September 11, 2001 was a much different type of day than today: it started as a classic beautiful fall day, with crystal clear blue sky and warm sunshine, unlike today's rainy, overcast and chilly weather.
It didn't take long for it turn into one of the ugliest days in history. The Curmudgeon, arriving at work early, was in his office overlooking the White House, working on a legal brief that needed to be filed later in the week.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Curmudgeon was taking our youngest, Aidan, to his first day of Montessori pre-school at Key Elementary School. Decked out in his new clothes and a nearly empty backpack, Aidan smiled proudly for the camera as his photo was taken with mom kneeling by his side on this momentous new day. The time was 9:02 a.m.
Not too long before that, one of the associates working with the Curmudgeon had come by with news that a plane--presumably a smaller one--had struck one of the World Trade Center towers, which was now in flames. We watched briefly on a little television in the next office over. It seemed like a bizarre accident--how could a plane hit a skyscraper on such a clear day?
After getting back to work, more urgent word came through: a second plane, clearly a large passenger jet, had just struck the other tower. Clearly, this was some horrific act of terrorism. After watching the replay a few times, we couldn't bear any more. Back to work, struggling to concentrate. It seemed to be a major problem for people in NY--nothing we could do.
But then the quiet in the Curmudgeon's office was disturbed by the slightest of sounds--a little whiff on the window, like a small gust of wind had struck it. But there was no wind that day; the sound was out of place. With his concentration shot anyway, the Curmudgeon got out of his chair and walked over to the large window, with its expansive view to the west, from Rosslyn all the way down to Crystal City.
Something was clearly wrong. A huge column of thick black smoke was expanding into the air over the Pentagon. The Curmudgeon raced into the adjacent office, where 3-4 other attorneys were glued to the television. "Forget the television, look out the window," the Curmudgeon screamed. The others in the room looked at him like he was crazy, then turned their heads to the window, letting out a collective "oh shit."
Just then, Mrs. Curmudgeon was crossing the Roosevelt Bridge on her way to work. She still had her camera and snapped some shots out the window of the dark cloud of smoke billowing ominously above the Pentagon.
In the Curmudgeon's office, we finally realized all of America was under attack. We looked anxiously out at the White House, a block away, and the Treasury Building, just across the street. Would they be targets? Were we safe?
Rumors were rife. The phone was ringing. The Capitol had been struck; no, a colleague could see the Capitol from his office. Another caller said she heard the State Dept. had been truck bombed; no, we could see Foggy Bottom, no smoke coming from there. Other cities had been hit--the Sears Tower in Chicago was in flames; no, a partner in our Chicago office said no such thing had occurred.
Then there was a rumble from a secondary explosion at the Pentagon. Time to get out. The street was a madhouse. Secret service agents were expanding a cordon around the White House; cars jammed the street while others tried to get out of parking garages; a mass of people was moving in both directions.
As we headed for home, believing we would have to walk back to Arlington, we noticed people going into a Metro station. Surprised to find it running, we endured a short, but intensely quiet, trip home. As we walked the final four blocks home, we could see the black smoke from the other side of Arlington, and hear the emergency vehicles racing up and down Lee Highway. Suddenly, a military fighter jet roared overhead, causing many to instinctively drop to the sidewalk. No--it's ours. Too little, too late.
The rest of the day, of course, was spent in front of the television reliving the horrible spectacle as the two towers came crashing down and the shock sank in. We had to retrieve our two boys, then ages 6 and 3, early from school. So much for Aidan's big first day! We wanted to shield them from the horror, but it was impossible. Still, they didn't really fully grasp what was going on. Thankfully, they eventually went off and lost themselves in play, as only children can do.
It's sad that the Bush administration used 9/11 as an excuse to go after Iraq, rather than focusing on the real target, Bin Laden in Afghanistan. We could've gotten him back then, and we could've avoided a trillion dollar mistake.
Are we safer today? We doubt it. We can never forget 9/11.