Twelve years ago today, we were living in Maryland. We had transferred back to the contiguous 48 from Hawaii in April. My sailor had gone off to a school so the Things and I lived with my folks in Virginia for a few months. We moved into base housing in mid-August ’01 and started unpacking and got Thing 1 ready for 4th grade and Thing 2 ready for Kindergarten (!).
My sailor arrived in Maryland around September 5th or 6th and we spent the weekend hanging out and unpacking. No, I hadn’t finished but I got close. We had planned on heading down to Virginia on Monday, September 10th to pick up our medical records from the clinic in Virginia to transfer to one in Maryland but didn’t head out that day for some reason. Something came up.
At 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, my sailor and I were on the Maryland side of Interstate 495 approaching the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Traffic was, as usual, bad and we were stuck in it. We flipped the radio over to WTOP to catch traffic – every 10 minutes – and turned on the CB radio to see if we could hear anybody talking about what, besides too many cars, was the hold-up.
That’s how we heard – over the CB radio. We cranked up the volume on the radio and started really paying attention. At 9:03 a.m., the gravity of the situation took hold. And then we remembered his brother and sister-in-law lived in New York City and brother worked on Wall Street. Near the towers.
Cell phone calls didn’t go through.
At 9:37 a.m., we were actually ON the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and I looked over to my right. Smoke had started to rise. Thick, black plumes. I remember my thought being, “hm, that’s odd.”
I grew up in Virginia and remember when Air Florida Flight 90 hit the 14th Street Bridge. I wasn’t a huge fan of bridges after that. Especially if they were near airports.
All I knew was that smoke from that area involved the airport, the White House, the Pentagon, the 14th Street Bridge.
And then, we heard the conflicting reports that the White House was hit or maybe it was the State Department. Confusion over the airwaves. And I was stuck on a bridge. That planes flew over.
Eventually, we learned it was the Pentagon that took the 3rd hit.
I can’t remember when we learned about Flight 93. At some point, my Sailor turned off the radio because it wasn’t helping us.
I don’t remember how long it took us to actually get over the bridge but once we did, we immediately turned BACK around and crossed back into Maryland to head back home and to pick up the Things from school.
I wanted them next to me.
If you’ve ever been to the DC area, you know that traffic is no joke and things rarely go your way. Well, that day wasn’t really any different. Traffic was AWFUL and everybody wanted to go places like RIGHT NOW. But, even with that, people were letting each other in long lines of traffic and there were sorrowful waves and glances and friendliness between fellow drivers. I’m not sure how long it took us to make the trip back around but it felt like FOREVER.
We finally made it to the school and, like practically every other parent, retrieved our confused and scared children. They had been sequestered into the gym and cafeteria for ease of reach when frantic parents came by.
We got home and turned on the television. It didn’t take too long before we had to turn it off. The images were too much to see and resee, over and over. And over. The Things wanted to play outside. I wanted to hold them and protect them and keep them next to me. Eventually, we let them play outside. They needed the release. They didn’t understand – we told them bad stuff happened but we couldn’t explain it. How do you explain that to a 5 year old and a 9 year old?
We lived near Andrews Air Force Base and every time a plane flew over, we (including the neighbors) would rush outside to see if it was one of ours (military plane) or if it was – I don’t know – not.
We finally heard from my sailor’s brother. He was fine. He hadn’t gone to work that day. Blessings.
I saved as many newspapers as I could from that day. It seemed important to me. I look at them occasionally – recently, even, as we’re preparing to pack up our house and move again. Those front page images still burn. I cry when I see them. My heart is bandaged but not healed. It’s stitched, much like a rag doll that’s been mended by a child.
Twelve years have passed and the scars are still fresh.
But, we are strong. Our children are strong. Our country is strong. And we shall never forget.
Where were you when America changed forever?