My sister and I had gotten an early start to the day I think, in most part, because it was so heart-stoppingly gorgeous outside. The sky was a piercing, clear blue, the weather was crisp and clear, and it was one of those amazing fall days that made me personally pleased to be a September baby. We left our shared apartment together, drove to our shared office building (back then the Discovery Communications, Inc. HQ was in Bethesda, MD), rode the elevator to our shared floor, and parted ways (most probably having been asked during that short elevator ride whether we were twins – a nearly daily occurrence). With our early arrival, we had already booted up our computers and were ready to start the day before other employees had even arrived.
My sister burst in a few moments later and instructed me to turn my television on (as a cable company, all of the offices had a television set with all of the cable stations – loved that about my office). We watched the footage of the first strike and the only thing that went through my innocent and naive mind was “what is wrong with that pilot that he can’t even see that huge building in front of him?” The second strike we saw live. I don’t remember much after that except a sort of buzzing in my ears. My skin was prickled with goosebumps, my head was fuzzy, and my mouth was bone dry. As more employees started filtering into the office, the news spread (both true and (and this is the main reason why I will never trust Fox News ever again) false). Nobody knew anything for certain – the whys and the what’s next. There was some concern that as a major cable network housed in a pretty tall building, an attack could be made on our own building. We were calmly told to evacuate and to return home, or, if you lived in DC which was in chaos after getting hit, to go somewhere else safe. We tried to call home to let our parents know that we were okay, tried to call our friends in NY, tried to call anyone but I don’t think we got through until much later in the day.
Our friend Claudia (who had no car and did not want to travel by underground Metro) invited us to escape to her place. The three of us drove away from the city and into the Maryland suburbs with our stomachs and fists and mouths clenched. We listened to the news reports on the drive to her house in complete silence. Claudia’s husband came home and the four of us stayed glued to the television set trying to figure out what was going on and what the next steps should be. When things appeared to calm down and we started getting more anxious listening to the news than not listening to it, LB and I were offered pajamas and a bed to nap in. I think we tried to go to pick up some food but I don’t recall actually eating any lunch. After so many attempts throughout the day, I finally reached TP who reported that it was ‘safe enough’ to return to DC. Evening had fallen by that point but on the drive home, LB wanted to stop at the hospital to donate blood. We reached the hospital but were turned away by some officials who said they were all set for the day. We drove home to our apartment with the constant (at that time incredibly distracting and loud but now so common place that I’ve become accustomed to closed-captioning as a matter of course) sound of helicopters with search lights and lit up police cars circling the city. We watched a bit more of the news, still confused and in shock, and then finally had to turn it off wishing we could turn our minds off as easily.
I remember in the days that followed being sort of in a daze. My family members were worried about us living in DC but, frankly, we were more worried about our family members living in far-flung, small southern towns with their notoriously stereotypically racist populations. My cousin tried to lighten the mood by saying, “they are so ignorant, they don’t even know we are Muslim or Pakistani. They think we are Mexican.” Thankfully, we were safe, our friends and family were safe, and although there was the inevitable backlash, nobody we loved or were close to was harmed physically. I am not sure how much of the intensity of emotion and clarity of memory I’ll have another ten years from now so I thought I’d throw something down on paper while I still have it in me in case my kids ever wonder where I was when it happened.
post script: lest you think I am all maudlin about this date, keep in mind that my thoughts today were mainly on (1) my grandfather, (yes, maudlin, but not about what everyone else is maudlin about) (2) getting AP a chance to play in the moon bounce at the Adams Morgan Day Festival (the generator died just before it was her turn to go inside and no amount of reasoning with her that she couldn’t enter the gigantic deflated gorilla worked), (3) how to pace myself in eating festival food since the last two years the festival has been during Ramadan – managed to scarf down samosa, pakora, cotton candy flavored slushies, and horchata before the day was done and (4) wishing I had the balls to perform karaoke before my friends and neighbors like this guy: