my 9/11 and the aftermath


In 2001, I worked on the 51st floor of the Bank of America tower, the tallest building in the southeast.  I’d been at work about 30 minutes when my phone rang.  It was one of my lawschool classmates who worked at Turner:

she:  “Go to”
me:  “Why?”
she:  “Because a plane just hit the World Trade Center.”
me:  “What?  What kind of dumbass flies into a building?”
me:  “The site is taking a long time to load.  Just tell me what it says…”
she:  “Oh my God…another plane just flew into another Tower!  I’d better go…”

I jumped up, left my office, and went into the conference room across the hall to turn on the TV.  A few secretaries left their cubes and entered the same room to see what was going on.  Since CNN was one of our clients, many of us had received word that something extraordinary was happening.

But I had work to do, so I went back into my office to finish what I’d started.  Then…

voice:  “Jesus fucking Christ, they hit the fucking Pentagon, too?”

I recognized the voice as belonging to Suzanne, one of the junior associates in litigation from down the hall.

The conference room was now full, as secretaries, paralegals, associates, and even a few partners were watching the 20-something-inch cathode ray tube TV strapped to the wheeled cart by the dry erase board.  Then I heard that the attorney next to Suzanne had a brother who worked in the World Trade Center.  He was upset.  He was trying to find out if his brother was okay.

His brother was dead.

My phone rang again.  My friend Chad, a clerk at a law firm a few blocks north of us, was on the line.

chad:  “Y’all been evacuated yet?”
me:  “No.  Why the hell would we be evacuated?”
chad:  “‘Cause we’re fucking under attack!  Our building just got evacuated…nobody knows how many targets there are.”
me:  “Why the hell would anyone care about Atlanta?  ‘Cause we have Coke?  That’s stupid.  Wait…We’re getting some kind of announcement.  Yes, we’re supposed to evacuate, too.  What  a pain in the ass.”

I thought it was a stupid overreaction.  I went back to work and ignored the sounds of all my colleagues’ gathering their stuff and walking down the hall outside my office toward the elevators.

When the hallway became silent again, I walked into the head paralegal’s office.

me:  “Isn’t this ridiculous?  They want us to leave the building because of something that happened in New York and Washington?”

I looked out into the hall.  All the secretaries’ cubicles were empty.  All the associates’ offices were empty.  All the partners’ offices were empty.  The head of the litigation section walked into the office where I sat and spoke:

partner:  “Laura, for the first time in 30 years, I’m about to be angry at you.  Go home.”

She minimized the programs on her screen and stood up.  I stood, too.  The three of us entered the elevator and traveled the 51 floors to the bottom of the building and exited the empty lobby.  Best I could tell, we were the last to leave the building–the head partner, the head paralegal, and me.

I drove to Decatur and walked into one of those old-timey barber shops with a striped pole outside and got my hair cut as I watched the towers crash to the ground on the TV hanging from the ceiling in front of me.  I saw men and women coated in soot running from a cloud of destruction amid the smell of Barbicide and the sound of little metal scissors cutting away excess growth.  I listened quietly to the 60-something black man pontificating about the meaning of it all as he brought my hair back into military regulations.  I went home and emailed my friend from childhood who lived in the Village.  I called my parents.


A year and a few months later, on a Wednesday night in January, the President gave his annual “State of the Union” address.  I sat in Manuel’s Tavern with the two classmates who’d called me on September 11, 2001, plus about ten others who’d rushed to the nearest bar after the conclusion of our last class of the day.  You may remember the speech–the last several minutes contained some rather fiery rhetoric about Saddam Hussein, weapons of mass destruction, and possible military action in Iraq.

