I was at home, in our 3-bedroom apartment in Arlington, VA. We shared it with my mother. Since David and I did not own a car, I had taken David to the local metro station and returned home using my mother's car. He had to be at the metro by about 7:15 AM, so I was most likely back home by 7:30. Michael was almost 15 months old, and enjoyed watching some of the PBS Kids shows. He was probably watching Clifford, The Big Red Dog, or something of that nature. I remember he watched that plus Sesame Street around that age. He was still taking morning naps for me, so I was going to put him down for a nap about 9:30 and make a mad dash to the grocery store, sans Michael. My mother was fine with babysitting him when asked, and she had agreed that morning. Michael did not like grocery shopping. If I attempted to shop with him, he usually cried loudly and eventually fell asleep, resting his head in my hand while I wheeled the shopping cart around. Almost impossible to shop then. No, let him nap at home with my mother babysitting. While we were watching kid shows in the living room, my mother was in her bedroom watching ABC's morning news show GMA (which I understand she barely watches anymore... neither do I). Michael's show was just ending when she called me into her bedroom. GMA's people were staying on past 9 AM, when it usually ends and they were talking... wondering about what could have caused this crash and resulting fire at the World Trade Center. Then, like many others who watched it live on television, I was watching the burning tower when out of the corner came something that went behind the tower and did not reappear on the other side. To me, it would have been like watching a show on TV when a fly is buzzing around and happens to fly past the front of the screen. I barely noticed it as it happened for I was fixated on the burning tower. Then there was more smoke, and the talk quickly changed to both towers were hit by something, and not by accident.
In the back of my mind, I knew I still needed to put Michael down for a nap, and possibly still go to the grocery store. I continued watching my mother's television, knowing that Michael was being entertained by whatever was coming up next on PBS. I phoned David at work to let him know what had happened, and to ask him to pray. So far, no one else in his office had a clue. He told somebody and then it was all around the office. Anyone with a radio at their desk turned it on, some of the executives upstairs turned on televisions at their disposal. After I got off the phone with David, I remembered that on occasion, my father had been sent to the WTC on business, and since I didn't usually speak to him but on occasion, I flew to the phone to call and make sure he hadn't been scheduled to be there. No one was at home when I called there. I phoned his office and though he was not there yet, his secretary assured me that he was due in later. Because I was in such a panic before hearing he was not in NY, the secretary asked if anything was wrong. I blurted the news out to her, and she was shocked. No one in that office had known either, but she said she'd turn on a radio or television. I was relieved about my father not being at the WTC, but I was very upset for those who were, and I prayed, as I already had done earlier.
At that point, I ditched the grocery store plan, and was just going to feed Michael a bottle and ease him down for his nap. His eyes were already closing as my mother came into the living room and sat on the couch, drinking her coffee. I remember she was wearing her pajamas still, and I would have been too, except for the early morning drive to the metro with David. I still remember her pajamas were of a shirt and slacks, white background with yellow stripes and roses on it. By this point, the living room television was either off, or turned down low so as to not get Michael's attention. It was probably on ABC still. I was trying to stay calm so that Michael wouldn't pick up any tension I felt. My mother and I were talking quietly and I was nearly ready to move Michael to his crib when we heard a plane going overhead, very loudly. This was not normal at all for us. The closest airport was Reagan National in Alexandria - the town south of us. I had lived in Arlington for just over 3 years, and my mother had lived there for just over a year, and we had never heard a plane so loud there. We guessed it was flying very low. It was surreal... after the events we had seen on TV, and now this. WHAT was going on?! My mother's face showed horror at the sound. It was so loud to me that I was sure someone was going to crash at least a small plane right onto the road in front of our building. Columbia Pike. I stood up and handed Michael, who stirred with the motion, to my mother. I opened our back door but could not see anything but glimpses of the road because there was a 7-11 store, a laundromat and a mechanic's garage blocking part of my view. I closed the door, and within seconds, there were many sirens running up the street, heading east. My mother and I figured they had to do with the low-flying plane we had heard, so we looked to the television for news. ABC was still running the national program, extended, so we switched it to CBS, hoping for local news. Yes, they had it there. The plane had crashed into the Pentagon, just 2 miles away from us. Prior to that day, I had once put Michael into his stroller and walked up Columbia Pike toward the Pentagon, but stopped and turned around when the sidewalk ended and I would have had to walk in the grass or on the street, where there were too many crazy drivers.
