Last night while attending an event reception, someone standing in a circle of people tweeting on their phones looked up and said, “Osama bin Laden is dead. Twitter knows, but we’re waiting for the President to confirm.” In the moment I sort of dismissed it remember that Twitter also “knew” Natalee Holloway’s body was found, when in fact, it turned out to not be the case. By the time I made it back into the hotel room lobby, CNN was showing an empty podium waiting for President Obama to confirm what social media had known for an hour. In that moment my first reaction was, “I want to be with my husband.”
Over the last ten years we’ve all shared our Where Were You stories a million times just like our parents before us did and will continue to do so about the day President Kennedy was assassinated. But for me, last night it was more about what I was feeling on that day in September and how in tune I was to that feeling again in the moments before one of the most powerful announcements of the decade.
September 11th was three weeks after my wedding. I was twenty-three, starting a new teaching job, newlywed, and optimistic. We lived on the DC/Maryland line and my husband was beginning his second year working for a federal government agency, also very happy with his job and feeling good about our new life together. My only care in the world was navigating how to teach from a cart (newbies didn’t get a classroom of their own). Life was fantastic.
On September 11th I was standing in front of my class of 6th grade English students when I saw teachers frantically running up and down the halls. I popped my head out and heard only “DC is under attack,” before returning to my room full of eleven and twelve year olds, still a little groggy from summer vacation, unsure of this strange lady in front of them, this new school where they had to move from classroom to classroom all day long. Part way through the period, our administrator came over the intercom to tell us some very sketchy details and ask us all to remain calm and wait for what to do next.
That’s when my eyes locked with a girl in the front row. My stomach turned, my heart felt as though it was going to stop. She whispered to me, “My dad works at the Pentagon.” I took her hand and said, “It’s going to be okay. Wait here,” but in my mind all I could think was, “I don’t know if it’s going to be okay, and I don’t know where my husband is right now.” I grabbed one of the teacher’s in the hallway and asked them to take my student to find her 8th grade sister so they could wait together for word on their dad’s whereabouts. As soon as class ended, I ran to a team member’s room and watched as the second tower fell, watched as the Pentagon burned. No one could get through to their spouses in downtown DC. None of us knew where our loved ones were.
All I wanted was to be with my husband.
It would be many, many hours until I knew that my husband was okay once he finally made it out of the city, the federal government dismissing in waves, unsure of the safety of the metro, not wanting to cause a widespread panic. It would be days before we went back to school and work, the nation unsure what to do next, the city in shock. And as we now know, it would be nearly ten years before justice would be served to the man who began this journey for us all. So tomorrow when I see my husband again, it will be as if in some way we’ve come full circle. And it will end as it began…