Monday, September 12, 2011

A Tragic Day in History

I told myself I wasn't going to write a 9/11 post. What I experienced was nothing compared to what so many went through that day. But at one in the morning yesterday, I did write. Why? I'm not sure. To save it forever. To let my kids know what being a parent during an attack feels like. I don't believe what I wrote even touches on how I truly felt--on how concerned I was for my country, how sick I was for all those families, how scared I was to be in this city and how desperate I was to get to my son.

For those who'd like to read, I will stop talking and let you have it.

My day started out like every other. I woke up, drank a ton of coffee, rushed to get dressed, dropped my son at daycare and carpooled to work. Papers stacked up on my desk, many needed to be copied. Our Xerox room was in the middle of our office. Placing my phone on voicemail, I grabbed the papers and resigned myself to spend the rest of the morning alone.

White-haired Bob peeked around the corner, his eyes wide, his knuckles gripped the door frame. “A plane just hit the World Trade Center.”

I had no words to offer. I didn’t understand the implications of what he’d just said. My knowledge of the World Trade Center didn’t go beyond the name. I wouldn’t say I lived a sheltered life, far from it. But what I will say is I didn’t live a life far reaching outside myself.

Continuing with my copies, I thought about what he’d said. A plane hit a building. Oh my God. A plane hit a building. I stopped what I was doing and turned to find Bob so I could ask him what that meant, but he was standing in the doorway again. Tears filled his eyes.

My heart stopped.

“Another plane just hit. It’s a terrorist attack.”

I knew the definition of the word terrorist. Abandoning the copy room, I found an office with a tv and watched smoke billow out of two of the tallest buildings I’d ever seen.

Unsure of whether to sit down, run away, cry or scream, I didn’t move. Frozen by the sheer magnitude of what was happening. Bob and our other office mates stood around the tv in much the same way as me.

Suddenly the news switched from images of the destroyed Twin Towers to those of grief-stricken reporters informing us the Pentagon had been hit by a plane.

I ran for the phone. Working in D.C. comes with concern for personal safety, but never once did I imagine anything would actually happen. Not like this. How would I get home? I carpooled. My carpoolers weren’t in my building. The phone wouldn’t dial out. There was nothing but silence.

My son. My sweet little boy was forty miles away from me. I wanted to know he was safe. I wanted to know he’d be taken care of. I wanted to get to him. Repeatedly I tried to use the phone; a call would connect, then drop. I couldn’t see through the tears. Couldn’t focus through the worry.

After trying for half an hour, I finally got through to my carpoolers—they’d left me. People were fleeing the office. None of them lived in the same direction as me.

I was stuck.

Trying the phone again, I got through to a friend who was willing to go pick up my son. The news misreported many downed planes, potential targets, areas to be affected . . . areas near my home.

I was beside myself. Alone, I sat in front of the tv, watching in horror as people lept from unimaginable heights to escape being burned alive. Why? Why would anyone do this? How could someone hate so deeply to take innocent lives? How could anyone take pleasure in this? How?

A trembling hand gripped my shoulder. “Krystal, you’re still here?”

Looking up, I saw the swollen face of my friend Karrie. “I have no way home.”

“I’ll take you,” she said.

I shook my head. “But it’s out of your way.”

“Who has your son?”

“A friend.”

“I’ll take you, but we are going a little later. I heard a lot of people ran out of gas waiting to get out of the parking garage.”

I don’t know what possessed me to do it, but I stood up and wrapped my arms around her, sobbing into her shoulder. We backed away and stepped onto the balcony of the eleventh floor of our office building. The sky turned from blue to black. The Pentagon burned and we could see it.

The two of us didn’t say much, we just sat there and watched while crying. How could this happen here? Those poor people. All the families affected. All the lives lost for nothing.

The streets cleared, the air was crisp and eerily quiet. Washington D.C. is a busy place. The typical traffic jammed roads were empty. The only people on the sidewalks were plain clothes cops. No planes flew overhead.

“You ready?” Karrie asked.

I nodded.

We were the only people left in the building aside from security. The bing of the elevator sent a shock through me. It took us thirty minutes to drive home. We didn’t pass any other cars. I imagined the end of the world would be that quiet—and that’s what the day felt like.

But it wasn’t and never will be. Americans are strong. Humanity stronger. People came together. We fought. We rebuilt and we survived.

There may be hate in this world powerful enough to strike fear in the hearts of millions, but the good nature of most humans will always prevail. No matter how hard people try to hate, we will always try harder to find peace.

