Feeling the Impact, Literally
On the morning of 9/11/2001, I was at work in the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building. My assistant came to my office to say her sister had called from New Jersey to say a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We were both from Jersey, so we knew the WTC and region. Then the sister called again to say a second plane had hit. A colleague had an old TV in the office, and we asked to borrow it and turn it on. Several others came to the office to watch, as word spread. We turned on the Today show, which was covering it.
Suddenly I felt a rumbling sensation under my feet, as if a huge truck had gone by outside. I looked over to a colleague, who looked me straight in the eye and nodded his head. Then Jim Miklaszewski, a Pentagon reporter, came on Today, voice only, saying, "The Pentagon's been hit, the Pentagon's been hit!" That caused the sensation we felt under our feet in A&I.
We watched the TV and waited to hear that we should go home, but Secretary Small did not want to close us down. Eventually Deputy Secretary Sheila Burke issued the order. I lived in Alexandria, but needless to say, could not take the Metro to the Pentagon and pick up a bus there. A group of us got together and walked home. It was good to have company as we walked over the empty 14th Street Bridge, seeing the fire and smoke and injured people stumbling out. We each peeled off as we got closer to home. It took me c. 2 hours, but it was such a beautiful day. When I got home to my condo community, my neighbors were all outside, waiting for each of us to arrive home safely. We stayed together and shared a pot luck dinner.
But I'm from northern NJ and started to get reports from there. In my hometown of Rochelle Park, people congregated at the train/bus station to see who made it home and who didn't. Several cars were never picked up by their now-deceased owners. And a childhood friend called to point out that the fire department chaplain who had died of a heart attack was our own beloved Father Mike who we had grown up with at Sacred Heart Church.
I talked with my goddaughter who had to flee from her dormitory three blocks away, turning and seeing people jumping from the towers. Major PTSD. And another friend called to say people we knew from National Geographic were on one of the planes with students who had won the Geography Bee.
My aunt in New Jersey never again got TV over the antenna and had to subscribe to cable. On the day it happened, she had no reception on TV or radio, which made it so much worse and isolating, but finally went to a neighbor's to watch her cable. I was glad my parents passed away in 1998 and didn't live to see this. My dad and Father Mike were pals.
I could smell the jet fuel burning from my house (2 miles away) for 3+ days.
And I resolutely went right back to work, with so many others.
But none of us are the same.