During my Semester In D.C. (told briefly about here), our school work consisted of half in-class work and half internship work. By some miracle, my internship ended up being at the White House, where I later got hired full-time as a Political Appointee. But my internship started on 9/10/01....
So the next day - aka My Second Day on the job - I came in early to open the office. We quickly heard reports of the first plane hitting the tower in NYC and everyone just thought it was an unfortunate accident.
When the second plane hit - we all knew something bigger was happening and we felt like we were likely going to be a target.
Everyone wore worried expressions but kept working and kept an eye on the news. After the third plane hit, I distinctly remember standing on the balcony of our office, watching the smoke rise from the Pentagon.
But we continued to stay.
After a little bit, the headline on television read "White House Evacuated." To which we understandably were like -
Because we were still there and hadn't heard anything outside of our office either. I stepped out into the hallway just to see if anyone looked like they might be scurrying away and further down the hall was a Secret Service agent in bomb-squad gear. And he saw me and yelled:
"What are you doing! This is real!"
To which I kind of slunked sheepishly back in my office with a timid "uh, guys? I think we're supposed to leave...."
Being the Type A go-getters that us interns were (there were 3 others besides me) we, of course, were not going to be the first ones to freak out. We were going down with the ship too, dang it! So even after I convinced most of the office to leave, another intern kept typing away before someone forced her to also get out.
This is how crazy people in D.C. are. Our lives are at risk, sure, but let's try to go ahead and finish that press release anyway...
It was weird because we didn't run. It felt so much like a dream that it was hard to get all that excited. I remember exiting the building and into the sunshine -- that day was gorgeous in D.C. Later, we would all comment on the sick juxtaposition of having such a horrible act take place on such a beautiful day...
The streets. Were. Gridlocked. And I remember people incessantly honking as if that would make anyone move faster. There was no place to move. Cars had already swarmed the streets, there were erroneous reports of fires on the National Mall, fires in the Metro trains, car bombs at the White House, etc. No one know what was going to be hit next.
Thankfully, a staffer in our office lived not too far away in Georgetown so a few of us walked a couple miles with her, passing by places like The World Bank which made me look up warily like "are YOU next?"
Somehow I was able to call my mom on my cell - which was a miracle in itself because the phone lines were jammed by that point - and I remember her tearfully telling me to just "come home." Of course I didn't consider that, though other people in my school program did and the school itself considered sending all of us home. That all happened later though. Right now, I was planning to stay in Georgetown until we could figure out how to get me back to our school's building on Capitol Hill.
A group of people ended up at the staffer's house and I remember being glued to the news (that was before the networks put the kabash on showing the more graphic images of the towers) and some of us prayed, others were on the phone with their doctors proactively getting prescriptions for Cipro (again...type A-ers don't mess around...) and the staffer, me and another intern (who would later become one of my best friends and incidentally was part of the Slap Game and created Henrietta the Turkey here) decided to go buy supplies - just in case.
Here's where it gets humorous because we were PARANOID. And granted, no one knew what was happening at that point or whether there had been any sort of bio or chemical agents released, or how long these attacks were going to continue, etc. But even still, we may have gone a bit overboard....
So the three of us - me, the other intern and the staffer - set out to buy food and bottled water. You know, just in case we needed to build a fallout shelter in the nicest neighborhood in D.C. And we think "what if there IS some kind of biological something in the air?"
So we put on sunglasses.
...on our faces. So now we are tredging out of the staffer's home - IN POSH GEORGETOWN - and we look like bandits.
And we head to what was referred to as the Social Safeway.
Side Note: D.C. has had several Safeway grocery stores in different parts of the city that were nicknamed for their various qualities. "Social Safeway" was in Georgetown where the cool kids went. "Unsafe Safeway" (the one *I* had to use by my school) was in a bad part of town on Capitol Hill. "Soviet Safeway" was so named because it had long lines and little options...and so on and so on. (Have I mentioned I love this city? Such character.)
So we stop by an ATM on the way to Social Safeway and we realize we look like we are going to rob a bank. So then we just look at each other, burst out laughing, and take off our ridiculous terrorism prevention "gear".
We bought some things and returned to the house where we stayed the rest of the day until the roads cleared and I was able to be driven back to my school.
The next day - we went back to the White House. And that always struck me because everyone went back. We still didn't know for sure what was going on or if the attacks were over, but no one let fear stop their lives. The President himself came around later to personally thank people for coming back to work. It made me feel good to see that and also hear the stories of how people had helped each other the day before. And we continued to help in whatever way we could over the next few weeks, even if just in little ways, like buying coffee for the National Guardsmen and extra security who quickly moved into our city to protect us.
The next couple of weeks held other interesting events as well, that I'll tell another time, but now you know what memories go through my mind on 9/11 every year. DC changed so much that day, with road's being closed and security ramping up, but of course our country and the world changed in much bigger ways as well.
Each anniversary, us staffers used to go to the South Lawn of the White House to have a moment of silence with the President before he headed over to do the same at the Pentagon at the exact time it was hit. I plan to hold my own moment of silence Sunday in respect for not only that day, but gratitude for my own safety and for the people, many of whom I'm proud to call friends, who have continued to work in intelligence and military operations to make sure that didn't happen again in the last decade.
We will never forget.