This is Today

I was still sleepy when I woke up even though it was past 9 a.m.  Padding out to the family room from our bedroom in my pink pajamas and grey t-shirt, I glanced outside through the many windows that surrounded our spacious, modern Dupont Circle apartment.  From the way the sun was splashing and illuminating our cream-colored walls, it looked like another gorgeous day.  Already, the horrific humidity from the summer had dissipated leaving crisp mornings and warm afternoons.

Yawning, I flicked on the switch to the television and changed the channel to

NBC4 to watch “The Today Show.”  Happily unemployed for two months since our move to D.C., this had become a new decadent ritual. I loved when Matt, Katie, Al or Ann would say, “But first, this is Today on NBC.” Thinking about what I would eat for breakfast and whether I should make coffee or sneak out in my pajamas to the lobby for the free coffee, I glanced at the screen and blinked, not quite comprehending what I was seeing.  The screen headline said something with the words “Hijack,” and I immediately assumed that they were doing some kind of story that took place in the 1970’s since a plane would never be hijacked in 2001.

 As I watched slightly puzzled at the fire burning a hole in the World Trade Center, the phone rang. “Are you watching this?” my sister Minal asked.

“I just woke up, what’s going on?” I said as I sank into the deep cushion of our purple velvet couch. “I was on a conference call with someone in New York, and he saw the World Trade Center get hit by a plane!”

Minal exclaimed. I could hear something being said on the loudspeakers at her work, and she hurriedly said, “I gotta go.”

Returning to “The Today Show,” I listened as Matt and Katie speculated about what was going on. “Was this intentional?”  “What plane was it?”  “Would there be other attacks?” I tried calling my husband Nitin but he was working in Woodbridge, Virginia so far out that I actually had to dial “1” before dialing his phone number. “All circuits are busy,” said the operator.

Katie was now talking to Jim “Mik” Miklaszewski at the Pentagon.

“Katie, I don’t want to alarm anybody right now but apparently there it, it  (sic) felt, just a few moments ago like there was an explosion of some kind here at the Pentagon,” reported Mik.

Suddenly, I was feeling incredibly vulnerable.  Our spacious, modern apartment was just blocks away from the White House. If they got the Pentagon, wouldn’t that mean that D.C. was a target too? Was the White House or the Capitol next?  More reports kept streaming in. There’s a fire on the Mall. There’s a bomb at the State Department. I can’t keep it straight. I can hear the sirens zoom past 16th Street.

My mother-in-law calls, practically incoherent and at the same time, I can hear from the tone in her voice, cursing our move from Philadelphia to D.C.

All she says, is “You are so close and the windows, the windows,” providing an unnecessary reminder of my location.

I have a sudden instinct to duck but I’m not sure from what. I still haven’t talked to my husband but my sister calls to say her offices at AOL are being evacuated and that she is coming into the city so that I’m not alone. Later, our family would comment that everybody else was fleeing D.C.

and here she was zooming in on the Memorial Bridge with the Pentagon burning behind her just to provide comfort to her little sister.

Matt says, “We just saw a live picture of what seemed to be a portion of the building falling away from the World Trade Center.” I watched in horror as the South Tower collapses. Twenty-one minutes later the North Tower collapses.  All I can think of is all the fire and medical personnel who were on the scene trying to save everyone. Where did they go?

By 11:30 am on September 11, 2001, it was all over. Tom Brokaw speaks of the “untold loss of life” but at the point it was almost an abstract concept.

Until the death toll was announced, the morning’s events wasn’t something that I could fully process.

Not knowing what else to do, my sister and I decide to go get lunch at one of the crappy restaurants on 17th Street that we would normally never visit.

While dining on Peppers outdoor patio, there was an eerie calm to the afternoon. The sky was still a serene blue and the sun was still glittering on the sidewalk. It was such a contrast to the ugliness of that morning.

Peppers was unusually packed and filled with workers whose offices had also been evacuated. We eavesdropped on the conversations expecting people to rehash every detail of the morning. Instead, we heard about some girl talking about a work project, and a guy talking about some visitors he hosted from out of town. My sister asked as she dug into her veggie quesadilla, “Is it possible they don’t know what happened this morning?” It was like being in post-apocalyptic horror film when you are the only person who knows what has happened.

When I finally got in touch with my husband, he really had no idea how bad everything was because all he had in his office was a little radio.  Later, we would both say things would have been so different in Washington if the Flight 93 had succeeded in crashing into the White House. We would have been forced to evacuate our apartment, we would have seen the smoke blowing through our street and smelled the acrid burning of a beloved landmark.

Grateful doesn’t even begin to describe how we felt for the months following that morning.

That was my “Today” on September 11th.


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