By Monica Marier
Okay, I don't think I've really written this down before, so I'm going to record it as accurately as I can.
On September 11th 2001, I was an Art Student at George Mason University in Northern Virginia. I was on financial aide so I worked mornings and some afternoons in the Music Department as a desk-monkey, taking messages and stuffing envelopes. I walked into the office that morning, like it was any other day. I plopped down my bookbag and got out my copy of Dracula that I was reading for the billionth time. It was then that I heard Tammy, my boss on the phone talking to someone in a frantic voice.
"Calm down, Patricia! What are you talking about? You just saw a plane crash? What?"
Tammy put down the phone, her face white, and said to no one in particular.
"Dr. Miller said she just saw a plane crash into the Pentagon from her balcony."
We were gobsmacked.
What was going on?
We ran to the radio at the back of the office and switched it on. We stood like stunned cattle listening to the NPR report that terrorists had hijacked a plane and crashed it into the pentagon. Then I heard that the twin towers were gone too.
I felt cold and numb all over. This couldn't be happening. This wasn't happening. This was some plot lifted out of a Keanu Reeves action film. This stuff didn't happen in real life.
It was when I heard that there was a bomb at the State Department that I lost it. My dad worked at the State Department. I later found out it was a false alarm, but at the time I was already raw with fear. I burst into blubbering tears until Tammy quietly suggested I go back to my dorm.
I didn't though. I walked to the Johnson Centre, where TV's had been wheeled out, and I stared tear-stained as the footage from the Twin Towers crash was playing on a continuous loop. I saw it hit over and over hurting me like a sharp blow to the chest. My room didn't have a TV all day I stared in dumb horror at the screens as they became available. I didn't eat lunch. I picked numbly at my dinner as the news counted more and more deaths that day, and a plane downed in Pennsylvania.
As it got dark later that evening, I stumbled back to the dorm and stumbled upon a group of people gathered around a statue of George Mason, their heads bowed in prayer. I was only a lapsed Catholic at the time, but I felt the urge to join in that circle. Two hands gladly grasped mine, damp with the effort of getting through that day. We prayed to God to give us strength that day. We prayed for the dead. We prayed for protection from death that everyone felt could strike us at any moment.
We were terrified.
As the circle broke up, we found ourselves clinging to small groups as we walked back to our respective dorms. We were all strangers to each other, yet we sought comfort in each other's company, making small talk as we walked back to our spartan rooms. I called my boyfriend (my future husband) and tried to make sense of it all.
The next day, we went to class. Two of my teachers were practicing Muslims and didn't come to school that day out of fear. We used the class period to write them a letter about how much we still appreciated them.When they came back the next week we hugged them and cried.
As people became able to talk about the event, I was amazed to discover that many of my friends' parents (who all worked in the city and Pentagon) had all had amazing coincidences that kept them from the Pentagon that day. One had been running late due to a flat tire. One had decided to go out for a coffee run. One who had an office on the side that was demolished had been asked to visit a colleague on the other side of the building. One had simply felt the urge to play hooky that day and called in sick.
I actually don't remember much of the rest of that semester. For three months I seemed to be in a walking dream. I only remembered that in my mother's house (which was right under the flight path for Dulles Airport) that every time I heard a plane engine overhead, I would tremble all over.