Dave and I recorded the following in an email and also in my journal.
September 16, 2001:
I live in the Washington DC area (Northern Virginia), but this week Dave, Kyle and I flew from the Washington Dulles Airport to Atlanta, Georgia so Dave could speak at trade show. The best part was that I got to spend time with my long time BFF, Melanie, who lives in Atlanta.
We realize that our personal experience pales in comparison to the loss or tragedy that so many experienced because of the tragedy (*note we as a society were not calling it 9/11 yet), this is what happened, where we were . . .
Tuesday Morning., September 11, 2001
I just dropped Davy off at the Subway Station and was eager to return to our hotel so I could put Kyle (almost two) back to bed. At seven and a half months pregnant (with Eli) I was feeling the great urge for some rest. I put Kyle in his port-a-crib. At about 8:55am the hotel phone rang. It was Melanie exclaiming,
“A plane just flew in to the World Trade Center.”
I thought, as most people initially did, that unfortunately, a small plane crashed into the World Trade Center. I was pretty out of it and Melanie said,
“Are you watching TV?”
I said “No”
and then asked if I could call her back after Kyle took a nap.
Instead of sleeping, I called Dave, who was now at Atlanta’s World Congress Center, which is across the street from the CNN building. As news left my mouth, I heard him relay it to the people around him at the trade show that,
“A plane just hit the World Trade Center.”
I was trying to connect the dots, and connect myself from being a pregnant lady trying to take a morning nap to the crazy that was happening around me. The dot I connected was my sister, Dominique, who introduced us to our friend, Bill. Bill had worked with my brother in law, George, Dominique’s husband at Cantor Fitzgerald. Kyle and his son, Quinn are toddler BFF’s (and yes, there is totally such a thing), and I adore Quinn’s mom, Stephanie. After working with Dave, Bill was back doing consulting work for World Trade Center-based, Cantor Fitzgerald.
In my hazy morning mind, I kept thinking, “Was Bill in NYC this week?”
I stopped wondering and called him. He answered.
“Thank God you are not in NYC this week? Do you know what just happened Bill? Turn on your television. You have to turn on your TV. A plane just hit the WTC. I am so glad you are home.”
We hung up. I got settled when the phone rang again. It was Melanie.
“Do you have your TV on? Another plane hit the other tower of the World Trade Center.”
I turned on my TV and could not believe my eyes. I called Dave again. It took me a few times to reach him.
“Davy, another plane hit the other tower.”
I could hear his horror and disbelief as he telephone-game-style relayed the news. As he spoke, I heard the scared and confused responses of his co-workers in the background.
I called Bill again.
“Did you see the other plane hit? What about Cantor?”
Again, I selfishly said,
“Bill, I am so glad you are working with Davy this week. I could not bear to lose you. I can’t get through to Dominique and George. Will you email them and make sure they are ok?” (In truth I knew Dominique and George were ok, but in the space-time continuum that shocking disaster causes, in that moment, I was second guessing my reality.)
Bill hung up so he could call up to NYC. Among the others he knew, his good friend and college mate, Doug Gardner, was in the building. He was with Doug at Cantor last week.
With no luck I tried getting through to my family in NYC. Helplessly, watching television was the only thing I could do in this isolated hotel room. In the other room I heard Kyle chattering. I tried to remain still and watch this tragedy unfold so he would go back to sleep. Katie Couric was on the phone with a man at the Pentagon discussing the WTC when he said,
“I just heard the building shake.”
She said, “Well, if it is safe can you go and see what happened?”
A few minutes later I hear this man’s voice again,
“A bomb has hit the Pentagon.”
Melanie and I kept calling each other.
I make one last call I can to Dave.
“Davy, a bomb has hit the Pentagon.”
At that moment I did not know it was a plane. I hear Davy as the spokesman, a spokesman to to all these isolated people — trade show presenters,
“A bomb has hit the Pentagon.”
I hear their strong disbelief in the back ground. Davy tells me that they have been trying to call out on cell phones and check news web sites, but no one can get through. All the major news web sites are down, overwhelmed with traffic. We talk about George, Bill and Cantor, I ask him to be safe, tell him I love him and then we hang up.
About this time, the trade show opens. As people start entering the Red Hat (the company I work for) booth, everyone’s on auto pilot, doing demos and passing out literature. It seems, though, that everyone on the floor of the convention center has a cell phone glued to their ear. People huddle around computers trying to get web sites to come up. They see the first pictures of the tower on fire on some British newspaper’s site and read about the events on Slashdot, a technology news site that temporarily re-makes itself into the epicenter of geek news gathering and grief.
