like many people, today i'm thinking a lot about where i was on this day five years ago. pretty much anyone who would read this blog knows my story, but i'm going to record it here for posterity. details are already fading as it is.
as so many seem to remember, september 11, 2001 was a gorgeous day - clear with a hint of the crispness that signals the arrival of fall. i had just moved to washington, dc for graduate school and was just settling into my new schedule. my tuesday classes started late in the day, so when i woke up around 8:30 i decided to go for a run. even more unusual than that, i flipped on the tv when i returned. mom always told us that tv before school would make us stupid, so turning on the television in the morning has always been a bit transgressive to me. the first thing i saw was the gash in the world trade center. i called to my roommate, "i think something's going on... the world trade center is on fire." she joined me and together we watched the second plane hit. and then, the pentagon. i think my heart stopped for a second, and i know my face went grey and cold as i immediately reached for the phone, saying "oh my god, my dad." he had a variety of offices, one of which was in the pentagon. i dialed his 800 number and he picked up almost immediately, to my enormous relief. "dad, where are you?" "i'm in my office, sweetie." "WHICH ONE?? a plane just hit the pentagon!" fortunately, he was in suitland, maryland that morning, and because he'd been reviewing a closed-circuit briefing, he didn't even know yet that the pentagon had been hit. we chatted for just a moment and then i let him go, knowing he would have a lot to deal with in the coming hours and days. shortly thereafter my roommate's dad called, no small feat on a day of completely jammed communications. our situation was further complicated by the fact we'd just moved in so we didn't have a landline yet. he managed to get through to the front desk of our building, and the attendant there patched him through the ancient switchboard to us on the in-house phone, which i don't think we ever heard ring till that day. moments later he hopped in the car to make the trip from annapolis and bring us home. he made it into the district with relative ease, due to his quick thinking, so we grabbed a few items, not knowing how long we'd be away, and loaded up the van. our exodus was a shared experience - hundreds of commuters flowed up connecticut avenue on foot, many barefoot and carrying uncomfortable work shoes, everyone frantically punching cellphone buttons. once we cleared the district and reached the beltway, my cellphone - newly acquired, a nod to safety in the big city - went nuts. i checked in with my family, and then listened to message after message... "is your dad ok?" "i know you're in the district now, are you ok? please call me when you can." "i've been trying to get through, i sent you an email, i know you are way too close to this madness." when i arrived in annapolis, my family poured out the front door - dad, followed by sister and mom - all home, all safe.
the hours and days that followed were strange and, at times, upsetting, but it's remarkable how quickly things returned to somewhat normal, at least in my memory. my classes at georgetown were canceled for a couple days, but i'll never forget the first time a passenger jet, in its normal approach to national airport, screamed through the sky over campus. it happens dozens of times every day, but that day everyone in the quad stopped and just looked skyward. i was so fortunate - no one i knew died in any of the attacks, but my dad was not so lucky. the plane that hit the pentagon hit the navy part of the building, and my dad lost many colleagues. i remember how he could point to photos of the wound in the side of the pentagon and identify the microwave and refrigerator in his break room.
even still, whenver i run along the mount vernon trail to gravelly point, i cannot watch the jets arriving without thinking about that day. it's not scary at all, but it is a constant.