More vivid than the events of 9/11 or any of the months that followed was the reaction from the ten or so friends and classmates who surrounded me at the wooden table against the glass at the packed bar where no one spoke but the President:  tears from the girls; looks of anguish from the guys.  All were looking at me:  the only person any of them knew who was in the military, even if it was just a weekend a month and two weeks in the summer.  Looks of knowing.  Looks that said, “You’re fixing to go away to Iraq, and we don’t know if we’ll see you again, and we don’t know how we’re supposed to react to that.  So, we’re just going to stare at you and be emotional.”

One month and seventeen days later, I’d get the telephone call that sent me away.  And my life would change forever.

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  1. Iraq might not have been the right move in the War on Terror but your sacrifice and your service to our country as a member of our Armed Forces must always be acknowledged and appreciated.

    Thank you for being one of America’s heroes.
    .-= Chris C´s last blog ..The Daily Crazy High School Bus Ride =-.

  2. Okay, I forgive your “obligatory”, Fucker. You made me cry, goddammit.
    .-= califmom´s last blog ..You Aren’t Lazy – You’re Just Being Green =-.

  3. Dude. Thanks for writing this. Takes me back.
    .-= ZDub´s last blog ..A Post Where We Actually Went And Did Stuff. And Now You Have To Read About It. =-.

  4. I’ve got to say, your initial reaction surprised me. When I first heard about it, I was in a plant and a man tried to tell me that the WTC had gone down in broken english through ear plugs. I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. Then I got in my car and every radio station was abuzz, and my stomach sank.

    However, your decision to participate in the response is something I respect.
    .-= SciFi Dad´s last blog ..Neglectimommy Volume 7 =-.

    • @scifidad, Thanks…I think I was in denial of its implications at first. Incidentally, when Pretty Bride read this last night, she said she was the same way on the actual day. We’re both assholes!

  5. Thank you for serving beside me. This day will NEVER forgotten.

  6. What you DID means way, way more than how the rest of us FELT on 9/11.

    What Chris C said.

    Thank you.
    .-= Miss Britt´s last blog ..Richard A. Dunstan =-.

  7. I like this post because it’s honest. Your reaction in Atlanta, how your life was affected over a year later… [I was in Denver and was looking for enemies in the air that day. Totally freaked out. Too near NORAD.]

    Your service along with all the men and women in our military continues to humble and move me. I know you didn’t write this post to solicit “thanks” for your service, but you deserve it and should take it all in. Thank you.
    .-= Chris´s last blog ..The Third Child =-.

  8. You’re right. Too many posts worth reading today, especially this one. Thanks, Muskrat, for your service (here’s your gold watch ;). But really, thank you.
    .-= unfinishedrambler´s last blog ..Above us only sky =-.

  9. I overhead some young English instructors in the teachers’ lounge asking why we won’t just let 9/11 go. I’m glad you (and me and many others) won’t.

    • @prefersfantasylife, Sometimes I wish I could, but I can’t. I don’t think we should let Pearl Harbor go or the Holocaust go or Emily Coke’s turning me down in 4th grade go, either. We have to pay attention to the awful.

  10. I now have tears. My Dad was flying that day. It was awful.
    Thanks for this post.

    • Was just talking about you…showing the Mrs some old pics from DECA and talked about how your dad was in the air that day, too. Mine was grounded in Canada for a week. He said they drank a lot.

  11. Seriously for a second. I’ve seen a lot of these posts today and I don’t have much patience for them, really. Because most people’s connection is tangential at best. But you’ve got a solid, real, physical connection to 9/11 and the way you write about it – well, it takes me back and reminds me of the day.

    Returning to good natured ribbing mode…3…2….1…
    .-= A Free Man´s last blog ..Chickens don’t get no life after death =-.

  12. woah… just woah… Thank you.

  13. Wow. I don’t care if you serve a weekend a month or a weekend a year, I appreciate it. My stepson serves our country and I’m proud of his patriotism but so scared for him. As the wife of a cop, I am thankful that there are people out there who do things bigger than themselves.

    Thank you.
    .-= Mo´s last blog ..Pawsabilities =-.

