Yesterday was a bit of a hard day for me to swallow.
I questioned myself many times, “Has it really been 15 years?” The memories are still strong in my mind. I still remember the fear, confusion, devastation, and apprehension.
I looked through my blog this morning and found that I had not written once about my experience. Why didn’t I? I guess I just never thought to do so.
I suppose I should.
I was living in Washington, DC, as a student at Gallaudet University. As you can see, we could see the center of the city from our campus.
It was not even a year since I had been dealt with a blow of a drunk driver had turned my world upside-down. My body was still healing, and my soul was still in torment. Though, I was definitely much better off than I was six months before, thanks to some friends who intervened and saved me.
That morning, at 9:00 am, I was in my Analytical Chemistry Lab class getting ready to do an experiment, which I cannot remember to this day. One of my roommates was in the same class as I, and she began signing, “Something is going on! I can’t text anyone this morning!” She asked a few others who used the same text services as she did to see if they were having the same problem. I don’t remember their responses because the next thing I remember is seeing the Chemistry Department secretary come running in and exclaim, “Airplane crashed the World Trade Center!”
I was probably one of the few who DIDN’T know about the World Trade Center. Having grown up in Arizona, I didn’t bother myself with things of what was “important” to know about New York City.
“Class is canceled. Gallaudet is declaring the school to be closed. Go back to your dorms and stay on campus.”
We all took the stairs down from the 4th floor of what we called the HMG building and ran to the nearest tv to watch what was developing. I didn’t right away, as a friend came running to me saying, “The White House got hit, too!”
“What?!” I signed. I suggested we go to Benson Hall dorm, which had 8 floors, which could give us a good view of what was happening in the city. When we got to the top, we saw the black smoke billowing out from a point southwest from us. Another person corrected us by saying, “No, it was the Pentagon that was hit. A plane flew right into it.”
What was the world coming to?! I can remember feeling my heart in my stomach. I wanted to scream and cry at the same time… But I couldn’t.
I ran into my “cousin” (We shared the same Irish family name, thus dubbing ourselves cousins) and my then former boyfriend, who I am now married to. We hugged. “Come on,” my cousin says, “let’s go to Father Jerry’s office. We can watch what’s going on there.”
The tall Italian priest, who knew of my torn and battered spirit, saw me and opened his arms to me. He knew I needed to cry. “Another plane went into the other tower.” He calmly tells us. I can remember feeling panic gripping in my chest, and it grew tighter as the news repeated the video of the second plane crashing into the second tower over and over.
Time stood still as I then watched the first tower crumble down into dust and envelop the city in its ashes. If the first one went down, we knew the second one would too. Sure enough, it did.
It is a bit cloudy as to what happened after that, but I vaguely remember someone saying we should go back to our dorms and stay there.
As I walked with friends back to my dorm, I could hear with my hearing aids of the eerie silence around us. I can remember noticing there weren’t any traffic sounds. I could only hear sirens going off from time to time from emergency vehicles driving quickly through the city.
I can remember trying to call my mom, but I couldn’t get through. As soon as I got to my dorm, I signed onto AIM, the popular instant messaging of those days, and sent a message to my mom, who happened to work at a place where she was signed into a computer the whole time. “I’m okay, Mom. I can’t call you as the lines seem to be tied up.” She was relieved and said many of her co-workers were concerned for me, as they knew I was in DC. “Call Grandma. She’s really worried about you.”
Grandma Jan… She was from the generation that witnessed Pearl Harbor, and she had her own personal experience from that time. I kept trying with the phone line and finally was able to get through to her. “I’m okay, Grandma!” I can remember hearing the relief in her voice. “This reminds me so much of the days when Pearl Harbor happened.” I shared with her of what was going on in DC and on campus. I can remember promising her that I would be staying on campus until it was deemed safe.
I tried calling a few other friends, left messages, and my former (at that time) boyfriend stayed with me for most of the day. We went over to the day school for deaf children to see if they needed volunteers, but it ended up they had more than enough and parents were coming to pick up their children.
The rest of the day I cannot remember. I do remember going back to classes the next day feeling like the world had changed. A few days later, I was able to go drive by the Pentagon and saw the gaping wound in the building. The creepy thing was it was still smoking. Embers still burned in parts of the building. “It’s all the jet fuel.” I was told.
The man who I wasn’t dating at the time, the former boyfriend, two weeks later lamented to me, “I love you. All that’s going on has made me realize that I don’t want to lose you.” Two months later, he proposed to me. We are to celebrate 14 years this November.
That, my friends, is my narrative of that fateful day.