Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years later

I saw that my classes began on September 11th. I understood that 2006 - 2001 = 5.

Yet somehow I hadn't quite processed the significance. The fifth anniversary of September 11th. I know that my experience doesn't even begin to compare with that of so many people who were truly in the middle of it, but for at least part of that day, I couldn't be sure.

I was in Washington, DC, on September 11, 2001. My wife was not with me; she and I chatted via instant message since the activity of my day had not yet begun.

Then she IM'ed me, "A plane just flew into one of the World Trade Center towers." I was floored, but didn't panic. It was unclear what kind of plane, and I assumed it was some small, personal aircraft whose pilot had made a horrible mistake.

But a short time later, "Another plane just hit the other tower." And I knew that couldn't be an accident. It was hard to get a news site up, as they were all so flooded with traffic. Even when I did, there was no information my wife hadn't already told me.

Those first moments passed by in slow motion. I caught my breath, tried to stay calm. And then everything sped up: the next plane hit the Pentagon, just miles from where I stood. Soon there was information overload: there was a fire on the Mall, the FAA in Fredericksburg had been attacked, the towers had fallen, a fourth plane crashed, a car bomb exploded at the State Department. "I'm in a war zone," I thought to myself, still not panicking, because I just couldn't let myself.

Now it turns out that most of the information flood was false. The towers did fall, the fourth plane did crash, but DC was not under siege. I was relying on others for my information, and I still don't know the sources for most of what I heard. Internet news sites were crashed by the load of traffic and I didn't have access to a television.

It was hours before I could get a phone call out. First I called my wife, who was practically hysterical with worry. Then I contacted my mom so that she could tell other family members I was fine. Later I would call relatives in New York, both to let them know I was OK and to make sure that some trick of fate hadn't taken them to the towers that day.

I was glad not to have television in the middle of it all, glad not to see the towers fall over and over again while the reporters tried to sift through the fact and fiction, tried to make sense of it all.

I couldn't get out of the city until late in the afternoon, after some of the rumors had been quashed, after I was pretty sure I hadn't lost anyone. Yet as I drove out of the city, panic finally set in. I could see the Washington Monument, the spire of the National Cathedral, I drove right past the Israeli Embassy. I realized how many important buildings I was driving past--targets now. The streets were nearly deserted and I suddenly felt exposed.

No grand statements, no lessons, though I did at least learn that I was living pretty much the life I wanted. And despite our misgivings about bringing a child into such a world, we began to realize how much we wanted a child in our life. I was pregnant less than a year later.

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