Near the Pentagon

On 9/11/2001, I was working in Crystal City, about a mile and a half from the Pentagon. I must have parked my car and turned off the radio just before the news from NYC was broadcast. I was at my desk, wondering why my floor was so empty of co-workers, when my manager stopped by to say I might as well go watch TV downstairs with everyone else. When I asked what was going on, he said, "A plane flew into the Twin Towers." As I headed down to our other floor, I wondered how the traffic controllers could have misdirected a plane so badly. By the time I got there, the second plane had hit. I was stunned to realize this was deliberate. We kept watching the TV until someone ran up saying a plane had just flown into the Pentagon. We moved to the windows, where we could see smoke in the distance.

When the news announced that an investment firm had occupied the top floors of the North Tower, I began to worry that my sister-in-law might be there.

Around that time, our management told us to get back to work. Once again at my desk, I tried to reach my brother but couldn't get through. I finally called my parents. They said my sister-in-law didn't work at the Twin Towers, but two cousins, father and son, did. As it turned out, the son worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. His father worked on a lower floor and got out. I cannot imagine how he must have felt waiting at his daughter-in-law's apartment and hoping for his son to come home. The son never did. His wife was eight months pregnant.

My desk had a clear view of National Airport from the 10th floor. I watched as hundreds of people streamed out and away from the empty runways, some dragging suitcases, others empty-handed. I wondered whether my building could be a target for another plane, given its height and government-related occupants. Finally, we were told that the third plane, previously unaccounted for, had crashed in Pennsylvania, but we could go home if we wanted. By then, the roads were clogged with cars trying to get away, so I stayed. I called my husband downtown, and he too had decided to stay because the Metro was jammed.

At lunch time, I walked in the brilliant sunshine of a crisp fall day marred by the stink of burning jet fuel. I met a woman stranded after a conference, and we ate together at my favorite Mexican restaurant on South 23rd St. When we finished, she went to find a church, and I returned to my desk. I finally reached my brother in Manhattan, who had been out getting his young son home from school. His wife had been on the subway when the planes hit. She was so traumatized by the event that they moved to Vermont not long after.

I was able to drive home at about my usual time, the heavy traffic long gone, and the next weeks returned to normal. Sort of. The wind sometimes blew a scent of burning fuel towards my office. A spontaneous memorial grew up along a fence near the Pentagon, within walking distance of my townhouse, covering the chain links with flowers, signs, prayer flags, and other memorabilia.

Fighter jets flew over my previously quiet Arlington neighborhood. I couldn't decide whether the jets frightened me with their acknowledgment of potential danger or comforted me with their vigilance. The news recounted the numbers of people dead or still missing, and the few found. I sent a sympathy card to my late cousin's parents and grandmother and visited them on my next trip north. I think of them every September 11th. Crisp, sunny September days can still make me cry.

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