I was working in Chantilly, VA on that fateful day. I remember going in to work early ... 0800 ... because I had to install a server patch before the software testers came in at 0900. One tester was already in by the time I arrived. I started my install when one of my system administrators walked in. He and I made some small talk and discussed the work ahead of us that day. A few people started to trickle in shortly after 0830. By 0845, six of twenty-four of us were at our desks in our cramped room.
Shortly before 0900, someone ... maybe one of the developers ... popped his head in and said a plane flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
We were all a bit shocked but didn't think much of it. We discussed it and our consensus was that there had been some sort of technical malfunction in the plane. I mean, people don't fly planes into buildings on purpose.
And just as we reached that conclusion, another blur of a face popped into and out of our room stating, "They just hit the other tower!"
They? Who they?! And with what? What is going on?!?!
But we couldn't find out immediately the answers to our questions. The internet suddenly crawled to a stop. We had no televisions or radios in our room. A couple people scrambled back out to their cars to find out what happened. Within thirty minutes they came back, pale.
"Another plane just crashed into the Pentagon," was what we were told in a dead voice by one of our testers.
Everyone picked up phones and attempted to call loved ones to make sure everyone was okay and to see what was happening where they were. Initially, we were able to reach people. I was able to reach Tuffie, who was working near the Capitol Building. He told me that all the buildings were being evacuated and there were people and cars everywhere and no one was moving; he wasn't sure he would be able to get home. I told him to go to a friend's house in Dupont Circle and to call me when he got there.
But I never got his call. The phone systems were crippled by the weight of cellular traffic. Everyone was worried and all but two of us left for home. I knew that traffic would be a nightmare. And since I didn't know anything else about what was happening, I decided my best option was to stay where I was. So I did. And I worked. Because it was all I could do to keep my mind off of what might be going on.
Later in the afternoon, I received a call from Tuffie on my office phone. He made it to our friend's safely. To say I was relieved would have been a massive understatement. I told him I would meet him at JRs.
Around 1600, I started on my way home. I didn't know what to expect. Would the streets still be choked with cars? Would roads be closed off? Would emergency vehicles be moving about all over the area? It was enough to cause a panic attack.
What I did encounter was so eerie, so movie-like, and so fantastic that it will stay with me forever.
During my drive from my office abutting Dulles International Airport to JRs on 17th and Church Streets, NW, I saw one ... one ... car. But that, my faithful readers, wasn't the most terrible thing. No. Although I could see the smoke from as far away as Landmark Mall, it was my approach to DC from I-395 N, rounding the corner at Ridge Road that I saw the image that is eternally emblazoned on my memory.
The fire was still raging at the Pentagon. The bulk of the jet still lay broken on the ground. Emergency vehicles and equipment littered the west parking lot. A thick column of black smoke lay across the highway like a toppled colossus.
I slowed the car to just over 40 MPH in order to take it all in. A chill crawled across the back of my neck. A tear raised in my eye. I said a silent prayer. Once through the smoke, I resumed to normal speed and joined Tuffie at JRs. After holding him for what felt like a lifetime, we shared stories and drinks.
Every 9/11, I remember. I remember the lives lost. I remember the fear. I remember the fire. I remember the smoke. I remember the relief. I remember the love.
The love for my Tuffie. The love for my friends. The love for my family. And the love for my country.