Today marks the anniversary of the tragic attack on the World Trade Center Towers. Like most people, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing that day. I was just three weeks into my first post-college job as an associate editor for Plumbing & Mechanical magazine, in an office building that sat a mile or so from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. I’d only been to work for minutes when a close friend instant messaged me.
“Did you see that a plane accidentally flew into one of the World Trade Towers?”
I hadn’t. I rode the El-train to work and had been nose deep in The Crossword Murder by Nero Blanc.
“You have to find a TV. It’s unbelievable.”
But our small, 15-person office didn’t have a TV. We didn’t even have a radio. With our minuscule budget, we were lucky to have a coffee maker.
“That’s insane! I wonder what happened?”
And then it came: The most memorable instant message I’ve ever received in my life.
“Holy shit! Another plane just flew into the other tower!”
Chills ran down my spine. To this point in my life, national tragedy had been defined by the space shuttle Challenger’s explosion (which I watched from my first-grade classroom). That was an accident. This was not.
I scoured the Internet for information, but every single news source was jammed. Everyone was trying to get the information at the same time and, much like the rest of us, the Internet couldn’t process it either. By then I received word that another plane had hit the Pentagon and one crashed “somewhere” in Pennsylvania. It was scary and heartbreaking and completely unbelievable.
Not long after that we received an e-mail from our corporate office in Michigan advising us to head home and stay inside (which I did). I took the El-train back into the city trying to make sense of what was happening, hoping and praying that no planes were headed toward the Sears Tower—one building removed from where my then girlfriend (now wife) was working. Thankfully she had been evacuated much earlier and was already waiting at her apartment in Wicker Park, along with her roommate and several friends, when I arrived.
We watched endless hours of coverage. We watched the first tower fall. Then the second. We watched as news anchors fumbled over their words, just as lost for explanation as we were. I remember feeling helpless, wishing there was something I could do. But all I could do was watch. And cry.
More than a decade may have passed, but the pain and the memories are as fresh today as my morning bagel. I still can’t believe what happened. I probably never will.
That’s my 9/11 story. What’s yours? Where were you? What were you thinking at the time? If you can, craft and post a personal essay about the event in the comments section. I’d love to get greater perspective from other writers and what they (you) remember about that day.