When Everything Changed
September 11, 2001
July 4, 2002
I was planning to go on a tour of the Hilton Community Garden on Capitol Hill at noon
on September 11. The tour was organized by the LCPA Forum on Gardens and Landscape
Design and we were supposed to bring our own lunches plus dishes to share, so we could
have a picnic. I got up early that morning, since I had not yet concocted anything.
I quickly improvised a bean salad using items from my garden and pantry. My lunch and
the salad went into a picnic basket, and since I wanted to show off my versatility as
a gardener, I loaded my backpack with different kinds of tomatoes I had raised.
It was a beautiful day for a picnic, I thought, as I drove to the Forest Glen subway
stop. Late as usual, I ran to catch the train, my body precariously balanced with
the backpack, a frontpack and a fannypack, not to mention the picnic basket. Luckily,
I found an empty seat on the crowded train and I sat down with the basket and the
various packs still attached. I heard something go squish in my backpack and then
I remembered the tomatoes!
When I arrived at the Library, it was about 9:30 and I put the bean salad in the
refrigerator. When I got to my desk, Vera said, "Oh, Margy, you haven't heard yet.
Terrorists have hijacked two planes and flown them into the World Trade Center."
"Oh, my God!" I cried, as a group of people gathered around.
"Look, here it is," Vera said as she called up one of the news web pages on the
Internet. "Oh," she gasped. "Now they've hit the Pentagon."
We all stood around in stunned disbelief, not knowing what to do. Then, we found
out another plane had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
Someone came down from the cafeteria and said that if you looked out the windows,
you could see the Pentagon on fire. Like people who have to slow down while
they're driving to look at an accident, some of us had to go upstairs to check it
out. Maybe we had to convince ourselves it was really true, or perhaps we had to
catch a glimpse of history in the making. On the sixth floor, people were leaving,
saying that the cafeteria was closed. I walked to the windows and saw clouds of
black smoke in the sky coming from across the Potomac.
As we went back downstairs, people were gradually starting to leave the building
and the police were going floor to floor, telling people to evacuate. Before I
left, I called my husband, Perry, and left a message on our answering machine.
I said to turn on the TV if he hadn't heard the news, that we were being evacuated
and I would be home as soon as I could. I started crying, because I wasn't sure
if I would get home.
I debated whether I should get the bean salad out of the refrigerator. Would it
drag me down if I had to walk a long way or would I need it in case it was hard to
get food? Would the beans give me a terminal case of flatulence? I decided to leave
the bean salad in the refrigerator.
When I got outside the building, I saw the street overflowing with people trying to
get into the Capitol South subway entrance. I wondered if the subway were closed.
I saw my friend Marilyn and we decided to walk together to Union Station, hoping the
subway stop there would be open and less crowded. We took a detour instead of
walking past the Capitol, thinking it might be a target of the terrorists.
"I hope they don't bomb that beautiful Capitol," Marilyn said.
"Or the Library," I added.
The streets and sidewalks were jammed with cars and pedestrians. Once in a while
an emergency vehicle got through.
I felt as if I were in a bad dream, but I realized we had crossed a point in history
when nothing would be the same. This was like the day President Kennedy was
assassinated, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, the day of the 1929 stock market crash,
or the day Fort Sumter was fired upon.
When Marilyn and I approached Union Station, we began walking near the building in
the direction of the subway entrance. A police officer yelled at us through a
megaphone, "Ladies, get away from the building!"
We noticed a crowd of people across the street and were told that Union Station
was closed, that there had been a bomb threat.
Then Marilyn said, "Well, Margy, let's just walk to Maryland," as if she were saying,
let's walk across the street.
"OK," I said. How many miles was it, I wondered. Six? Eight? Ten?
We walked along North Capitol Street and stopped to get snacks and bottled water
from a vendor. We came to a bus stop where we saw Pauline, another friend from
the Library. She and a woman from the DC Government were trying to catch a bus to
where they lived near Fort Totten. They told us how they thought we could catch a
bus into Maryland.
