|The New York City skyline as I grew up picturing it.
It was a Tuesday morning after all, and I always took advantage of our flex time to beat the Cincinnati traffic in the morning and evening by getting in at 7 a.m. and leaving by 3:30 p.m. There's something very quiet and productive about getting into the office 2 hours before most of your co-workers. I'm 100% sure that on that day nearly all my work was done by 9:30.
I didn't watch the clock, but maybe a little after 9 that morning is when I first heard about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. Since I wasn't involved in the discussion, I just immediately assumed that they were talking about a small Cessna or something. After all, those little planes seem to crash every so often. No one stopped by my cube, so I just kept working under that assumption.
Maybe around 9:20 or so, I first heard the word "attack," but again, I was safely tucked away in my cube. So I jumped on CNN's website, and this is when I knew something weird was happening, because the site would not load. I tried a few other news websites, but they weren't loading either. My guess has always been that the traffic volume was crashing the sites. Eventually, I tried ESPN, and there were the Twin Towers with smoke billowing out. For the rest of my work day, ESPN is where I got my news on the attacks.
|The last moments of the Twin Towers.
The rest of the work day was a blur. Somebody found a TV that I didn't watch. Video didn't stream online back then. So I actually did not see anything in motion until I got home that evening. However, rumors were in motion all day. First, New York was attacked and the Pentagon. Pennsylvania was attacked. People started claiming that attacks were under way in Florida and California. Of course, not everything panned out, but our world suddenly seemed more vulnerable.
When I left work, I remember walking out to my car in a surreal fog. Everything was so perfect outside, but I almost felt lost or out of place. I turned on the radio and that's when it started. I felt the need to know what was happening, and that's when I located NPR. It would be months before I started listening to music on the radio again.
On my 90-minute drive home through the city, then through the suburbs, and ultimately through Ohio farm country, I just kept looking up at the sky. It was blue. No birds. No clouds. No planes. It's like everything was grounded for the day.
At the time, my first wife and I were staying at her parent's house while our house was being built on the other side of the lake. (We'd move in a few weeks later.) When I got inside, I finally saw footage of the planes crashing into the towers. I watched it over and over again. I watched them fall down. I watched people jump. I watched people run. I watched people walk around in a daze.
My first born son, Ben, was two months old. He spent the first two weeks of his life in ICU, and now I wondered what kind of world I'd brought him into. We were under attack, and it seemed like only the beginning. Then, a huge explosion outside shook me to life.
My father-in-law, an ex-Marine, and I looked at each other and ran outside. Our neighborhood was filled with propane tanks, and my first thought was that one had exploded. We were under attack. I felt my stomach sink and thought, Here we go.
But when we got outside, I didn't see any smoke or fires. I didn't see men with guns and bombs strapped to their chests. I didn't see anything. Then, my father-in-law nudged me and nodded up. There were two jets speeding across the empty blue sky.
We'd heard a sonic boom when they broke the sound barrier. That was the end of our excitement for the day. I admit I had trouble getting to sleep that night. I kept imagining that terrorists would start the second wave at any moment.
Over the coming weeks and months, I saw all the vulnerable spots and targets that I would hit if I were a terrorist. I didn't feel safe on bridges or near the GE factory. The sky suddenly seemed more ominous. The world around me was the same as it had always been, but everything had somehow changed.
These are my memories of 9/11/01. If you wish, you can share your memories below. Or check out these places that are sharing thoughts on a day when so much changed for so many:
- Poetic Asides. On my poetry blog, I've invited poets (after the suggestion of Bruce Niedt) to share poems they've written about 9/11 (old or new).
- Writer's Digest with Brian Klems. Brian shared his story of that day. He and his future wife were working and living in Chicago at the time.
- Let's Keep Rolling. Rick Reilly of ESPN remembers Flight 93 (the one that ended up in a field in Pennsylvania).