Ten Years Ago Today

Sept. 10, noon

Credit card purchases: Hecht Company, misc. clothing; Hallmark store, cards; Nordstrom, cosmetics.

Sept. 10, 5 p.m.
I dropped Mr. Restaurant Gal off at Dulles Airport for a flight to Sweden. This was a perfectly normal part of our lives, saying goodbye every few weeks as Mr. RG took yet another flight to yet another overseas business appointment. But at least this trip would be a short one–less than a week.

“See you Friday,” he said as we hugged.

Sept. 11, 8 a.m.

It was a perfect morning for a run along the C & O Canal. The air was clean and clear with a slight breeze that felt like cool silk as it caressed my bare arms and legs. I ran for miles along the dirt tow path, wanting to run forever, but knowing a writing deadline loomed as well as a tutoring session with a high schooler applying to various colleges.

Sept. 11, 9:20 a.m.

I returned to my car. DC 101, the local rock station, was forever programmed on my radio in the mornings so the kids and I could listen to Elliott in the Morning as I drove them to their Dupont Circle high school. Instead of his hilarious inane banter, I heard Elliott reporting that it appeared a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, probably a small plane, but they didn’t really know. I immediately turned my radio to the all-news station WTOP. And for reasons that perplex me to this day, I couldn’t get anything but static on my AM dial. Thus, I drove the 20 minutes home relying on shock jock Elliott in the Morning for news about events that would forever change history.

September 11, 9:45 a.m.

As I unlocked my front door, my cell phone rang. This was followed immediately by my home phone ringing. For a moment I just looked at both phones and wondered which one to answer. I shrugged and answered both in unison, holding my cell phone to my left ear and the land line to my right.

“Are you okay?” asked my newly found biological father in my right ear.

“Don’t worry, it’s just a helicopter crash,” said Mr. RG in my left ear.

“What?” I asked Mr. RG

“Are you okay?” asked my father.

“Really, don’t worry,” said Mr. RG.

“I’ll call you back,” I said to the phone in my right ear.

“Okay,” said both my father and Mr. RG.

And now I was talking to no one. Little did I know at the time how precious those few phone minutes had been, as they would be nearly impossible to reclaim in the hours to follow.

Sept. 11, 9:50 a.m.

I turned on the TV to the local news and saw images of a burning Pentagon. The images were so bold, so big, so violent in nature, I immediately thought, “That’s no helicopter crash.”

I switched stations, and saw live footage of the World Trade Center Twin Towers in flames. What the hell?

My land line rang, startling me.

“Oh my God I worked RIGHT THERE!” shouted my college roommate. The World Trade Center? I thought. She only ever worked in D.C.

“But, how could you…”

“Oh my God, right there. I cannot believe it.” And then the line went dead.

I changed TV stations and saw a split screen that showed the whole unfolding horror in both cities.

Sept. 11, 10 a.m.

Bomb threats at the State Department. Bomb Threats at the Vice President’s Mansion. Bomb threats at Dupont Circle. Oh my God, they are moving the attacks right through the city, right toward my kids. Oh my God.

Sept. 11, 10:01 a.m.

I call and call and call my kids’ high school, trying to reach someone in charge to tell them not to let any of the kids take the Metro subway and to please tell my kids that they are to stay at school until I personally show up to get them. Please, please, please DO NOT let them leave school. PLEASE, PLEASE do not let them get on the Metro!

Except I never completed those calls, because the phone lines–land and cell alike–were jammed and useless.

Sept. 11, 10:05 a.m.

Unable to reach me by phone, one of my great girlfriends simply showed up at my house. Her son went to the same high school as that of my kids.

“Should we go?” she asked, although she already knew the answer. Her question was really, “Should we be the only car driving into downtown, knowing we may not get out of downtown?”

“We have to,” I cried.

All the way there, the radio announcers further alarmed us with real news, unfounded rumors and talk of another hijacked plane en route to D.C.

Sept. 11, 10: 15 a.m.

We were literally the only car headed into downtown on Massachusetts Avenue, other than the emergency vehicles that screamed by us every second. The lines of cars and throngs of thousands and thousands of pedestrians streaming one way out of town was unlike anything I had ever seen in all my life of living in D.C.

“I can’t believe this is happening; it feels like a bad dream. God, I wish it was a bad dream,” I said over and over to my friend who is driving.

Sept. 11, 10:30 a.m.

So many parents. So many kids. So many of us just wanting to see our own kids’ faces, touch their arms, kiss their cheeks. When I saw RG Daughter, she asked with a smile, “What’s going on?” When I saw RG Son, he said, “If we’re getting out early, can I go to Dan’s house?”

At this funky, alternative private high school that costs more than college and is located in the heart of D.C.’s Dupont Circle in what I am sure is in the line of fire for the next terrorist attack, TVs are obviously not an amenity for which I have paid plenty to have in every classroom.

Sept. 11, 10:40 a.m.

As my cell phone rang, I took a second to dumbly stare at it because who on earth could get through to me?

“Don’t take Massachusetts Avenue,” screamed Mr. RG from far-away Sweden.

