TBT: 9/11

It’s the same story I tell every year and probably will continue to tell every year. Because these things are worth remembering.

I awoke the morning of 11 September 2001 in a somewhat foul mood due to a bad dream I’d had. I lived in Boston at the time, a city which would play such a pivotal role in the events of that day. Our apartment was near the Common, and I worked at Houghton Mifflin on Berkeley Street, and it was my habit to walk to work when the weather was fine, which that morning it was. Sunny, gorgeous day. That day in particular, I thought the walk might help clear my head of the bad dream.

The dream—nightmare, really—had been of being a passenger in a truck. I didn’t want to be there and had no control over where we were headed. I couldn’t see who was driving, but I remember thinking it was someone “ethnic” (with darkish skin). We were on a smoothly paved road sailing through rolling green hills. But in the distance I could see the skyline of a city, and over that city dark clouds had gathered. And the signs over the highway all read—green, with those reflective white letters—Death and Destruction Ahead.

I wanted to get out of the truck. I didn’t want to go to the city, which seemed to be where we were headed. But even as I contemplated throwing open the door and taking my chances in jumping from the moving vehicle, I woke up.

So I pulled myself together, our cat following me through the apartment and being quite vocal as I recall, and walked to work. I tended to get to the office early; I liked giving myself the extra time to settle in and get a head start. But there seemed to be a lot of people in that morning. And when I tried to check my usual Web sites, I couldn’t get anything to load. From the other side of my cubicle partition, I could hear the department admin and a few other people chattering away about something that sounded intense.

Then my phone rang. It was my husband calling from his Financial District office. “A plane hit the World Trade Center,” he told me.

“That’s stupid,” I said.

It sounds like a weird response in retrospect, but I was picturing some little Cessna with a pilot-in-training who’d made a really big mistake. How do you not see a huge building? How do you accidentally hit that?

“An American Airlines jet,” my husband clarified. I’m not sure if we talked more or not before he said, “Another one.”

In the cubicle beside me, my co-worker was freaking out a bit. (I felt strangely calm, which is what usually happens to me in stressful situations.) The managers were all in the corner office for a meeting. Meanwhile, those who could get CNN to load were telling us America was “under attack,” whatever that meant. Rumors were flying about the Sears Tower, the Space Needle in Seattle, even our own John Hancock building.

My husband called again and said they were being evacuated. He told me to come home, but not to use public transportation just in case.

As people around me got increasingly worked up, I took it upon myself to go into the managers’ meeting and tell the bosses we were all going home. The managers looked at me like I’d lost my mind. I was a nobody and had no authority. But as I explained why, the meeting broke up. I didn’t wait for further permission. I told my co-worker to call her boyfriend to come get her, then walked downstairs to wait with her. Once I’d seen her safely into her boyfriend’s truck, I began the walk home.

The Common was bizarrely peaceful. Students lounged all over the grass doing homework and reading and chatting. They don’t know, I remember thinking. They have no idea.

I stopped at the corner convenience store on the way to stock up. I wasn’t sure what we might need in terms of provisions, how long we might be home, when or if things would close up.

Then I went home and we spent the day, like so many others, parked in front of our television. At some point I was able to get a call in to my parents—September 11 is my dad’s birthday.

A little while ago, my 5-year-old son asked me, “Do you remember when the planes went into the buildings?” Clearly they’d mentioned it at school.

“Yes,” I said. “Would you like me to tell you about it?”

I am, after all, a primary source.

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