for Pittsburgh to my grandparents. If “they” attacked Pittsburgh, we would take our camper and head for West Virginia or Kentucky and lie low until things subsided. My dad also contemplated buying a gun and giving all of us firearm training. It was terrifying to have to listen to, though thankfully, none of it came to fruition.
In the following years we had a neighbor and his partner move in next door to us. He was a volunteer firefighter who was a first responder at the Pentagon on September 11th; he was also permanently injured in the line of duty while helping others. A week and a half ago, he passed away due to complications from diabetes, a disease he acquired while on disability from his injuries. In an admittedly indirect way, he too, was a victim of September 11th. I think we all were. Myself, I still see the jumpers.