September 11, 2008


All day today I have had a nagging sensation at the edges of my awareness, the sensation you have when you know you've forgotten something. Only, it's what I'm remembering there around the edges of the business of the day that is bothering me. This is September 11th.

The fact that it has been 7 years since that September 11th does nothing to change the fact that it seems strange, somehow, that the world should go on as usual on this day. And yet, it has been 7 years and I realized today that I'm starting to forget. Not that the date September 11th will ever again be unremarkable; it still gives me a seconds pause any time I use it. Nor can I at all forget the horror of that day, though I know it in fact felt more surreal on that day than it did in the days that followed. I remember an elementary school assignment to ask a grandparent or elder where they were when they hear Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and I remember that my grandmother could immediately and definitively tell me she'd been in the dining hall. There is no question I will be able to tell my grandchildren with that same certainty where I was when I learned a plane had crashed in to the World Trade Center.

I was standing in the middle of my basement apartment in D.C. with my morning coffee. My Tax class had been canceled, and I'd turned on the morning news later than usual. The first footage I saw was the Pentagon engulfed in flames, and for a second I thought it was a movie, and a strange movie to be playing so early in the day. I still remember very clearly the feeling of my stomach tightening as I grasped that this was reality, watching the footage change to that of the World Trade Center.

That moment will always be crystal clear, as will others. But, even the pieces I remember so clearly I find I can't quite put in order. Others, I'm sure I've forgotten. Somehow, I thought I'd always remember it all, though I know the mind doesn't work that way.

I remember calling home to reassure my family and that Dad was home alone. He hadn't yet heard of the attacks. But, was that before or after they located the final plane, the one the passengers crashed in to a field? I think it must have been before. I remember clearly how much that missing plane scared me, and that I stayed inside until it went down. They believed the goal might be to bring that plane to the capitol, and I was living only 10 blocks from the capitol. I remember reassuring Dad that my basement apartment was the safest place I could be, protected by all those bricks and under the ground.

It must have been later when I sat on my steps, with my neighbors, and watched the parade of cars evacuating the Hill - using both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue in a mass exodus. Actually, I guess the word would be evacuation. But, it couldn't have been too much later, could it? I remember my landlady, a federal employee at the Department of the Interior, was able to find a way home by mid-day. But, she praised her cab driver for finding a way to get her home through the maze of re-routed streets, so maybe it was much later.

I know I went back out many times during the day. I took a picture of the sun setting behind the Capitol building, flag flying atop, which somehow felt symbolic to me. I don't actually remember the constant noise of the helicopters and planes (presumably military), but I remember telling others about it weeks later and how in that moment it fit.

At some point, I walked to church and sat talking with my friends in hushed tones. Breathing a sigh of relief each time a new member who was traveling or working at the Pentagon was reported safe, but not really feeling strongly about any of it. This, then, was when I had reached the point that it was all surreal. I even remember briefly discussing whether we were crazy to be gathering even closer to the most likely targets and deciding we needed to be at church regardless. That must have been in the afternoon, because I remember that we sat out on the steps. We needed the fresh air and the sun.

I know I was scared for Kayla, who was still a flight attendant for United that year, and that at some point early in the day I learned she wasn't flying that day. Was I able to talk to her or to one of the girls? I remember it was difficult to get a phone line that day. I must have talked to my family again, to Alex. I don't remember it.

Life does, in fact, go back to normal, and the memories do start to fade. But, I suspect this day will always be different, that there will always be the nagging sensation at the edge of it.

I've always hesitated to write about September 11th. So many have written about it more eloquently than I ever could, and others from a much more powerful point of view. Today I decided to write, because I'm starting to forget and I want to remember. This post is for me.

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