Growing up, I remember my mother saying on more than one occasion that she would always remember where she was and what she was doing the day that President John F. Kennedy was shot because of the utter shock and, for lack of a better term, trauma, she felt upon hearing the news. The implausibility of that event created a memory that could not be erased. I never thought I would ever experience something that jarring but I was wrong. For my generation, the event that will forever be etched in our minds is September 11, 2001.

I am fascinated to hear other people’s stories about where they were and what they were doing that day mainly because they are all just so different, yet sadly similar. My story goes something like this:

We were just three weeks shy of our wedding on September 29. My then-fiancée and I were getting ready to go to work and had the news on in the background. The news was reporting that a plane had flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center. But, they had not yet figured out that it was a terrorist attack. For all we knew it was a tragic mechanical failure…

I was working in Santa Clara then for a technology division of Barnes and Noble and commuting from Oakland via Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor service. This meant I had to leave early to catch the train in Emeryville. I was listening to news coverage on the radio but still didn’t quite have a handle on the immensity of the situation in New York. So, I kept going on about my day per usual. I managed to find a parking space and right as I shut off the engine the announcement was made that the South Tower had collapsed. I had a moment of disbelief because I thought that couldn’t be right. I figured they had gotten something wrong so I got on the train.

At that point, we still didn’t know how many planes had been hijacked or where the next threat may have been coming from. The FAA was grounding every single plane flying over, or on their way to, the US in an effort to stop any more attacks. What you may not realize is while that was happening in the air, the same thing was happening with the rail lines. The FRA, which governs the country’s railways, called for an all stop across every single railway in the US. We were just outside of the Jack London Station when the first stop happened. For reasons that to this day I do not know, they released the trains about 10 minutes later. We were stopped again about 15 minutes after that and again released. The same thing happened a third time not too far from my stop at the Great America Station. Each time we stopped the fear level amongst passengers grew. We just didn’t know what was going on.

By the time I got to the office, I was shaking and confused and had no idea what I should be doing or where I should go. And, I wasn’t alone. The head office for Barnes and Noble is in a tall building on Fifth Ave in New York City. While I had been starting and stopping on the train, my colleagues in New York were watching the horror unveil in real-time from their office windows. Those of us who made it into the Santa Clara office that morning, packed ourselves into the conference rooms listening on speakerphones hanging on every word our friends and coworkers were using to describe what they were seeing—all while attempting to hold back their tears. It didn’t take long for management to close down the office and send us all home.

By the time I got back to our apartment, my now-husband was already there. His office was on the top floor of 4 Embarcadero Center with beautiful big windows and views of the Bay. They didn’t even let him in the building before he was sent home. We spent the day grateful to be with each other but heartbroken for those who lost their lives and for those they left behind.

There are many things I have forgotten and will forget during my 46 years but I know this. That fall day in September 2001, will be a memory I take with me always. I will never forget it.

We will never forget.

Comments are closed.