Crisp morning air saturates my face as I exit the terrorist threatened State Department headquarters.
I must get out of here!
Brushing gently across the back of my right shoulder, a soft hand jerks me out of my head.
“Where are we supposed to go?” my friend and fellow Presidential Management Fellow, Sarah, asks, as if I have an answer.
Why would I have an answer? I don’t know what’s going on!
“I don’t know. Just away from the building, I guess.” I reply, knowing full well neither of us are satisfied with this response.
We join the mass of fellow diplomats vacating the center of our nation’s foreign policy establishment on our way to. . . who knows where.
When will that fourth plane hit my office?
Why would they fly planes into buildings?
As we walk up 20th street, through the buildings which make up The George Washington University, I realize I have not told my mom I’m ok yet.
She’s probably freaking out in Vegas right now!
“You want to stop by one of the computer centers to e-mail your parents you’re ok?” I ask Sarah.
“YES!” she replies instantly.
We slowly make our way through the crowd of students scrambling the other direction toward the river to get a look at the smoke spewing out over the Pentagon.
Why do people rush to see violence?
As we enter the computer lab, we realize it’s filled with people.
Could they all be here for the same reason, to write their moms?
Sarah gives me a look of needing to go first.
I let her get in front of me in line.
We each eventually get our turn.
“Hi Mom, I’m ok. I got out of the State Department just fine. Hanging out at GW. Not sure where to go right now. Will call you later. -Jeremy”
Sarah looks over at me. I look back.
What do we do now?
“There’s a place we can eat and watch the news near here,” I offer.
“Sure, I guess so,” she replies, clearly lost in her mind, too.
As we head into J-Street, the student union area of GW, security guards are swarming the building.
“Everyone has to evacuate the building. We are shutting down the university” they yell.
Where do we go from here?
I turn to Sarah as we descend the stairs away from the building.
“Should we head home?” she asks.
“I guess so,” I reply, not knowing what else to say.
For a moment I look at Sarah.
Do I go home with her, or do I go home alone?
She’s staring at me.
Then, she leans in, wrapping her arms around me.
“I guess I’ll see you later.” She says as she offers me a hug.
I’m going to be alone now?!
I don’t want to be alone now.
I hug back, not knowing what else to do.
“Please be safe.” She offers, still holding me with her arms.
“You too.” I offer back, still lost in the moment.
Neither of us move.
We simply stand still, arms around each other, for who knows how long, before we break our embrace and each turn to go our separate directions. She toward Capital Hill. Me toward the Roosevelt Bridge to walk home to Arlington because the metro is closed.
I’m alone now.
The sea of humanity flows over the bridge, out of D.C.
We stare at the skies as F-16 fighters roar overhead in a combat air patrol.
The smoke of the Pentagon fire looms large as I make my way down GW parkway on foot toward Crystal City.
I am alone.
Once I enter my studio apartment, overlooking the Pentagon, I sit down on the couch, turn on CNN, and try desperately to call my mom.
I am alone.
September 11, 2001 was a memorable day for most people old enough to know what was going on. We each have our own stories of how we responded to what was happening. Here is mine. Who knew then the events of that day would set-off a string of wars in which we still find ourselves today, a refugee crisis from which the politics of The West were shifted hard right, and an economic disruption we may feel for a long time to come. The root causes of that day stem back through The 20th Century’s War, showing us clearly we are still part of that conflict even as we end the second decade of the 21st Century.