“But…” I start to say, amazed he knew where I was, but of course he did. I looked at the gridlock on Connecticut Avenue, a scant half block from my kids’ high school.

“No, please, don’t take Mass. Ave. past the Vice President’s house,” he begged.

“It’s likely the only way or at least the only moving way out of here,” I told him. But by then the line was dead, and would be for several days.

Sept. 11, 1 p.m.

We were home. We would stay home. And nothing would ever be the same, ever again, at home.

Sept. 11, 9 p.m.

I turned on most of the lights in the house. I double checked the locks on all the doors. I turned on the TV in my bedroom. I opened the bedroom windows on this cool night. I wanted to hear the F16s. I timed them. Every 26 minutes. They were my security blanket, even as I didn’t sleep.

Email messages to my father because phones were useless:

Sept. 11

I put Mr. RG on a plane out of Dulles last night, headed to Sweden through Amsterdam. He arrived just fine, but of course, his return plans are now in question. He is due to get to London on Thursday and return here to Dulles on Friday afternoon. At this point, we have no idea when and what route he will take to get home. Just know that he is safe in Sweden.

When you called this morning, I really had no idea what was happening. As events unfolded, I became more and more concerned about getting RG Son and RG Daughter home. Their school is downtown in an embassy neighborhood. The Algerian embassy, for example is just a few doors up and across the street. I knew I didn’t want them on our subway, so a friend and I drove downtown to get them.

The school was releasing kids as parents came, and we have no idea if school will open tomorrow. The scene was eerie as we left: hordes of people walking on both sides of the sidewalks, all going in the same direction. Cars were in gridlock along Connecticut Ave. We chose to take Massachusetts Avenue out of town because the traffic was at least moving at a crawl. I was shocked as we moved along past the Vice President’s compound, seeing armed secret service men posted everywhere, shotguns prominently displayed at their hips. I have never in my life seen anything like it. As we sat in traffic at one point, a Russian Orthodox church’s bells rang in somber tones.

Needless to say, we are simply staying put at home, hearing only F-16s
flying overhead as they patrol DC airspace.

All this is against a backdrop of one of the nicest days we’ve had in
weeks–bright, sunny, no humidity, and 78 degrees. The beauty of it makes the horror all the more surreal.

Sept. 12, email to my father

F16s continue to fly overhead on a regular basis, and
school remained closed through today. Both kids are headed back tomorrow (as all schools in the area re-open), but happily I was already scheduled to be there for lunch tomorrow. I will feel much better knowing I am with them for at least part of the day. Security is very tight around the embassies, so we are okay with letting them go back. Believe me, if anything changes security-wise, I will bring them home.

But we are so determined to try to get our lives back on track–not completely back to normal, just back to a scaled-back regular routine. Today, for example, I allowed RG Daughter to visit a friend’s house just over the DC-Maryland line for a few hours. RG Son went out toward Rockville and had lunch with friends, then shopped at Best Buy and later hung out with pals in downtown Bethesda. I didn’t let them anywhere near downtown, but with National Guard troops everywhere and police on full alert, it was probably the safest place to be!

Sept. 15, email to my father

Just a quick note to let you know that although he wishes he was home, Mr. RG is doing just fine north of London. His friends are taking him on tours of the countryside churches and villages, as well as a pub here and there. The unexpected vacation! We are hopeful that United’s plan to get him back on Tuesday afternoon will occur.

In addition to a funeral for Mr. RG’s uncle who unexpectedly died on Sept. 11, I attended services at our own church yesterday. I was so sad to learn that a member of our congregation was on the flight that hit the Pentagon. Although I did not personally know her, the pain and grief at our service was palpable.

In most other ways, things are moving closer to normal. I think the F16s are still around, but we now see the planes headed in and out of Dulles. It is questionable when, if ever, National Airport will open again.

The neighborhood around the kids’ school is secure, although one never knows when parts of Massachusetts Ave. might be shut down in due to threats against the national mosque (blocks away from their school). The police presence around the mosque is impressive, but it is depressing to think that they are there as much to protect the congregants.

As I drove around uptown last night, I was struck by the small groups standing outside with candles. Two little girls stood outside their house holding red, white, and blue candles. We are not keen on venturing downtown at this point, any further than the kids’ school, that is. It’s not a case of fear so much as we just don’t really feel like doing a whole lot. The kids have gone out with their friends, but just to dinner or out to Best Buy–low-key things like that.

Sept. 15, credit card purchases: Citgo, fill-up; Giant grocery store, bottled water, batteries of all sizes, milk, eggs, toilet paper, canned everything, cat food.






4 responses to “Ten Years Ago Today”

  1. L. Avatar

    Excellent piece RG, thank you for sharing. Everything you write is worthy of publication…really it is.

  2. Restaurant Gal Avatar
    Restaurant Gal

    L.–Thank you. I have tried to write that piece for 9 years. I finally was able to, after 10.

  3. mur Avatar

    I read this post while Ashana sang Ave Maria on my iPod. Weeping for your memories of that day, remembering my own. Thank you.

  4. Restaurant Gal Avatar
    Restaurant Gal

    Mur–Your comment made me weep again. But I thank you, and I am so glad to hear from you again.