Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11, 2001

It was Tuesday.

I awoke to a beautiful, sun-filled morning. I set about getting ready for work. Showering, getting dressed. I walked downstairs, grabbed my to-go cup of coffee, kissed the wife and the infant daughter, and headed out the door. My commute was nothing special, just the usual Atlanta rush hour traffic. I arrived at the office prepared for another uneventful day.

It was 8:28 a.m. on September 11, 2001.

I worked for a small company; only eight employees, with a couple out of the office on vacation. As was normal for a Tuesday morning, we hurried to prepare for our weekly staff meeting.

8:46 a.m.

The first hint that something had happened. My phone rang - it was my brother-in-law. He was calling to tell me a plane had crashed into the World trade Center.

"Oh, my God!" I exclaimed. I didn't think I had said it that loudly at the time. But later, coworkers would tell me that there was something in my tone that captured their attention. I assumed (I think we all did) that he meant a small plane, a private jet or single prop plane. Regardless of what it was, we naturally assumed it was an accident. I sat down at my desk and pulled up my internet browser. I typed in CNN's address - the site was down. Fox News. Down. ABC News. Down. Site after site after site...nothing. The entire Internet was gone. For the first time that morning, I knew something was very wrong. For the first time, I was afraid.

A few minutes later, the second plane hit.

A colleague in our sister company downstairs called up and reported the news. For the first time, we heard those two frightening words: terrorist attack. Not knowing what to make of things, we did the only thing we could - we went on with our work. As we gathered in the conference room for our meeting, everyone was subdued. As we started to go over business, the phone rang again. It was the same colleague, calling again.

"They just blew up the Pentagon."

Stunned and more than a little afraid, we wrapped up our meeting in short order and drifted back out of the conference room to our desks. We gathered around, trying to get some sort of information on what was going on. A couple of people went downstairs where there was a television set. Others got on the phones and started calling friends and family. Me, I turned to the Internet, trying to get some sort of news site to pull up.

All too soon, the situation escalated.

Three planes had crashed, but supposedly there were five others that were unaccounted for. One was rumored to be heading towards Atlanta.

Somebody heard there was an emergency at the Atlanta airport; I was worried, since my father worked there.

Rumor had it the Bank of America Tower downtown was a possible target, and was being evacuated.

The Centers for Disease Control was a target. People were being evacuated, and area hospitals were put on alert, preparing to receive casualties. My wife worked an one of those hospitals, and confirmed the alert status.

Two of our coworkers were travelling that day - one in Los Angeles, the other in Wisconsin. We desperately tried to find out if they were okay. Fortunately, they were.

And then the towers fell.

For the rest of the work day, we waited. Waited for the next wave to come. Eventually, we realized that we had been through the worst of it, at least for that day. All too soon, it was time to go home, home to our families.

I don't remember how the drive home was, but I suspect it was different than other days. Too much had happened for that not to be the case. I got home, gathered my family to me, and spent the evening watching the news, hour after hour of reports. Watching the destruction unfold before me on the TV screen, I knew nothing would ever be the same.

I could have never imagined something like 9/11. Not in my wildest, most fevered dreams. We were Americans. Things like this never happened to us. Who could have done this? Who would dare? We would learn the answer to that questions all too soon.

It was later that night. I laid down to sleep, thinking about the events of the day. I worried about what I might wake up to in the morning. As I finally drifted off, I couldn't help but wonder if the only thing more frightening that September 11 would be September 12.

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