10 years ago, I arrived to my office about 15 minutes early. Unheard of. I was wearing a brown pencil skirt from J. Crew with a blue button down shirt from Talbots. My shoes were 9 West and were brown crocodile with blue interior. I looked cute and professional. I was 23, single, and working on Capitol Hill for a Congressman from Arizona. My job was to schedule his time. The TV in my office was tuned in to cable news, and within minutes of my arrival, the image on the screen was of smoke coming out of a building in New York. I watched, transfixed. My boss called on the phone to find out what was going on. These were the days before smart phones, before text messaging, and when Blackberries were a luxury. People still called on the phone when they needed information. He was in a hearing for one of his committees, and I told him I would keep him posted. Not long after that phone call, we watched as another plane hit another building. Then unconfirmed reports came in of a building being hit in DC. I looked out our West facing window and saw black smoke. I got the Congressman back on the phone and said, "I think you need to come back to the office. Now." He arrived at the same time as the Capitol Police officer, calling for evacuation. We picked up our bags and walked quickly outside to the sidewalk across from the Capitol building. As we looked around, wondering what to do next, another Capitol Police officer told us to get away quickly, as another plane was headed toward the Capitol. Our press secretary lived in a row house on Capitol Hill, so we headed to his house. I spent the next 45 minutes on the phone with the airlines, trying to find the plane that my boss's wife was on. It left from the same airport as the flight that hit the Pentagon left from. It had been grounded in Iowa.
There are a lot of things I will never forget about that day. There are a lot of things that I cannot remember. Did we eat? What time did I get home that night? Small details that are gone. What I do remember is the fear, sadness, and disbelief that I felt.
When I got home, I turned the TV on again. I watched as the Congressman and Senators gathered on the steps of the Capitol and sang "God Bless America." That's when I felt hope. The next day, I got up and went to work, just as I did every day. I don't remember what I was wearing. I wasn't afraid, but it didn't feel normal. In the weeks that followed, I helped the Red Cross hold a blood drive in my office building. I signed in hundreds of Congressional staffers who wanted to do something, anything. Our office closed in October for a week when anthrax was sent to The Hill. I learned how to put on a Haz-Mat suit. I found a place in the office for our new gas masks. Nothing was ever "normal" again, but life went on. Life always does.
My heart and thoughts today mostly go out to the family members of those people on the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania. The flight that was headed toward the Capitol. Those people are my personal heroes. Because of their bravery, I went back to work on September 12. Because of their sacrifice, my life went on. I can never forget.