  14. You served us well. Again. Thanks, Muskrat.
    .-= always home and uncool´s last blog ..Survival of the Frantic =-.

  15. Thank you. You reminded me of that speech. I had the exact same reaction as your friends, except I was sitting next to my husband (active duty Navy corpsman). On 9/11 we assumed our lives would change. The night of that speech, we KNEW. Seems like you went around the same time he did. Weird how that works.

    Anyways, thank you.
    .-= Miss´s last blog ..I fucking love you, bitch =-.

  16. I’m a first-time visitor to your blog. What a powerful post!
    Thanks for this & for your service to our country.

    I’ll be back!

  17. I had surgery yesterday, so was generally unaware of 9/11/09. Yours is the first post I’ve read because I knew you’d be, well, YOU about it. I got what I expected and more. Thanks for your service, lad, and for sharing yourself with us.

    • @semky, Wow…thanks for the compliments! Hope your procedure went well, and I’m glad to see you up (sorta) and dropping comments and tweets again in this little online world of ours.

      Your comment made me very happy today when I was in uniform and exhausted as it came over my blackberry.

  18. Wow, I didn’t actually know you served in Irag. I thank you as well for your service to our country.
    .-= Jeff´s last blog ..Allow me to paint you a sandwich =-.

  19. i was pregnant with twins that year & it was the first time i was truly scared for my future babies. i lived in austin & was a bit freaked out b/c that’s the capitol of texas & all.

    thank you for what you do to protect my rights.
    .-= mommymae´s last blog ..8 years =-.

    • @mommymae, Thanks….I didn’t have children yet but certainly worried (and still do) about what life will be like in the coming years when the next waves of terrorist attacks start.

  20. OK, I laughed really hard at “Cause we have Coke?” Here in little ol’ Lake Mary, Florida people didn’t want to go to the Wal Mart because they thought those were going to be targeted. We have a really high number of geniuses here.

    And, I am in complete agreement with your first comments (and several others)… thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Always.
    .-= Faiqa´s last blog ..Music to My Ears =-.

    • @faiqa, Thanks so much, especially given how your family has been treated since then because of y’all’s tanner skin (saw your comment on Avitable’s blog). I thought the fear afterwards was a little silly, too. We went to Six Flags the following Saturday, and it was a ghost town. Made for some great roller coaster riding with no lines, though!
      .-= muskrat´s last blog ..again =-.

  21. thanks for serving our country.
    .-= staciesmadness´s last blog ..oh THE big D. =-.

  22. Your post was really moving. Thanks for writing. I was a 3rd year at Alabama at the time and I completely obsessed over the tv coverage. I always wondered what it would have been like to have to be at work that day, instead of skipping classes that turned out to have been canceled anyway.

    Thanks for your service too. Glad you made it back from Iraq (both times).

  23. I totally remember not comprehending the urgency everyone else had to get out of the building… it wasn’t until later that night that I was Oh shit. That really happened…

    Thanks for your service!
    .-= Belle´s last blog ..Secrets secrets are no fun, unless they’re told to me. =-.

  24. I want more. More! I must favorite you in my reader so I can read more. MOOOOOOORRRE! (I mean, I must favorite you again. Um…because that is where you were already.)

    P.S. A friend of mine just came home from Iraq. Second tour. He’s in the National Guard Reserves. He’s sure he’ll get called again and he’s willing to go. Again.

    • @Lisa, More deployments? Go to Hell, woman! I’m not going back to the desert just so you can have more military blog fodder! Good for your friend, though. If I didn’t have a family and lose money when I activate, I might try a fourth deployment. I may not have a choice next year, though.

  25. Damn. That was a bad day. And when you got called up… probably another bad day. I’m glad you’re still here to talk about it.
    .-= Carolyn Online´s last blog ..Gurgle. Gurgle. Gurgle. =-.

  26. Pingback: choosing teams | Father Muskrat

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