The following is an account of the events of September 11, 2001 from my experience. I wrote this ages ago, and have always meant to publish it near the anniversary of 911, but have always been held back by that nagging feeling that my story wasn’t important enough. I know that what happened to me is trivial compared to those who lost their loved ones on that day. However, the entire day was so emotionally draining, that I doubt I will ever forget even one second of it.
She badged into the closed office and plunked her stuff down on her desk. Awaiting her was a list of things to do. Apparently the new boss didn’t really trust her to come in early and not fuck off.
With a sigh she leaned over and scrawled “Wish Grandma a Happy Birthday” at the bottom of the list.
She scanned the office, if you could call it that. The room was more of a passthrough with four desks set up in a square. Everyone had to walk through this office to get to the other offices. No notes or lists on anyone else’s desk. She supposed that was the curse of being the new girl.
Humph, “the new girl”, she was the only girl and that’s usually how she liked it, but she suspected it would not be an asset at this company. Something about the way management was structured was a bit stiff. Even the other men in her office who had been around for years seemed to avoid speaking their minds about anything. And yet, she couldn’t put her finger on it.
She sat and reminded herself again to get a rear view mirror for her computer monitor. Having her back to the hallway traffic and the boss’s office was disconcerting. The whole place and team was disconcerting. As her computer booted she counted the days she had been working here. Twelve. Two weeks and two days. Today was Tuesday, only 4 days until the weekend and the beginning of her (unpaid) vacation.
That first day had been especially difficult. Her manager mentioned to her that he had never managed a woman before. She secretly believed he never managed much of anyone before. His baby-face gave him away. Apparently none of her other team members had worked with a woman before either. No one had even shown her where the restroom was. By lunchtime she was about to burst and went searching for it herself. There it was, just down the hall and around the corner. Once inside she sat in one of the stalls thinking this job was a huge mistake. She didn’t fit in.
She had only taken this job because the start-up company she worked for previously was going under. There wasn’t even an increase in pay to come work here. In fact, she’d had to fight to get them to match her salary. Just another little oddity about this place. They were unusually frugal. And yet, they were paying what was surely an outrageous rent for prime office space downtown.
Just after she finished reading her email, the guy who sat kitty corner from her arrived. With his long brown hair pulled into a low pony tail, and his baggy jeans and grungy tee-shirt he looked like the stereotypical computer geek, which he was. He was, however, the friendliest of the three men in this office.
“Good morning,” he said.
“Hi.” she said, and then turned to check the list for the next item of business.
“Happy Tuesday.” he said.
She grunted. Happy. Right.
Noises came from behind her. Her boss was here. He didn’t say hello to anyone, but rather entered his glass walled office and sat staring out over downtown Austin.
The boy who sat across from her had come in with the boss and moved toward his desk. He was supposed to be her team lead. She figured him for about 22, several years her junior. And he was arrogant, always proclaiming to the office how beautiful his work was, but always criticizing everyone else, especially her. It didn’t matter that her work was more efficient, the boss always took his side anyway.
She nodded and said hello, and as she turned back to her work saw the ponytailed man glance at her and winked. She grinned. She wondered again why he was so different from the others.He looked up from his monitor with a start and said, “A plane just crashed into the world trade center.”
“Nice.” she sad and pictured a small biplane bouncing off the building. It would be interesting to hear this story from her step-brother, who lived in the city. She went back to work until a few minutes later when he announced a second plane crashing into the other tower.
They all stood up and were called to the conference room where a tiny TV was tuned to CNN. As a Third plane crash landed at the pentagon, everyone looked out the conference room window at the back of the pink capitol building next door, and wondered the same thing. Is it next?
The TV played the same clips over and over. One plane hit and then the next. Suddenly the picture shifted to show the first tower imploding. They were all staring drop jawed when an enormous man walked into the room. He loomed over them and commanded “Get back to work, this is a waste of time.”
Silently, they headed back to their desks. She sat down and stared at her computer, utterly confounded by the plane crashes, but appalled by the complete lack of empathy from the big blonde man.
