Avoiding Crisis

where were you…

with 4 comments

when JFK was shot?

when man first walked on the moon?

when the Space shuttle Challenger blew up?

When the Berlin Wall came down?

When the first plane hit?

When the second plane hit?

When the towers fell?

Each generation has moments in time that define them, that bring them together, that provides a collective memory by which they can all identify.

When studying the assassination of JFK in High School I distinctly recall my Social Studies teacher telling the class how she could remember the exact moment- where she was, what she was doing, who she was with – when she learned that JFK had been shot. She told us that each of our parents would probably be able to do the same. I remember going home and asking my parents about this and being astonished at the quickness in which they responded. Both of them, without needing to give it much thought, were able to tell me where they were and what they were doing at that exact moment. 

Several years later, when I was in college, I had several classes that touched on the topic of collective memory as well as generational studies. And with the same questions the lectures would begin. Where were you when the Challenger exploded? When the Berlin wall came down? When the first Persian Gulf war began? Those were my generations most defining moments. Those were our common memories.

That was before 9-11.

For me, as I’m sure it is for many people regardless of age, my JFK moment, is 9-11. I can still close my eyes and go back to that moment in time when I first heard about the plane hitting Tower 1.  Which, at the time, I, like so many others, thought was an accident.

I remember as if it was yesterday and not 6 years ago this morning.

I was on my way to work.  My cell phone rang. It was my mother-in-law.  She had heard about the Twin Towers and wanted to know if i had talked to my father, to know if he was okay. (He worked a block from ground zero) At first I had absolutely no clue as to what she was talking about.  She filled me in.  We hung up.  I tried to call my father – at his office and then on his cell phone. There was no answer. Then I called my mother and my brothers and then my mother again until I got in touch with someone. Family friends started to call.  All of them knew where my Dad worked.  I called my mother-in-law back to tell her that he was fine, that he was uptown at a meeting.

Thirty minutes had passed between the first call from my mother-in-law and when we finally got back in touch.  Maybe it was more than 30 minutes. I can’t be sure.  Time seemed to be standing still.  As we were comparing what we were both hearing – me from the radio, her from her colleagues – there was a loud rumble and then on the other end of the line I could hear what sounded like an explosion. My mother-in-law said something about the noise and the building shaking and how she’d call me back. I was about 5 miles from the Pentagon at the time, she was less then 1/4 mile.

I didn’t know about the Pentagon. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know that the rumble and noise I heard was a plane flying overhead.  I still didn’t know that it had hit the building. 

I couldn’t get in touch with anyone. I started to cry. 

Traffic completely stopped.  It stayed that way for a while. I can’t say exactly how long I was stopped.  I just remained in the same position, not moving , I didn’t think too much about it.  My attention was on what the radio personalities were telling us.  Time seemed to stand still.  And then, all of a sudden, in the most orderly of fashion, people started turning around and going in the opposite direction.  So I followed.

The time between learning that the plane had hit the Towers, the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania and watching the towers fall is a blur. I some how managed to drive through Arlington, VA, through streets I had never been on, whose names I didn’t know, and get to the Arlington campus of George Mason University, were I was working as a research assistant. I remember riding the escalator to a third floor classroom where people had congregated to watch the news. I walked in moments before the fist Tower fell and I still remember, as if it was yesterday, as if it was this morning, wondering out loud why in god’s name would CNN show a simulation of the Towers falling, since, that possibly couldn’t happen.  And just how morbid of a dramatization it was. And, in that exact moment, looking at the faces of everyone around me, I realized that it wasn’t a simulation at all and that it was in fact happening. They were really crumbling as we watched and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

I was still standing in the doorway when I came to this conclusion. I leaned up against the door frame and slid to the floor burying my head in my knees, hugging my legs.  No one said a thing.

What could anyone say?

Completely paralyzed by the situation I had absolutely no clue as to what I should be doing at that moment.  Was I supposed to stay where I was or was I supposed to go home.  Should I go find my brother who had been evacuated from his office in the New Executive Office Building across from the White House and make sure he was okay?  It took my husband telling me to go home and stay there for me to snap out of it.  I remained glued to the television for hours, like the rest of the world, in complete disbelief.

That day remains burned in my memory.

It’s good to remember and not to forget such things. In remembering we honor those who can’t, those who are no longer with us.

Where were you?


Written by nicolemarie

September 11, 2007 at 9:40 pm

Posted in 9-11

4 Responses

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  1. I was in a pediatric surgery meeting in Brooklyn. We quickly went across the street to the Kings County Pediatric Surgery Cheif’s call room – this particular room had a clear view of the towers. By the time we got there the second plane had hit. We all tried contacting our loved ones with very little success. Next thing I remember was screaming that the tower was falling. Watching what looked to be a tower of cards collapse and then only to see the same thing repeated moments later. We spent the rest of the day waiting in the ER in trauma groups for the 1000’s of patients we expected. Watching the TV monitors, trying to see if they figured out where the remaining missing planes were. Listening to the skies grow more and more quiet. Less than 100 patients showed up that day, mostly with asthma exacerbations from the dust and debris.

    Aimee was sleeping. She was on Night Float so she had just gotten home and gone to bed at 7AM. She awoke at about 4PM to 18 messages stating that this person or that person was okay – only to wonder why she was getting status reports on everyone.

    mike f

    September 11, 2007 at 10:09 pm

  2. I was in my office on the 23rd floor of a an oil company’s high-rise headquarters in Houston. I remember overhearing a colleague talking to someone on his phone about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I thought it was an accident, too, until the second tower was hit as well. We were of course in no danger, but at the time no one knew where the next plane was going to hit, especially after the Pentagon was struck. Our building was evacuated, and I remember it took forever to get out of the parking garage, and I just sat in my car listing to NPR, overwhelmed with horror and sadness, wondering if the building I was sitting under was going to collapse on me. I had just found out I was pregnant with Maria, and I was suddenly overcome with doubt about what kind of world my child would be growing up in. My gas tank was nearly empty and I was afraid I would run out of gas before I got out. It’s true about all the details of that morning being as clear as if they were yesterday, even for someone who was nowhere near New York, Pennsylvania or Washington. And I think for a long time, everyone in that building and probably every other tall building in the country couldn’t help but keep a very close eye on all the air traffic in the vicinity.

    My aunt is an American Airlines flight attendant, and she was supposed to fly from JFK to LAX that morning… I know it’s etched on her mind as well. She and the rest of that crew were on the first flight that left JFK after the attack, and she said it was a white knuckle ride for everyone.


    September 11, 2007 at 11:09 pm

  3. I was at work in downtown Chicago training a receptionist at the front desk. My husband called and told me. It was after the 2nd plane hit. We were evacuated shortly after that because there was a rumor that a plane was headed to the Sears Tower. I was 8 months pregnant. I sat in my downtown apartment the rest of the day watching the news and trying to get in touch with family in DC and NY.


    September 12, 2007 at 8:22 am

  4. My first JFK moment was watching the challenger explode live on our classroom TV monitor when I was in 4th Grade. That shuttle flight was only “live” for children in classrooms – not the general public – because a teacher was onboard the flight. I remember sitting there watching it take off with excitement, and then in confusion as the shuttle turned into smoke.

    Of course, 911 was the 2nd JFK moment of my life and it also made an impact of me. During the morning of 911 I was at the FBI Academy in a class and within moments all of the TVs in Quantico were tuned to CNN. I drove by the Pentagon everyday – but every subsequent day after the attack the whole world took on new meaning.


    September 16, 2007 at 11:52 am

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