Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where were you?

It's been 11 years since 9-11-01, and the question I still hear every year is - where were you?

I've never answered it here before. On 9/11, I lived in DC. I worked on the National Mall, between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. And my boyfriend at the time was working as a contractor in the Pentagon.

That morning, my three roommates and I got up as usual, took turns in the bathroom (we had a dry-erase board and signed in for shower time slots the night before), and commuted to our respective workplaces all over the city. I took the Metrobus, a special commuter route that only operated during rush hour, from near our house to a stop outside the IRS building on Constitution Avenue. Then I walked across the National Mall to the entrance to the underground facility where I worked in public relations for the Smithsonian's membership programs.

When I arrived, my colleagues were already buzzing about the internet news of a plane that hit one of the Twin Towers. Our director of PR fired up the only TV in the building just in time to see the second plane hit the second tower. Shortly after 9:30 a.m., we begin to hear reports that a plane had hit the Pentagon. Then the rumors began - There are fires on the National Mall... The National Guard ordered us to stay in our underground "bunker" of a building... The Metro was shut down... Since phones were jammed, it was hard to know what was true. But at the same time as I was wondering what might happen to me and my co-workers, I couldn't stop wondering whether Paul was okay over at the Pentagon. His environmental consulting company had been hired to oversee the removal of asbestos and other materials during a major renovation in the building, and he'd been working at the Pentagon for weeks. Around noon, Smithsonian employees were ordered to leave, so I sent off an email to my parents and roommates, letting them know I was leaving work and might not be back at the house we rented uptown for a while, if I had to walk home.

As it turned out, the Metro was not shut down, but I couldn't take my regular commuter bus. I hopped on the Metrorail at Smithsonian station, transferred to the red line at Metro Center, then took the red line to Tenleytown. I thought I might have to walk from there, but I caught a bus heading down Wisconsin Avenue. A pretty typical trip, except for the eerie silence throughout the city. At our house on Garfield Street, I found my roommates huddled together in our living room, watching the news in silence. A couple of them wanted to give blood. It was a beautiful day, so I sat outside on a lawn chair and tried to read to get my mind off the day's events. After dark, I finally got in touch with Paul's aunt, who let me know that she'd heard from his roommate that he was okay. He had walked from the Pentagon to a bar in Crystal City, drank himself into a stupor, and had passed out.

We went back to work at the Smithsonian the next day. So did Paul. His experiences on 9/11 and in the months that followed affected him deeply. He made the decision to move to Wilmington, NC, shortly after, and we broke up before he moved. It affected me, too. When I moved to Pennsylvania in 2006, I left behind   the people I spent that day with. Every year, even this year, 11 years later, I get an email, a text message or a Facebook message from them - we are forever linked by our shared experience. I am still incredibly moved by personal stories of people who lost loved ones on 9/11, and I can't imagine their pain and loss, even these years later.

Where were you? If you were in the Lehigh Valley on 9/11, what was it like here?

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