By now Kyle is crying and I must go to him. I am stunned and still hazy. Kyle cries out again. I get him and I continue to watch. In this first hour of chaos I hear about planes, planes still in the air. (Later this week I hear a story from my friend who’s Dad’s friend was in the sky when he got the orders to land at a Municipal Airport. The man said his plane was too big and the air strip too short to land safely. The orders came back, “You either land or get shot down.” He landed.) By the time the buildings go down, everyone knows this was an attack. I hear on local news that they are evacuating the CNN building and the CDC. I think,
“If the terrorists are moving down the coast, will Atlanta be next?”
Still alone in our hotel, I don’t know what to think. I know I want Davy out of the World Congress Center. I know I don’t want to be alone. I keep trying Davy and he does not answer. I am panicking. I can’t get through to anyone. I finally get through to Melanie. I ask her to keep trying Dave’s cell. I hop in the shower and hear the phone ring. I run to answer and (of course) miss it. I see the message light light up and hope it was Davy. It was. All he says is,
“I am looking for you and I love you.”
Everyone, I mean, everyone across the entire country was scared. No one knew what was next. I cannot state enough the fear and confusion people felt these first few hours. Consequently, as I watch the news, the nation’s fear manifests. I hear rumors of more planes in the air. It is all confusing, and the confused thought I had was this:
“Did I miss anything while I was in the shower? Is Davy ok?”
We’re desperate for information. With the concentration of cell phone users in the conference, the circuits become overloaded. I can no longer call out. I finally borrow a cell phone from another network and manage to call the hotel. No answer. One of my co-workers is an ex-special forces, ex-army intelligence guy. He starts calling his military friends, looking stern but not quite as shocked as the rest of us. He tells us the military is on high alert. We’re not paying much attention to the trade show attendees. We receive word from Red Hat that we’re to pack up and prepare to leave the conference. Several other companies’ booths in our area are already vacant. Don’t worry about the booth or the computers. We’ll figure that out later. I start handing out the T-shirts that we were going to use to lure people into my presentation. Suddenly a throng of people surrounds the booth. It seems as though the attendees know that this conference is about to be abandoned and they want to get at least one bit of free swag before they bug out.
Alone, I fret.
“Are my friends and family in NYC and DC safe? Is Atlanta next? Where is my husband?”
As I leave the hotel the phone rings. It’s Davy.
“I am ok. They are shutting down the trade show. Red Hat has hired a bus to take everyone back to Durham, NC (their headquarters). We have to leave in three hours. Do you want to go? Should we go?”
It began to sink in that in this remote hotel I was now part, an extremely small part, but a little ripple in this tragedy.
“I don’t know, Davy. I just want you back here. I need you here. I need to see you.”
“I think we should wait it out. I will take the Marta back. Pick me up where you dropped me off. I will be there in about an hour. I love you.”
Because cellphones were sketchy, I just had to wing it and trust that Dave would be there.
On the train, everyone is stunned. Complete strangers are having intimate, emotional conversations about the tragedy, while usually you don’t even make eye contact. The guy sitting next to me strikes up a conversation about Palm Pilots. He seems to not want to talk about the attack, but has to talk about something, just to not feel alone. We all feel like we’re fleeing. There are still rumors of hijacked planes in the air.
Kyle and I left to get Melanie. Traffic to her house was slower than the previous night’s rush hour. I saw the parking lot of cars trying to get out of Atlanta. This was Atlanta not New York City. The ripple had moved so fast. At Melanie’s, Davy called again, despondent.
“I took the wrong train. My tracks split in a fork and my train went to the wrong terminal. I have to go back and get on the right train!”
“Just get on the right train and get back to me as soon as you can. I love you.”
At the Marta station there was no sign of Davy. I was nervous, scared, and alone with Melanie and Kyle. I tried calling several people. The only person I could get through to was Bill. We think it was because we share the same 202 phone exchange. Bill tells me that he thinks Cantor was hit hard. He warns me about biological warfare and riding on mass transit. He thinks we should drive back to DC. I still hear rumors of planes in the air.
“What the hell is going on?” I say.
I hang up with Bill. Kyle and I wait and wait. Still no Davy. Kyle is starving and thankfully Melanie feeds him his favorite, Bapple sauce (yes Apple sauce). From this desolate train station I finally see a tall man walking up the stairs in a black Red Hat shirt. It is Davy. He gets to the car, asks me to give him a hug and we both cry.
I know I am the lucky one. I am with my family, with people I love. I know others are not. I am beginning to process, and to realize how much people are going through. I also cannot take it in. I get that people surrounding the World Trade Center are seeing way more than I have. They have lost more than I can imagine. At this early moment in the tragedy, these people have no idea how much they have lost. My tears keep coming and my life seems so small.
