Sunday, September 11, 2005

Four Years

Metal bird dip wing of fire
Whose airlanes comb dark earth
The poles are tethers we were born in...

9:01 a.m.
, September 11, 2001

United Flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles.

A flight attendant has been stabbed. The plane is flying erratically. Many passengers, huddled in the back, are vomiting.

A passenger calls his father.

“I think they’re taking the plane to Chicago or another city. I think they’re going to fly it into a building... Don’t worry, Dad. If it happens, it will be really fast... We are going down.”


At 6 a.m. that morning, I woke up with a terrible headache. I had gone to bed with that same headache. It was so intense, I’d just curled up on the sofa to sleep, leaving the TV on our local Fox station. It was bad enough that I determined I would not go into work. I would not try to call until after 9 a.m., as our office had just moved to another building, four blocks from the White House, and there was only one functioning phone and no Internet connection. I would call the cell phone of one of my coworkers. I set the alarm on my watch for 9 o’clock and fell back asleep.

8:46 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

A friend of mine is in her Manhattan office a block away, looking out the window toward the Towers when it happens. She drops her coffee onto her suit and stares.

9:00 a.m. I open one eye and see the Fox news time and temperature stamp still in the lower right corner. That’s not right. The news should be over. I put my glasses on and see the World Trade Center, one tower engulfed in smoke and flame. I sit up rapidly and grab for the remote. “For those of you just tuning in, a plane has flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York.” There is silence as the footage streams in from Manhattan, and I fumble for the phone to call my office. They have no Internet, no radio. No one answers either cell phones or the sole office phone.

As I listen to the office phone ring and ring, I see it.

9:03 a.m. United Airlines Flight 175 hurtles into the South Tower.

“Oh no,” the Fox anchor quietly says. “This cannot be an accident.”

My friend in Manhattan sees the second crash and screams. Just two weeks before this, we had breakfast at a café in the shadow of the Towers. The café is now covered in debris. In fuel. In human remains.

And now, my hands are shaking. I start calling my friend at his World Bank office, even though I know his workday doesn’t begin until 9:30. I need to talk to him. I turn on the radio, which is set to the shock jock station. Howard Stern is humorlessly broadcasting from New York. Word is spreading that there are more planes in the air, and some are headed toward Washington, DC.

And George Bush smiles and reads from My Pet Goat.

9:37 a.m. American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon.

I have no recollection when I finally got through to my friend. I just remember telling him to get out, get out, get out. He’s gotten calls from loved ones in the Midwest, telling him to get out, get out, get out.

He is one block from the White House.

He begins his long walk to Maryland. He is with a friend with a cell phone.

The Twin Towers fall. Radio rumor is that a plane is tracking along the Potomac, headed for the heart of DC. I am standing in the middle of my apartment, hyperventilating and weeping, unable to do anything of value. My friend calls me as he walks north. I tell him the towers are gone. I still feel disbelief as I say it, but I saw it happen on TV.

My friend in Manhattan silently leaves her office. Power is out, and she walks down dozens of flights with the rest of the shellshocked. In silence and sobbing, they all walk down and out, only to be covered in soot as they exit. In powdered debris. In fumes of jet fuel. In dusted human remains. She just keeps walking. For hours. Getting away. Not sure where to go.

My dear friend in Washington walks for hours out of the heart of DC, as fear increases about more attacks. We agree on a place to meet. Quartermaine Coffee Roasters in Chevy Chase. It’s only five miles from my apartment, headed south toward the district.

10:15 a.m. United Airlines Flight 93 goes down in Pennsylvania. (Shot down, I firmly believe.)

I haven’t been able to get through to my family. No one is sure what is happening. So many rumors. My brother finally gets through to me from the Midwest. I ask him to call my friend’s mother in Nebraska, so she knows he’s okay. (My friend had already gotten through, but our wires are unsurprisingly crossed.)

Phone lines go down. My radio goes dead. I start to sob. And then I get in the car and drive. South. To the District line. To find my friend.

I’m driving, my hands shaking on the steering wheel with each new panicked rumor. To get to Quartermaine’s and meet my friend, see my friend, hug my friend, make sure he is okay, I have to pass between Bethesda Naval Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health - a corridor of military medicine and medical research - cancer research, AIDS research, infectious diseases, nuclear medicine. The police and military presence is overwhelming. Traffic is barely moving, and I am driving toward a target zone.

I'm not paying attention to the clock. Time is passing, but seems unimportant. I make an illegal left, carving my way through thick northbound traffic, to enter the stripmall lot. Everyone looks shell-shocked, and is alarmingly quiet. Don & Mike, good time guy DJs are now on the radio, quietly reporting from New York. I walk in the coffee shop, not even a smile to greet my friend. Just relief. Before I can extend my arms to hug him, I am caught in a hug from a colleague of mine. An odd man I don't know well who has just made the same long walk. I offer him a ride home, but he declines. He will keep walking.

I hug my friend. That is all the world I need right then. That is all I need. The entire universe in the face of my friend and in his bonecrushing hug.


