September 11, 2001: Where Were You?

They say that any American alive at the time can tell you exactly what he/she was doing when JFK was shot in Dallas. September 11, 2001 was one of those days as well.

I was in Holland, for a good friend’s wedding. I think it was a day or two after the wedding, and I was in Utrecht (it was afternoon in Holland), in a television store, looking for a VHS player that could play international VHS settings. The guy in the store had just told me that they don’t sell those, but I could buy a Dutch one and just get someone who knew about these things to open it up and change it illegally. I was debating this while aimlessly wandering around the store, when I heard two people in the next isle go “Oh my God, is this real? Oh my God!”

I wandered over, just in time to see the second plane crash into the second tower on live TV. These two people and I were the only people in the store when it happened, but within minutes the place was packed with people watching the footage in horror on the many screens, as it was playing over and over again.

After about 20 minutes I walked out in a daze of disbelief, not being able to wrap my mind around it yet. Outside I had to make my way through throngs of people watching the news on the TV screens in the store window–passersby who saw it out of the corner of their eye and stopped to see what that was.

As I walked toward the train station, to go back to my brother’s place, every cafe was packed with people watching TV. In the train, strangers were talking with one another about how unbelievable and shocking it was.

Back at my brother’s, I immediately called T, who was at home in the U.S. with the kids, then four and two years old. T was also finding out if all our friends in New York were okay.

In the meantime it had become apparent that these were well-coordinated attacks, and we also learned about the attack on the Pentagon and the White House. I admit I was freaking out and I wanted T and the kids to come to Holland immediately, but of course that wasn’t feasible or even rational. But it was my first reaction. And T, of course, wanted me home with him and the kids as soon as possible.

My brother, my sister-in-law and I were glued to the TV for the next few days for news.  No planes were flying from Schiphol to the States, and thousands of people were stranded at the airport. People who lived near Schiphol were inviting Americans to come stay with them until more was known about when they could continue their flight home.

I was scheduled to fly home myself a few days later, and for a while it looked like that wasn’t going to happen, but in the end my plane was one of the first planes to fly from Schiphol to the States after the attack. It was almost completely empty. I got to stretch out across an entire row of seats.

I had tickets to Houston and from there to McAllen, in the Rio Grande Valley, but Tony was too anxious to see me, so he drove the kids to Houston to pick me up there. We were so happy to be together again!

Since we were in Houston anyway, and T didn’t want to drive straight back again, we went to the aquarium, but it felt weird and our hearts weren’t in it. Of course B, who was four, was oblivious and thoroughly enjoyed watching the stingrays swim overhead.

So where were you on 9/11? What were you doing? How did you first hear about the attacks? What was your first reaction? Let me know in a comment.

11 responses to “September 11, 2001: Where Were You?

  1. I was in Toronto, working on the translation of a Dutch novel, when a friend phoned and said: “Turn on your TV for something you’ve never seen before.” “What channel?” I asked. “I’m watching the CBC,” my friend said, “but I imagine it’s on pretty well every channel.” By this time both of the towers had been hit, and my friend was right: I had never seen anything like it before. I was profoundly shocked to see it for the first time, I can tell you. I alerted another friend, and we speculated about who was responsible, agreeing that it was probably a group of Palestinians taking revenge for American support of Israel. It looked horrifying, especially the collapse of the first of the towers. By that time I had seen as much as I could stand, and for want of anything better to do I went back to work. I kept the radio on, however, and heard that the workers in several Toronto office towers had been sent home, which struck me as an over-reaction. One of the many nice things about being Canadian is that no one seems to hate us all that much.


  2. I was at home. We had just moved into a new house a couple of weeks before and I was still getting us settled in. Our youngest son was three and was home with me. He rode with me to drive his brother to kindergarten and I remember vaguely hearing something on NPR about the WTC but I was distracted and turned off the radio. When we got home, I put youngest son in front of a cartoon with a pile of toys and was in the kitchen scrubbing something when my partner called from work and told me to turn on the news. When I turned it on, both towers had been hit but neither had fallen yet. The Pentagon had not yet been hit and the 4th plane hadn’t yet crashed in Pennsylvania. I saw all that on the news in bits and pieces over the next couple of hours. I didn’t want our youngest seeing or hearing any of it on the TV so I would try to get him engaged in something and then go watch in another room for a few minutes at a time.


  3. The day before 9/11 I learned that I was expecting my first child. In the haze of that news, I couldn’t really get myself to start working on that Tuesday, which is why I turned on the TV, also in the Netherlands where we live. It seemed like the absolute wrong moment to carry an innocent child and I felt incredibly vulnerable.


  4. I was actually in NYC that day. Giovanni, my boyfriend of one week (although we’d been getting to know each other for a couple of months) was walking me to work (29th and 7th) before heading down to Union Square. The first plane must have hit just as I’d been turning the corner toward my office. I remember actually noting the time and found out later that’s when the first plane struck. By the time my boyfriend got to 6th Ave., which had a view down to the towers, he saw everyone stopped and staring. As he was looking on in horror, the second plane hit.

    Oddly, I heard about it from a coworker who heard about it from her British boyfriend’s sister who had seen the news in the UK. It didn’t sink in initially, but by the time we realized there were four planes and that one had hit the Pentagon and another was missing, that’s when it became truly scary. My coworker and I (who were friends) decided to leave work after the first tower fell. I lived in Queens and didn’t want to try to take the subway back home, even if it was still running. Giovanni and I had only been seriously dating for a week, but he had said I could stay with him, once I got in touch with him. My coworker had also offered me a place to stay since she lived in Manhattan. Both of them lived south of 14th street, so no matter who I stayed with, it meant walking south, in the direction of the towers, whereas most people seemed to be walking north. Walking down those streets that we knew so well was unnerving. Some of the streets were more packed than usual, but they were eerily quiet, other than the sounds of the sirens. The further south I got, the tighter the band of pressure around my chest as the anxiety increased.

    I did end up staying with Giovanni for the next couple of days, pretty much glued to CNN. Watching footage of people standing on nearby streets, looking for their loved ones was difficult. Seeing those same flyers when I finally left the apartment two days later was even more devastating.

    I was lucky that the people I knew who worked in the towers got out in time, but the longstanding impact that day had on NY and the people there for months and years to come is something I’ll never forget.


  5. We were at home, watching, unbelievable footage of the first plane to fly into the tower, watching over and over again, then we saw the second plane come and fly into the tower and we were just sitting there… still feels as if your heart stops when I think of that day and those images


  6. Well, those last comments of mine were obviously meant to come out after each comment they were responses to. One of the bloggers i follow wrote a heartwrenching story on her blog, and I want to share it here.


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