Please say a prayer for all those who were tragically affected on 9/11 and hug your families daily.


  1. Krystal - thank you for writing this post. I was many miles away, but I remember that day so well. I didn't have your worries, but I felt them while reading your story. :)

  2. We lived so close and we didn't even know each other then. I was on the daycare side and you were on the mom at work side. But it was a day that made us all feel close. Love and empathy rise from tragedy and make us all stronger.

  3. This is a powerful post. I'm glad your family stayed safe on that day.

  4. Choosing to post this was difficult. I waited until today because I just don't feel like I deserve to post anything on THAT day. I'm glad you guys enjoyed it.

    Kellianne, I'm amazed at how close we were. I lived in Centreville at the time.

  5. What a terrifying day for you. I was removed from most of the horror and working at a preschool at the time. As I stood in the breakroom watching news footage, I watched as the 2nd plane crashed. I think I spent the entire day in shock and it took me a little while to understand the implications of the attack. I didn't lose anyone, but I know many who did, and my heart still hurts for them and the ones who lost their lives.

  6. I was so young and the attack too close for comfort. I'll never understand the hatred, I'm not sure I want to.

  7. What an experience you had. I remember that fearful day like it was yesterday. I was in Montana for business at the time and saw what was going on on the TV in my hotel room. I was in disbelief. It took some time for what had just occurred to hit me like so many others.
    You are very descriptive and captivating, I love reading your posts!

  8. Thank you so much, Nyotaimori. Hearing people say that means so much.

    If you were away on business, did you have a difficult time getting home?

  9. What an excellent tribute to the day, Krystal. Thanks so much for sharing your poignant story with us.

  10. You're welcome, Raine. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.

  11. Anonymous9/12/2011

    You have a knack for showing a story. Nice post. I will say this(even though I am sure that it won't be met well), I disagree with your comment, "No matter how hard people try to hate, we will always try harder to find peace." There were victims from all walks of life on that day. And there were victims that still suffer this tragedy today. There are millions of people that are targeted every day because they are lumped together with the perpatrators of those actions. My heart goes out to ALL the victims, not just the ones that suffered the loss and tragedy of that day, but also the ones that still suffer injustice and hatred because of it.
    Thanks for your post.

  12. This is a powerful post. I was even further away than you (Germany is no way near) but when I heard, my knees buckled. I kept asking myself why people thought that killing other people deliberately would make the world better when it caused so much pain. I sat there and rocked my soon-to-be born child and... nothing. For an eternity.

  13. Thank you, Krystal. I completely understand your statement: "I don't believe what I wrote even touches on how I truly felt--on how concerned I was for my country, how sick I was for all those families, how scared I was to be in this city and how desperate I was to get to my son." I don't think I'll ever be able to put it into words, but you did a fine job of it.

  14. Anonymous - Thank you for your comment. Hatred will certainly never go away. Unfortunately life is full of it. But I think the vast majority of people would like to see everyone get along (which is why I said the good nature of MOST people...not all). I think most of us walk through life praying to live in peace. There are extremists from every side, but they represent a small, yet powerful fraction of the population of the world.

  15. Cat - I'm with you. I cannot come up with any good reason to kill "to make things better". It's senseless. :(

  16. Thank you, Kelly. I had a difficult time putting this to words, but am glad I did.

  17. Krystal, a powerful post, as much as you evoke the terror of that day, you equally evoke the need for connection and reaching out to each other in times like these. Thank you for sharing.

  18. Love always prevails during the most tragic events. It hurt to see it happening from everywhere in the world. But people fought back and grew stronger.

    No matter where we stand in life, we learned to stick together, with memories such as this one that we will share with our kids and grand kids.

    Very touching post.

  19. Anonymous9/12/2011

    Thank you for sending me the link...I wouldn't have wanted to miss this story. It's one thing to have seen 9/11 on television and cry for the people you've never met, but it's another thing to share the fear and horror of that day with a person who lived so close to it.
    I'm glad you had your friend with you!

  20. Anonymous9/13/2011

    Brilliant post, Krystal, brilliantly told. You can feel the suspense as you read it. You have such a great writing style :-)

  21. Anonymous9/13/2011

    A day few of us are likely to forget, especially when it hits home in such a way. I'm glad your family was okay.

  22. Thanks for sharing your story. I was at work, had to go next door to pick up food for the work mates and saw it on the TV, when I went back to work everyone was standing still. I know we were in Ireland, and it had nothignb to do with us....but THe Irish built NY, so we felt your pain.



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