I went with Marilyn into a gas station to get change for bus fare. We had to buy
Slim Jims, so they would give us change.
We came back out and waited and waited but no buses came, so we all started walking
to the next bus stop. The streets were so crowded with cars trying to get out of
town, the buses probably couldn't get through. We walked miles along the bus route
and our legs and feet started hurting. I wished that I had on tennis shoes, but I
was grateful that I had worn flat sandals instead of high heels. It was comforting
to have companions who were friendly and familiar with the area. We walked past row
houses and saw an elderly gentleman working in his garden. He smiled and nodded to us,
while he listened to breaking news on the radio. Because of fear and uncertainty
about the future, it seemed to me that people were trying to be nicer to each
At one point Marilyn said, "Margy, we've got to live so we can go home and see our
husbands and our dogs, and so we can go back to the Greenbelt Writer's Group." For
several years, we had enjoyed belonging to a writers' group that met in Greenbelt.
We turned onto Michigan Avenue and walked more miles to Catholic University, where
we finally found the subway open. Marilyn, Pauline and the woman from the DC
Government and I hugged each other and boarded the train. I took the Red Line to
Forest Glen where I got in my car and drove to my house. It had taken me four hours
to get home, whereas it usually takes one, but I was thankful to be alive.
I went inside and told Perry and Louise, my mother-in-law, that I was OK.
"We were so worried about you," they said.
The TV was on and we kept seeing footage of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
I cried for all the people who were murdered and I felt a surge of love for my country
and fellow citizens. I realized the passengers who made the plane crash in Pennsylvania
might well have saved my life and that of many others. The intended target was very
possibly the Capitol. The hijackers, who weren't very good pilots, might have hit the
Library of Congress across the street instead. And what about the plane that crashed
into the Pentagon? At first, it had circled around the Capitol and the White House,
before it crashed into the Pentagon where it didn't do nearly as much damage as it
might have. Were some of the passengers on that flight heroes too? Did they prevent
a worse tragedy from happening?
October 14, 2001
I went to church and noticed that it has been packed every Sunday since the attack.
We pray for victims and their families, our country, our leaders, our armed forces,
the police and firefighters and the heroes on the airplanes. We pray for our enemies.
Pastor Larry said in one of his sermons that we could admire the hijackers for their
clever use of resources and that we should be equally clever in using our own resources
to seek justice but not revenge.
I keep wishing we could go back to a time when all we were worried about were things
like: where is Chandra Levy, why are so many sharks attacking people off the coast of
Florida, and how can we get rid of rats in the District? I am trying to get back to
normal, but I know things will never be the same.
Cold watermelon on a steamy day, juice drips from my lips.
I write in my notebook and my friend reads her magazine, while the dog Te Amo drinks
ice cubes under a picnic table.
I got the nerve to get on a plane and fly away--here I am in Arkansas on
Old and young, black and white, Native Americans, my fellow Americans, my brothers
sisters, they fish in the river, while crows watch from power lines and
husbands ride their bicycles.
O Great Spirit, keep our country safe, let our families be OK, protect my friends
at LC and all the
folks back in DC.
Trees wearing kudzu blow in the breeze, mingling smells of melon and water
near the river, where the green grass grows and over the dam, the water
while clouds like elephants fly through a pink-tinted sky and geese honk at cars
We eat crackers and hummus, carrots and chicken salad, have caffeine-free Cokes
sugar-free dessert, while the dog Te Amo gets handouts under the picnic table.
O Great Creator, we give you thanks for this food, this beautiful day, and all our many
Sky turns the water orange and gold, turquoise, violet and crimson, and at dark,
and crackle, sizzle and whistle, as they look down at themselves
in the mirror.
To One who brought us peace today, please hold us tight throughout the night and
keep us close
for now, for tomorrow and forever.