Like everyone I know, we numbly remained attached to the twenty-four-hour news coverage. We can’t stop watching, but also realize we have a super active Kyle, who needs his mom and dad to be present. In our hotel room Kyle runs and sings, “la la la la Lola.” Thankfully Kyle finally took a long long nap. Dave and I sat in front of the television. We did not move. At about 3PM I finally got through to my home answering machine. Frantic, tearful messages from my sisters and brother, Bill.
“Are you ok? Call me and let me know you are ok.”
We all live so far apart that I knew they didn’t know the lay of the land in DC. They did not know I was in Atlanta. All they knew was that they couldn’t find me. I called them one by one to let them know we were ok. We were just here in Atlanta.
A man was sitting outside near where I stood. His eyes teary.
“My Sister in law is in the Pentagon. I can’t get through. We don’t know where she is.”
He continued, “My sister is in Miami in the marines. She was just called in and asked to bring three days of clothes with her.” He and I discuss the fact that how in these few short hours we are all united.
The word, “surreal,” is what I keep hearing. I finally get through to my sister, Dominique. In this moment I am so g George is no longer working for Cantor Fitzgerald. He used to be a partner at that firm and and was in charge of their technological initiatives. My sister told me how he was not talking, just sitting there. I could not imagine his loss. She relayed stories of how the Cantor folks were having a conference call with the LA office when the plane hit. She told me how the people in LA helplessly listened to the horror.
“We are trapped. We have to wait for someone to come and get us. There is so much smoke.”
Then the line went dead… She told me about Howard, the CEO who was dropping his son off at school and was late that day. I cried as I relayed these stories to Davy. Then next day when I heard these same stories on the news, I felt eerily close to it all.
We decided we needed to get get home. The next day we drove our rental car back to DC. The Atlanta airport was still closed when we left. We were lucky we already had a rental car. On the trip back, it started to sink in how blessed we are. Davy and I listened to talk radio. In many areas, there was only right wing talk radio and call-in shows. It was a George Bush love-a-thon. They managed to blame the World Trade Center attacks on Bill Clinton, which we thought was funny. In thick southern accents we hear,
“This week George Bush brought this country to God. Thank God Bill Clinton wasn’t in Office because he is not a Christian.”
Another person spoke up,
“I didn’t think I was prejudiced, but them foreigners are ruining our country. We give these foreigners money and they take away my son’s scholarship.”
As we approach larger metropolitan areas, we take a deep cleansing breath as we hear NPR’s familiar voices of Noah Adams and Linda Wirtheimer.
We returned our rental car at 1AM Friday to Dulles airport. Like my sister, who took three hours to get home from Brooklyn on Tuesday, wiping the soot and ashes from her car, we have no complaints about the long drive. We are just glad to be home.
As I continue to hear personal accounts, stories, watch my friends travel to funerals, and as we all experience the fallout of September 11, life somehow sadly and a bit disheveled goes on. I am grateful that Kyle calmly sat in a car so we could make it home. Very selfishly, I am glad that George and Bill no longer work at Cantor Fitzgerald. I am glad than Bill stayed in DC this week. I am glad that even though some of my friends are homeless and some had to walk out of NYC, that they are alive. I am glad Neil had his bike so he could get out of DC. I am glad that many of the people I know made it out of the Pentagon and the World Trade Centers safely. I am devastated for those who did not. I feel for and relate to my friends who are so far away and feel completely fragmented, wanting to feel a part, but not quite sure how. I see pictures, but cannot wrap my head around the devastation.
I am sickened by the words of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson reported in the Washington Post who said that we are being punished by God because of feminism, homosexuality and the ACLU. I guess it is good to have a reminder that America has its hate-filled religious extremists too. Nevertheless, I am grateful for to live in a country where we can say things, even things I do not like.
In the end, there many questions. There are so many things for us to deal with, to process and to say. I live in the Washington DC area. My sisters live in New York. I, like, many of you, feel close. I have been in the WTC. I have driven by the Pentagon. I remember my brother-in-law, George, taking me showing me around the Cantor Fitzgerald offices, showing me Bernie Cantor’s Rodin sculptures. I was blown away by these offices in the sky. I remember hearing the wind hit the building and asking George,
“does this ever freak you out?”
Now it is all gone.
Davy and I just got back from our walk to the bread store. As we strolled up we saw our next door neighbor, Mohammed pulling out of his driveway. I waved. I know he is from Pakistan. I was hoping to see him and was glad he stopped. It seemed as though he was hoping we would wave. We tiptoed around the issues and exchanged words of remorse. He knew we traveled a lot and was worried. We know he is from the middle east and were concerned about what he now had to face living here in America.
I hope we can all heal and I hope we will all heal together. . .
Take care wherever you are.
-Beth, Dave and Kyle (Eli would be here soon and thank God!)