“Don’t you know America is under attack?”
Those were the first words out of the mouth of a man whose voice I had never heard before, and whose name I do not remember. I didn’t realize what he was talking about. ‘Another kook,’ I thought to myself. ‘Here we go again.’
The date was September 11th, 2001. I was working for a company called Convergy’s doing tech support over the phone for a broadband internet service provider. I was used to the occasional nut calling in. They didn’t call to talk about their internet, but instead just to chat about some random this or that. It was actually somewhat common. There’s a lot of lonely people in the world, and a free tech support line suited some folks’ need for a little companionship. That’s what I thought this was. Perhaps it was a veteran wanting to relive Pearl Harbor with me, or maybe it was some 2nd Amendment activist calling to talk about how this Senator or that Congressman was coming to take everyone’s guns away.
That’s when I snickered audibly into the phone. It’s a moment I’ve thought back on occasionally in the years since. The rest of the phone call is a blur. I don’t recall anything else about it. I’m not sure he even stayed on the line. All I can remember are his words and my inappropriate reaction to them. If only I had known.
Soon after we hung up, my friend and co-worker Justis came back from the break room where she had grabbed herself a coffee and happened upon the news on one of the televisions. “A plane hit the World Trade Center,” she said. I was aware of a plane once hitting the Empire State Building and, while concerning, I assumed it was probably some smaller Cessna; an inexperienced pilot who made the mistake of his life, probably killing himself and maybe even the few passengers he had onboard. Again, if only I had known.
It wasn’t long after this that the commotion started. There was a small glass-enclosed office in the back of the call center where a television was always tuned to CNN. People began to huddle around it inside. Once no one else could fit comfortably in the office, they started standing on the outside of the glass walls, craning their necks and standing on their tiptoes to try and see around each other. Typically, when you weren’t wearing a headset in the call center, there was a never-ending buzz in the distance as a couple hundred of your co-workers were speaking at once. This time, the buzz sounded a little bit different, and more and more it was only coming from one area of the room.
Normally we would get in trouble for abandoning our workstations. But as the news spread throughout the country, the calls just weren’t coming in. Suddenly, lack of internet connectivity and billing issues weren’t of as much interest to our customers.
Concern was setting in. People began to call their families. The Operations Manager of our call center gathered us around and explained that he had gotten word that another hijacked plane was believed to be flying over our general area. He gave us a choice. We could stay and continue to field what few calls there were. Or, we could leave without penalty. We didn’t have to use a sick day, or dip into any paid time off we had accrued. We could just go. The vast majority chose the latter.
I didn’t have a cell phone, so I walked to the break room and called my mom from one of the courtesy phones. She would come to pick me up. A big group stood around outside talking while some of us were waiting for our rides. The older folks among us were planning to get their kids from school. I just wanted to go home.
My mom pulled up and I hopped in the car. We drove home in disbelief at what was happening. There were a lot of cars on the road, and we wondered what their drivers and passengers were thinking, where they were going. We got to our house and I sat on the couch watching the carnage unfold. The footage of the towers being hit again and again. Talk of people throwing themselves out of windows to escape the flames. Dust covered faces. Tears. A million questions raced through my mind. What’s going to happen next? Will there be a nuclear attack? Are we going to be okay? The reporters on television didn’t have any of the answers.
None of us did.
What do you remember about 9/11 and where you were? Share your memories in the comments below.