I work in a law firm above the 20th floor of the Bank of America tower in downtown Tampa. September 11th was just any other Tuesday. At a little after 9 a.m., one of my co-workers rushing past my desk and almost shouted, “Did you hear the news? Two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City!” I tried to process this information. I could see how one plane might crash; but how could two crash? My friend was saying “They think the towers are going to fall! It’s an act of war!”
I followed her into the conference room, where we have a crappy little tv with no cable. We could only get one station, but the images were clear enough: Both towers were blazing. I could still not see how this had happened, until I saw the replayed footage of both planes hitting the building. Even though I realized the buildings had suffered horrible damage, and I was sure many people must have been killed, I just did not believe for one minute that two 100-plus skyscrapers could possibly collapse.
The next thing you know, people were saying that several planes had been hijacked, and that the Pentagon was on fire, and the White House had been evacuated, that the President had gone to a secret location on Air Force One and ordered all planes grounded. Well, I knew Bush was in Florida, and I knew that MacDill AFB here in Tampa was a major tactical worldwide base. So we all assumed he was en route or already at MacDill. What if terrorists were chasing him right into Tampa? At this point, several secretaries started scrambling to their phones because their attorneys were traveling. Where were they now? Had their flights landed? Had they been hijacked? Were they still alive?
I realized my sister, an artist, had been preparing to do a big street fair in New York City. I couldn’t remember if she’d left or not. I tried to reach her, but couldn’t, then spent the next half hour or so trying to reach other family to make sure my sister hadn’t left for New York yet. I finally learned she was still safe in Atlanta. Then I was told that the first tower had collapsed.
I went back into the conference room just in time to see the other tower go, live. I remember having my hand over my mouth in shock and horror. I was fighting back tears, trying not to show how frightened and horrified I was. Another of my co-workers just kept chanting, “This can’t be happening, this can’t be happening!”
We knew the towers were gone, the pentagon was attacked, and now heard a flight had crashed in Pennsylvania. Was the entire nation under attack? Maybe they were crashing into all the tall buildings. Maybe they would crash into mine too. Our building management let us know that they would not be evacuating our building, that all the planes were down and we were safe. How did THEY know we were safe, if the President didn’t even know if HE was safe? Just then, we heard a plane and ran to the window. Sure enough, it was an airliner headed south – away from the airport! Was this Air Force One, or a lost plane, or a hijacked plane? We never found out.
Somehow, we survived that day, so much lucker than so many thousands of people. One of the women in the office had a missing relative – a NY City cop -until he checked in and reminded everyone he’d been out of town on vacation that day. Several of our attorneys were stranded for days all across the country – one attorney had to share a hotel room with the opposing counsel in a small midwestern town. They had both been on the same flight, en route to an out-of-state deposition. One of our associates had to rent a car in California and drive back to Tampa. I made ribbons and sold them, donated the money to the Red Cross. A bad tropical storm blew in to town a few days later and there was almost no news coverage about it. They forgot to call me to tell me the office was closed due to the storm, so I braved it in to work, terrified that I’d be blown away or the windows would blow out or my building would fall down just like the WTC.
We were all changed forever. I was terrified of the elevators; what if a plane hit while I was in them and I plunged to my death down the elevator shaft just like many of the WTC victims?
One Saturday not long after the attacks, as most of you will remember from the news, a troubled individual in a small plane committed suicide by crashing into MY building in Tampa. It hit only 3 floors up from my office – directly above my boss’s window. I could look out and up from his office and see the twisted trim and broken glass. I had planning to go in and work that Saturday, but I didn’t go; otherwise I would have been there when it hit. I would have probably died of fright right then and there. Fuel, blood and water rained down the building and streaked our windows and leaked into our offices. We all missed work the Monday after because the building was closed.
But life went on for us, and before we knew it, a year had passed. On this September 11th, the first anniversary, Tampa held its “Flags Across Bayshore” celebration even though we were deluged by another tropical storm. Thousands of people gathered along Bayshore Drive waving their flags. At work again, I had to miss the memorial. With my mind heavily on the tragic attack, we all suddenly heard loud roaring jet engines coming very close to our building. I was so terrified I’m sure my face must have turned white. I almost dove under my desk. Everybody froze in their tracks. In a second or two (although it seemed like eternity), the jet roared off again, and we realized it had been an honorary military jet fly-over from MacDill. My heart was pounding for a good hour afterward, and all I could think of was, “Don’t they think about us people in tall buildings when they fly those damn jets around?”
It’s no longer September 11th. Maybe next year we won’t even have a big hoopla about it. But I have my flag up, and I’m keeping it up. We have to show our colors. We have to show our pride in our country. We can’t let evil get us down; we have to go on. We have to try to get back to normal. But for the sake of our nation and for the sake of the entire world, we must not forget. Ever.