I was running late to work. It was a regular occurrence most days of the week, but not Tuesdays. We had our production meetings on Tuesdays, promptly at 8am. I hated walking in late to those. It was 7:45 Dallas-time. I could still make it in time if I left within the next three minutes or so.
That Tuesday morning, I was still harboring anger toward my boyfriend. The night before, he had shown up late to my birthday dinner with my parents, and then refused to stay over that night. It was my birthday, after all. I didn’t care that he was conducting training and didn’t want to fight traffic in the morning. I was his girlfriend. He should want to stay with me, right?
As I did every morning, I was watching Good Morning America as I got ready. When I grabbed my bag and walked toward the television to turn it off, the GMA team shifted focus to a live shot of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. There were flames and smoke coming from one of the towers. I can remember thinking to myself, “Can helicopters rescue people from that height?” before I realized that– of course– they had stairwells and elevators that would take anyone trapped to the ground floor. The fire looked pretty bad, but at the time, they were saying it was a small jet that possibly lost its way or suffered mechanical problems. I called my boyfriend and told him, or maybe he called me. I don’t really remember that part.
Still, at the time, it seemed an oddity, not a tragedy. Even though I was officially going to be late, I knew I had to get to work. Then I saw the second plane on the screen. In that moment, I figured it was a plane flying by the scene, as if they were going to check to see what had happened, and then there was an explosion. I called my boyfriend back. I was in shock. I was frozen. I was numb.
The words ‘terrorist attack’ followed shortly thereafter on the television, and I got off the phone with him to call the office. We never watched TV at work, and news updates weren’t as prevalent as they are now (there was no iPhone), so when the secretary answered, I didn’t know what to say.
“There’s been a terrorist attack! Two airplanes crashed into both towers of the World Trade Center in New York!” That’s what I decided to say.
“Who is this?” our receptionist, Cynthia, asked.
“Lori! You have to go tell everyone in the meeting. I’m running late, but I’m coming, but you have to tell them now.”
“Okay,” she said, and hung up the phone.
Somehow, I left for work anyway. Like I said, I was numb. All the radio stations were covering the tragedy. By the time I got to the office, the meeting was adjourned (early) and TVs had been set up. No one was working. Everyone was talking, and I was recalling the events that I had seen at home. I’m not sure I’d even made it to my office when someone announced that a tower had come down.
Nooooo, I thought. There’s no way. That thought had never even entered the realm of possibilities in my mind, and I have a really good imagination. It was unfathomable, and I made my way to one of the sets with static-y video and watched the footage with my own eyes. They were announcing that tens of thousands of people worked in those towers. That was another fact that was beyond comprehension to me. Then the second tower fell as we watched and cried. I finally made it back to my office. I took out my iBook as if I could possibly get any work done. I couldn’t. I remember our general manager coming to the sales area and telling us we could go home… that he knew no one would be able to conduct business; that he knew no one should conduct business.
I lived near the DFW International Airport at the time, which is an incredibly busy hub of activity. I also lived near a major highway in the Metroplex. I can remember taking my dog out that afternoon and hearing complete silence. No airplanes. Hardly any traffic on the highways. It was, by far, the eeriest silence I’d ever heard. Eventually my boyfriend joined me at my apartment and we watched the coverage together for hours. Again, I wanted him to stay over. This time, I just didn’t want to be alone. I was afraid. Although he stayed late, he again declined my invitation, but his rejection didn’t seem as important that night. Even though I needed him more, I knew that there were a million other things to focus on and be grateful for.
The next day, we found out that the mother of one of our New York employees worked in one of the towers. The mother’s name was Mary D’Antonio. I’ll never forget her name, because we would eventually learn that she was one of the lives taken too soon that day. Wednesday morning, I led a prayer vigil in the office for anyone who wanted to reflect on what happened on September 11, 2001. After all, the people in that room with me were the people who I would always remember when I looked back on that day. We were together for one of those major life events. It was a tragic commonality we shared; it was a tragic commonality that most people shared in some home, office, school, city, and nation… it was a day we would never ever forget.
Sadness overwhelms me every year on this day. I cry until I have a headache, and while I’ll complain about that any other day of the year, I don’t on September 11th. I never want to experience a September 11th when I don’t cry. I never want to feel okay on this day. I never want to forget.
I never will forget.