At this point, I really became panicked. I phoned David at work and said we were going to quickly pack some clothes, diapers, toys and the 2 cats and all come to get him. I said I didn't care if his boss said he could not go... we were taking David right away. We were driving up to PA, where we would feel relatively safer. My mother wanted very much to get out of there too. As I threw an unopened pack of diapers into my mother's car's trunk and walked back inside, I heard a loud bang, like an explosion. I was really freaked out now. Calmly sitting on the steps of our apartment building was an unshaven man smoking a cigarette, wearing sand colored slacks and shirt, complete with old flip-flop shoes. He lived somewhere in the complex, though I'm not sure which building, but I did recognize him. He was oblivious to the day's events. By now, it must have been pushing 10 AM. I walked back inside the building and continued my mission of packing stuff, quickly. When I was indoors at one point during my frantic grabbing of stuff, another bang and our building shook. I remember David called home and said his office was closing. My mother had long since turned off the TV and was either reading scripture out loud or was praying or was trying to look calm for Michael's sake. He had woken up thoroughly while I was racing around packing, so my mother was either holding him or letting him play in his playpen while she grabbed a few items she would need away from home. One time out at the car, a woman pulled up in her car and was taking her baby's car seat out of her car and commented how she was rushing because she was dropping her baby off at a new sitter's place, somewhere in our building, and starting a new job that day. She was worried that her car's door might have bumped my mother's car. My mother had come out with one of the cat's carriers, complete with cat inside, to put into her car... and this other young mother kept apologizing about any dings in my mother's car. My mother was very unconcerned about her car having a bump in it... she just wanted to get out of that town. I used the bathroom quickly, but found that for some unknown reason, the toilet would not flush. Much later, when we had reached my sister's house in PA, I phoned the apartment complex's manager to report our un-working toilet and she said she would send someone over to fix it. She was surprisingly non-chalant about all the fuss that was going on over the whole day's events. That bothered me. Upon our return days later, the toilet still had pee in it, but there were notices duly typed up and signed by the complex manager warning residents to report anything suspicious, etc. Then, she seemed plenty concerned. Oh well.
We got the cats, Michael and us into the car and started our drive to David's office. His office was west of where we lived, about 22 miles away. Just trying to get out of Arlington was a challenge. Not only were the people who had been working at the Pentagon trying to exit the area, but so were we, probably along with any other Arlington residents who had someplace else to go. Our car was crawling it seemed. Only nearby community's emergency vehicles were trying to get into Arlington. I cried when I realized their heroism, coming in from other towns to help our town. But I was still scared out of my wits. I was too edgy to listen to music, so we listened to silence broken by my occasional sobs or the cats meowing. Michael was asleep. Car ride + missed nap = immediate nap. Once we were "outside the beltway" on the road we were on, there didn't seem to be as much traffic. We neared the town where David worked and tried to find a payphone to call him from, to let him know we'd be at his office in 5 minutes... be downstairs waiting. We tried at least one place, perhaps two, where the phones did not work. We drove to the local library, which was closing early too, and found their payphone outside worked. David met us at the front entrance to his office building and commented that he and one of the executive bosses were the last ones to leave the office. The boss asked David if he needed the company to pay for him to be put up at a local hotel since he had no one there yet to take him home. He assured him that we were on our way, so the boss left. We had arrived within minutes of the boss leaving. Days after our return to Arlington, we would learn that a pregnant coworker, from a different department than David's, had lost her husband in the attack at the Pentagon where he worked.
We continued to drive west before heading north, trying to stay as far from DC as possible. We went up a country road that I had never traveled that part of before, but I travel it now whenever we go to PA. After a while, I said I needed to know what was going on. We turned on a radio and we heard references to the past event of at least the first tower collapsing. It took a few minutes to piece it together, but we soon knew the horrific things that had occurred in NY. Later when we got to PA, we saw what had been filmed earlier but had occurred while we were driving. We stopped to get something to eat at a Roy Roger's in Thurmont. There, they almost seemed oblivious to the day's events. It was strange. Anyway, we continued on to PA and went straight to my sister's house. We used her phone and phonebook to try and find a motel that would take pets. We explained what had happened, how we didn't have a reservation but came to the area with cats, and needed a place desperately to stay. My sister's husband is allergic to cats, and so is my brother and father. There seemed to be no other option. One motel owner agreed to let us bring the cats and we were about to leave for it. My brother phoned and said as long as we kept the cats in one room of his house, they could come. This would minimize the major dander clean-up for his wife to do after we had taken the cats back home, days later. So we called the motel owner back and thanked him, but said we'd found family to take us in after all.
We stayed in PA for days... at least 3 or 4, perhaps more. It was a blur. When we finally returned to Arlington, we drove our usual route home. It happened to take us past a fire company's building, and as we turned the corner to drive into the neighborhood across the street from our complex, a volunteer walked up to our window and asked what kind of donations we had to drop off. We were confused and said we were just returning back home after having gone away. She gave us a paper list of what sort of things were needed for the donations. Later, both my mother and I would shop for some of the things on the list and take it over. Parts of 9-11 are crystal clear in my memory, but then some parts are becoming fuzzy.
My mother remembers exactly where she was and what she was doing the day JFK was shot. She was a young mother of two, and had put us down for a nap while she folded laundry while watching her soap operas. Just going about her routine. As I was on September 11, 2001. So, what were you doing? Where were you when it happened?
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