Nine years, seven months and two days ago, my world changed. It was a surreal day. Sitting at my desk nine years, seven months and two days later, I still feel that I can reach out and touch that day when a world mourned, a nation raged but did not buckle under the immeasurable weight of anger and sorrow upon sorrow upon sorrow.
I remember, the day was sunny and cloud-free, the temperature in the low 70s. I was at my desk at the US Agency for International Development on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. readying myself for the morning prep call with the State Department spokesperson and bureau press officers to review talking points prior to his daily press conference. The first plane had hit moments before the call started we had no idea the enormity of the situation. After the second plane hit, the call was ended. We stood in slack jawed confusion as we watched on the televisions in our office the morning unfold.
Then, the plane hit the Pentagon and a decision was made and our offices were closed down, we were told to evacuate the city, an undertaking that the critical infrastructure of the region could not handle. What I didn’t know was that when the plane hit the Pentagon, the reverberations were felt at the State Department a few short miles away, which prompted stringer reporters to release unsubstantiated report that a car bomb had gone off in front of the State Department. This news was immediately broadcast and my mother, thousands of miles away in Missouri left her classroom to her teaching assistant and stood vigil by the phone and television fearful that the reported car bomb at the State Department had killed me, her middle child, an employee of the State Department.
In my car, unmoving, on Independence Avenue trying (along with a few hundred thousand other people) to get out of the District, I looked to my right and the sky was black with the smoke that rose from the Pentagon. The final plane had yet to find its resting place in a field in Pennsylvania and was rumored to be headed for the capital, three very short blocks from my car. I was panicked, for there was no place for me to go. If it happened, I would be right there.
I continually pushed redial on my cell phone, trying desperately to reach either of my parents, to let them know I was okay. Finally after an hour of dialing and redialing, I got through to my mother who, when I heard her voice all my fears broke through the dammed wall of emotions and I began to weep and she on the other side wept to. I remember hearing her trying to tell her assistant to “call Al (my father) and tell him Tob is okay.” But she could barely get the words out as sobs that welled up from deep within her being rocked her small frame and strangled her words. To my left a man rolled down his window and asked if I was okay. I too struggled to speak but finally got out that I was okay and that I’d just gotten through to my folks to let them know that I was safe.
It took eight hours to make a 25 mile drive from the District back to my house in Virginia that day. And for six of those hours, I watched the smoke rise from the Pentagon, where my cousin an Air Force medic had his hands full performing triage in the courtyard of the Pentagon, he, like myself had not been touched.
Nine years, seven months, two days and 1,186 miles later, I woke up to a cold, 40 degree rainy day in May, uncharacteristic for North Texas. Rolling over trying to coax myself out of bed, I turned on the radio only to hear that the man who’d perpetuated the events that had changed my life was dead.
For the first time since leaving my job in Washington D.C., I turned on the television to listen to the news while I got ready for work. Since September 11, 2001, I have not been able to talk about that day, to a therapist, to my family, to anyone. I’ve kept all that happened inside. Even what I’ve written here today is but a scant view of the events and emotions I experienced that have irrevocably changed me. But as I stood, rapt with the events unfolding on television this morning, I wept. The rain that fell, the thunder that echoed and shook my building were like a cleansing torrent, water to cleanse my sorrows and nourish new hope, a new day. Rain to wash away all that I’ve held bottled up inside. I allowed myself release and wept.
Driving to work this morning, there was much talk about ‘justice’ and whether or not our troops had indeed gained justice for our nation and the innocents who had been robbed of their lives on that day in September, during their successful mission over the weekend. As I hydroplaned my way into Plano and parked my car under covered parking out of the downpour, I quietly reminded myself and those who discussed whether justice was done that justice is not always swift. Nor is it always what I deem to be fair, but justice is ALWAYS meted, be it in this life or the next.