Not sure why it’s taken me 11 years to write down what I remember about 9/11, but it has. The day’s events are still fresh in my mind. The sights and sounds will never leave my memory nor will the feelings I felt. My day started off as just another Tuesday. The summer pool season had ended a week earlier and I had celebrated my 33rd birthday over the weekend. I got up around 4:15 that morning to go work my second job as a lifeguard at a health club. I had the opening shift of 5:00-8:00. Nothing unusual happened that morning as people swam laps and I won something on the radio. I had won tickets to go see Ben Folds that night at the 9:30 Club. I was pretty excited, but it also meant having to drive to the radio station that morning to pick up the tickets.
I finished my shift, showered, changed and headed towards the station. I headed towards D.C. and got on the Beltway. As always I was listening to Elliot In The Morning on DC101 without a care in the world other than who I would give my extra ticket to. Shortly after crossing the Cabin John Bridge, Diane Stupar was doing the news right before 9:00 and mentioned that there reports that a small plane might have flown into the World Trade Center. She mentioned it almost in passing and I, like many other listeners I’m sure, gave it little thought. Shortly thereafter all I heard from Diane was “Oh my God! Oh my God!” I got huge chills throughout my entire body. She then reported that a second plane had crashed into the second tower. You could hear the uncertainty in Elliot and Diane’s voices as they tried to wrap their heads around what just happened.
Growing up just outside of Washington, D.C., there was always the thought in the back of my mind that if the United States was ever attacked, that D.C. would be high on the list. That paranoia kicked into high gear. Here I was, on the Capital Beltway, thinking that there could be mass panic. With no immediate reports of an attack on D.C. and now being right around the corner from the radio station, I continued there. I figured that would be a good place to get more info. When I got to the station, I got on an elevator with two other gentlemen. They were discussing the plane crashes and mentioned they had heard that there was a car bomb at the Capitol. No one was sure, but that’s what the reports were. I got to the station and received the tickets I won, but I needed info. I started wandering through the station to try and find a TV or something to get some news. Someone asked what I was doing and I told them. They told me I could not be in the station and asked me to leave.
I got back in my car and rather head to work, I raced home. I was living in Arlington at the time and needed more information than what I was getting from the radio. I got home and immediately turned on the TV. I set up two TV’s and also had the radio going so I could get as much information as possible. I didn’t have a computer, so that was not an option and obviously this was long before smart phones and Twitter. The news of a plane crashing into the Pentagon made my heart skip a beat as I was only 5 miles from there. I was absorbing information as fast as I could, trying to understand what had happened. The reports were all over the place, but there was no confirmation of anything other than the two planes that had flown into the World Trade Center buildings. Even the reports at the Pentagon were vague. Some had a car bomb going off, while others went with the plane crashing.
Then Two World Trade Center collapsed. My body went numb. How could this happen? What about all the people? Who was attacking us? Why hadn’t we retaliated? What do you mean there were still planes in the sky that weren’t accounted for? Can’t someone do something? Twenty nine minutes later, One World Trade Center collapsed. Was the White House next? There’s no way they could hit that. Where is the President? Vice President? Members of Congress? I was torn between sadness, anger and fear. All three emotions cranked to 11.
I suddenly had the thought to call my parents. No news was good news in our family, but surely they were worried about their baby boy. I called their home in North Carolina and talked to my dad. I wanted to let him know that I was okay and that I was safe. About two minutes into our conversation, I lost cell service and the call cut out. Paranoia kicked in and all I could picture was my dad thinking that there was another attack and maybe his boy wasn’t okay. I quickly called him back and told him I was fine and that the line had cut out. As I was explaining that, it happened again. Crap! I called a third time and as fast as I could, I told him I was fine, that I loved him and mom and that I was going to hang up before the line cut out again.
I went back to the news, expecting to spend the rest of the day and into the night, gathering as much news as I could. My boss called a few hours later and while he didn’t have a problem that I didn’t make it into work, we did have a community that expected to have their pool open that afternoon. What?!? They still wanted to be open? Yes, they had planned to stay open for two weeks after Labor Day, but seriously? Our nation was attacked and you care whether your pool is open? Schools had been closed as had shopping centers and the such, but your pool needs to be open? Okay, it will be open, but I’m not going to be happy about it. The pool was scheduled to be open at 3:00 and I got over to it around 2:30. The pool was 10 miles east of Dulles Airport and you would hear planes all day long. Since all aircraft had been grounded it was now eerily quiet. I had no radio or TV for news and could not sit still. I had a few guards working with me and we were all in a bit of shock. Our first patron showed up and he was someone that we had to kick out of the pool the day before due to thunder. As he was signing in, he said, “No thunder today?” He was still upset from Monday because he thought we made the thunder up just so we could close. This didn’t sit well with me considering the day’s events. My response was, “No, just lots of death.” He looked at me like he wanted to say something, but he saw the look on my face and realized that it would not have been a good idea. About an hour later, a young couple showed up with their baby. They mentioned that they were surprised that we were open. I replied that I was surprised they were at the pool. As I spent a few hours at the pool, it dawned on me that one of the planes had taken off from Dulles, flew west, turned around, headed back east and crashed into the Pentagon which was about 22 miles to the east of the pool. American Airlines Flight 77 more than likely, a few hours earlier, had flown right over me.
We finally closed the pool around 7:00 and I raced home and parked my ass in front of the TV. A lot of the news at this point was just being repeated over and over again with lots of speculation. The death toll kept rising and my heart grew heavier and heavier. I stayed up until 2:00 AM watching, what was in essence, a news loop of the day’s events. I was in a bit of a state of shock for the next few days. My heart went out to those who passed and their families and to all the first responders who raced into these buildings to try and rescue as many as they could, never once thinking of themselves.
A few years ago I worked with someone who volunteered at Ground Zero to help with the cleanup. She showed me pictures and told me of stories that were relayed to her. It was cool, but so emotional. As I sit here writing this, the emotions all come back. I had to stop a few times to gather my thoughts. I would read a couple of quick tweets listing the names of those that were lost that day and it still hurts, but they are a reminder of what happened to our great country. As Toby Keith wrote, ...”A mighty sucker punch came flying in from somewhere in the back”, and that’s exactly what I think everyone felt that day. We should never forget that feeling.