I didn’t know Melaina (not her name) on 9/11, but I know her now…as the infectious Ex-Pat Mom of a toddler in Glasgow whom I became friends with despite continents and oceans between us. Until Melaina, I had never known anyone who was living in DC on 9/11 – she was a 21-year-old student at The George Washington University. This was her September 11th, 2001.
For me, September 11th started out pretty fucking awesome. I waited outside of Tower Records in Foggy Bottom and at midnight got the last pair of tickets to see Ben Folds at the 9:30 Club that night when I bought his new album. I went to bed pretty excited to have scored the tickets and knew I had a pretty good day ahead of me. Obviously you know I was wrong.
I woke up to a phone call from my Mom telling me to turn on the news. She’d been on the phone with a friend making fun of Katie Couric’s hair when a plane hit the World Trade Center behind her. She said they’d thought a private plane had crashed into it but now with two planes it was something more deliberate.
Mom: Does the IMF have anything to do with the World Trade Center?
(I lived across the street from the IMF)
Me: Probably but don’t worry nothing in DC is taller than the Capitol so it would be really hard to fly anything into something here.
At this point the fire alarm in my dorm goes off. I remember thinking it was a really inappropriate time for a fire drill with what was going on in NYC. I grabbed my contacts, some clothes, makeup and phone and headed to my best-friend S’s dorm room a few blocks away to finish getting dressed.
While I’m in her room watching the news we see that the Capitol is being evacuated. I call my friend who works on the Hill.
Me: Are you okay?
D: Yea there is a fire drill or something, why what’s going on?
Me: Just get out. Get out and go as far away as you can.
Around this time my ex-boyfriend calls me and tells me to leave downtown and come out to his place up by the Maryland border. We had a bad break-up so if he is telling me to get out it can’t be good. I remember when I toured his campus when I was in high-school the tour guide told me that one of the buildings on campus was built to look identical to the Capitol so if planes flew in from the Atlantic to bomb DC they’d hit there first. I decline his invite.
We are still watching the news and we hear something loud and far away, but not. At the same time bombs are being reported at T Street, the State Department and other locations. As far as we know we are surrounded by bombs. I live 3 blocks from the White House one way and another three the other way to the State Department. We try to call my S’s Mom but the phone lines are dead. S grabs all her jewellery and we head out.
We go to my friend B’s room who still has phone service; her dorm is new to campus this year so isn’t on the same grid. I’m sure my University will say phones were overloaded but I’m pretty sure they cut the lines. We can’t remember the name of S’s Mom’s school in Minnesota but after googling Catholic schools we find it and somehow get the office to put us through to her classroom. She tells us to leave and she’ll contact S’s Aunt who lives north of Baltimore and we can go there.
We won’t leave without our friend J. We wait outside the doors of the building we know her class is about to let out from and stop her. She’s laughing at us stalking her and has no idea what’s going on. We fill her in and she agrees we need to get out. We want to take her car but she thinks it’s too risky. At this point I should mention another girl we know has found us. She’s swithering whether to come with us or not and we are trying to just leave and honestly we don’t want her with us. She follows us anyway.
J is European and remembers Al Qaeda blowing up the Métro de Paris so we decide taking the Metro (DC subway) is not an option unless we can get to an above ground station. We somehow get a cab and he starts driving us away from downtown. J calls her Mom and while I don’t speak Flemish I can make out “bombs” and that she doesn’t want to die.
The cab driver refuses to take us any further. We beg him to take us to the first above ground station but he says he needs to get home to his children. He drops us off by the zoo and we start walking. We walk and walk until we get to the first above ground station and take the train as far as it will go. We somehow get a message to S’s uncle of where to pick us up.
I should mention around this point I start to get probably more than a smidge bitchy towards the girl who followed us. She annoys me in general but I have no patience today.
Girl: But I’ve never been to the World Trade Towers before
Me: NO WHINING!
None of us can get a call out on our cell phones as the networks are jammed. We sit and wait for S’s uncle while I play songs on my Nokia–tinny versions of “Big Pimpin” and other songs of the moment in 30 second ringtone snippets. We are at the completely wrong end of the Metro for S’s uncle before he finds us and takes us to Burger King.
I fell asleep on the ride from Burger King to S’s Aunt and Uncle’s house; it’s the first time I’ve fallen asleep in a car since I was a small child. We arrive at their house and are welcomed with open arms. S’s Aunt has tshirts and soccer shorts with toothbrushes sat out for each of us and she’s created an amazing spread for dinner. At this point the girl complains she can’t eat shrimp and I stop myself from telling her not to eat it then.
Things start to get blurry here. My new waitressing job calls and gets upset I can’t come in to work.
Work: No one is at work and we are slammed we need to to come in.
Me: I’m north of Baltimore we left the city.
Work: Well when will you be back we need you here.
Me: Well I can’t get there.
I can’t remember what we watched on TV that night but I remember scrolling the girl out of the couch and making her sleep on the floor. Scrolling is something Fraternity boys do; if you joined the fraternity ahead of another member you have a higher scroll number and can call dibs on things so to speak. It’s not something we really do, but tonight I do. I also think I asked S’s Aunt for cough syrup but didn’t tell her I wanted it so I could sleep.
A week later I flew home to Ohio. There was supposed to be planned protests against the IMF and my University was making everyone leave campus; if you lived more than a certain amount of miles away they were helping with flights. The protests were cancelled, but my flight was already purchased. I flew out of Dulles (which I never did, everyone knows National is way easier) and there was still yellow police tape around the check-in desk where Flight 77 checked in. I was felt up and down and all around going through security but I flew less than a week after 9/11 and was fine.
Reading stories about that day or seeing footage makes my chest get tight. I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder shortly after but I wouldn’t blame that on 9/11. I get accepted to study abroad but my friends tell me I can’t leave now not after what’s happened. I make some dubious choices the rest of the school year but I won’t blame them all on what happened but my state of mind is affected from then out.
S and I went to see Fahrenheit 9-11 in DC with our then boyfriends (now our husbands) when it came out and sobbed uncontrollably pretty much through the entire movie. I long for the time when they didn’t show graphic photos on tv and I could easily avoid the topic all together. I was lucky. I was okay. My friends and family are okay. No one I know was hurt. I didn’t know that then. All I knew on that day was I was running for my life and wasn’t turning back.
We resolve to make a disaster preparedness kit in case anything ever happens again we can hop in J’s car and leave. We get two huge jugs of water, kitty litter (J has a cat), tins of peaches and corn and frozen pizzas. We eat the pizzas the same day and decide which male we’ll take with us in case we have to repopulate the earth. Things have changed, but they are still the same.
Today, Melaina Moms like a Tiger and Tweets like a Bird as a Social Media Consultant in Glasgow where she lives with her husband and beautiful Blondie Boy.