She opened a chat window and typed a message to her coworker across the desk.
“Was that the CEO?” She’d heard stories that he was not a man to be reckoned with. Known for being a slave driver and a scrooge, he didn’t even cut his own mother any slack. Never mind that it was her money that started this company.
“Yes.” he answered. “You should introduce yourself.”
Her thoughts turned back to her step brother in New York. What if he was trapped in the World Trade Center? She couldn’t believe that earlier she was wondering how he would tell this story. Now she wondered if he would be alive to tell the story. She also wondered who else in the office had relatives or friends at one of the crash sites.
“I have to say,” she typed, “That was a little harsh.”
He looked up and whispered “That’s not private.”
A few clicks later the morning’s work was in front of her again. With a sigh, she began typing. More slowly than usual, as she was still distracted by the mornings events.
“A plane just crash landed in a field. They think the passengers took over.” She was smiling and was thinking about what heroes those passengers would be when the big man tapped her roughly on the shoulder.
She looked up startled. “Yes?”
“Come with me.”
She stood and followed him back into the conference room where the TV was replaying footage of the towers before their collapse. There were tiny spots falling from each one, and she realized they must be people jumping from windows. A new feeling of horror engulfed her, she could not even imagine what those people’s families must be going through, much less the emotions and terror of the people trapped in the building.
She was barely listening when he snapped the TV off and told her to sit.
Good dog, she thought as she took a chair. He remained standing. Towering was more like it.
Again she looked out the 4th floor window at the sun bouncing off the stone dome of the capitol building. The parking lot was a lot less full now.
“How dare you?!” he seethed. She was startled back to reality by the sheer loathing in his voice.
His face changed color from the pale skin of the Irish, to red and then on to purple and he leaned over her chair in front of her face. She shrank into her chair and thought that this must be what a person would feel like just before a bear ate them.
“I do not tolerate insubordination! How dare you call me names to my other employees!”
Names? She blinked. He was kidding, right? “Um… I’m sorry. I just..?”
He interrupted her and in a mocking voice said, “You are about to learn that sometimes ‘Sorry’ just doesn’t cut it!” And before she could say anything in her own defense he roared “You’re Fired!”
“No. You have five minutes.”
“Shut UP!” he screamed at her. Now she was sure that the entire company could hear him through the glass walls of the conference room. She looked out into the hall to see everyone heads down working. Or rather pretending to work.
He opened the door and waited for her to pass through it.
“I… I’m sorry…” she stammered, but she wasn’t even sure why she was bothering to apologize. She wasn’t sorry. He had been rather harsh when he ordered them all back to their desks. She was just the only one dumb enough to point it out. But then, how was she supposed to know he was reading her private message to the boy across the desk? What kind of loser sat around reading instant messaging traffic between his employees?
The four steps to her desk seemed to take an eternity. And somewhere in that four steps a dam broke and the tears spilled from her eyes. Her boss and coworkers were all peering over their computer monitors and pretending not to watch as she sobbed and packed up her few belongings. How humiliating.
She looked up at the CEO about to say “I’m sorry” again, but saw on his face a smug, self-satisfied grin, swallowed her words and zipped up her bag.
And that was when she realized that she wasn’t crying tears for the loss of her job or the humiliation of crying in front of her coworkers. No, they were tears of grief for the lives that had been lost. They were tears of anger for an attack on American soil. They were tears of sorrow because nothing was ever going to be the same.
As these thoughts sunk in, she decided it didn’t matter that he had fired her. Who would want to work for someone so egotistical and insensitive anyway? One last look around the office gave her the answer. Not one of her coworkers — not even her boss — had said one word since she had returned to her desk.
Cowards. All of them. Where was their integrity? Their sense of self worth? What was their idea of right and wrong? These were not the people she wanted to work with.
She turned toward the door and left.
So that’s my 911 story. What’s yours? Where were you when America was turned upside down and then united with a fervor unequaled since? How did the day affect you?