Going to work after this is strange. The smell of smoldering jet fuel and burning office supplies… and human flesh… it lingers for days and drifts across the Potomac as traffic slowly returns to the District. Black attack helicopters hover along the river, soldiers hang from the sides, their heavy weapons trained on us as we drive to our jobs. Our suddenly meaningless jobs. The ‘copters are so close, I can see the faces of the men who are prepared to shoot us, if necessary.

Other than the helicopters and the sweeps and booms of military craft, there is silence in the skies. I live on a flight path. It’s unnatural. Even the dopplered whistles of CSX and Amtrak trains rumbling through three-tenths of a mile from my door make me jump. Nothing is right. Nothing will ever be quite right again.

My friend in New York quits her job. For days after the attacks, she works in the Armory, helping survivors and family members of those lost. She moves to Puerto Rico and gives up the corporate fast track to study health food and herbal cures. She's still there.

Planes return to the air, but later, much later to DC. I remember dropping a glass in the sink the first time I hear a plane coming across the sky above my home after Everything Changed. I remember the silence of all the passengers the first time I flew again. I took a delegation of Central Asian computer experts to California and then on to a trade show in Las Vegas. Just me, three Russians, and 18 men with Islamic names. They are searched, but I am searched with greater intensity. I am taken away for repeated searches on each leg of our travel. Why is my ticket one-way? Why was it just purchased the day before? Having a government ID and government travel orders does me no good. "I am on official business with a delegation invited by the federal government."

It's useless to explain. I am suspect. There are a lot of tears by my 9th search. I feel persecuted. I’m crying on the plane to Vegas from San Francisco, and my seatmate is a man from Iran - a college professor, a specialist in Islam and politics. He has not been searched at all. He tells me, “They can search you, but they are afraid of me showing up on Face the Nation next week, accusing them of bigotry and racial profiling, despite the fact that I fit their terrorist profile. So, they abuse you instead.”

I don’t fly much now. Flying is no longer fun. I’m the daughter of a pilot, and flying is no fun.

I don’t trust our government. I am suspicious of them. And I’m embarrassed and ashamed of the smarmy cronyism, bootlicking, and unworthy appointments of Washington, DC.

I don’t trust the judgment of more than half of this nation. To twice choose a man who couldn’t keep a private company running. To choose a fool. And to make us look like boobs on the world stage. And to trust a man who can’t even pick advisors who don’t lie to him. WMDs my ass. No one ever thought the levees wouldn't hold. Get real.

I’m ashamed of this government, and I’m frightened of the damage that has been done to us for generations to come. 9/11 was a horrific event, but sadly it was used as an opportunity for the “government of less government” to smilingly, insidiously begin the process of reducing our civil liberties, of slowly sucking away our privacy in the name of security. It’s very Soviet. It’s Soviet Lite. It’s the Soviet Union with better marketing. Subtle fascism as promoted by a Manhattan ad agency, and hidden in Toby Keith flag-waving, magnetic-ribbon’ed, misplaced patriotism.

Unlike most Americans born in this country, I lived in a Socialist country for several years. I saw a lot of ugliness. The Soviets did a great deal with pretty posters and patriotic music, too. And they monitored what people read, what people bought, where they traveled. Sound familiar?

I pray for our nation. What we have now is no greatest generation. What could have risen from the ashes of the World Trade Center instead has been neatly packaged in some pap to keep people complacent and supportive of the actions of a group of wealthy oilmen, slapping each other’s backs in the West Wing situation room.

And George Bush strums a guitar and smiles as Katrina bears down on the Gulf Coast.

I’m glad I can still write these words, but I’m sure I’m on some list somewhere now.

Pray for us.


paulnojustpaul said...


Oh and for those compiling said lists, it's Baily without an 'e'.

Anonymous said...


I read it, even though I knew it would be hard for me. Oh course, I cried.

You said the words that I kept repeating and repeating, minutes, days, years after the moment:

"I saw it happen."

Those that weren't clued to their television sets after the first plane crashed, and did not perchance to see the second one coming and impacting... they are blessed.
They are so blessed.

I will never forget the LIVE FEED... the stuff you and I saw that, I don't think they will ever show again...

The jumpers.

I remember screaming to my husband, "Their jumping, oh my God, their jumping, oh my God!!!"

And things were never the same again... ever again.

This evening my thoughts are with the families and friends of those that perished.

As for those that died ~ I will never forget them, their names are carved deeply across my heart.

Never forgotten.


suze said...


i don't think anyone will forget that day.

i went to nyc two months later - to write a story, to create a photo essay and to grieve. she's my adopted city - if ever the opportunity arose i would move there in a heartbeat. i will never forget the smell, still, two months after. i will never forget the people i met, the stories they shared with me of what it was like for them there. not miles away like i was. but all the same we were all left with the same sense of helplessness...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this, which captures the atmosphere - confusion, emptiness, disconnect from reality - of that day so well, and thank you for the ride.

Merujo said...

You can have a ride anytime, Erin. Just hope we never have to go through this again.

Anonymous said...

What a powerful post. Thank you.

Merujo said...

Thank you for coming by and reading it. Much appreciated.