Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11th - Where Were You?

On September 11th, 2001, I was under the impression that it was just a regular day.

I woke up early, made the bed, took a shower.

It must have been just shortly before 9 when the phone rang. As I picked up, I hoped that it was my work calling, to tell me to stay home. Instead, it was a friend, who said simply "Turn on CNN."

I remember standing barefoot on the scarred hardwood flooring, too transfixed by what I was watching even to sit down. We were watching live when the second plane hit. The world was sickened by what it saw, but none of us could look away.

I hated walking Jason to work, I hated to be separated. But on that day, everyone was thinking similarly. The city of Ottawa was slowly closing down.

Jason arrived at work just to send his employees home; the Mackenzie King Bridge where the Rideau Centre is located is also home to the National Defense Head Quarters, and they were taking no chances.

I was so relieved to have Jason back that we both refused to think about my own work on Parliament Hill. It had always been high-security, obviously, with the usual bomb threats and protests taking place. But after 9/11 it was a very different place. First of all, it was quiet. Restriction was limited; every car undercarriage was scrupulously searched with mirrors, every person passed through metal detectors, RCMP presence doubled. And the tourists stayed away. For a while, they stayed away from Ottawa, our lovely capital city, in general. The malls were empty, the hotels were vacant. The halls of Parliament were subdued, but not just because of a lack of tourists.

What we lacked in tourists, we made up for in panic. I remember on our first day back, low flying planes kept all of us in nervous anticipation. We all had an eye on an emergency exit, we were prepared to dive under a desk at any moment. Only later did we find out these planes were involved in a search & rescue mission in the river behind our building, although I'm not certain that this explanation would have done much to calm our fears at the time. None of us were at our most rational.

Every day we had to walk through throngs of hundreds, thousands of people, living, breathing memorials to our fallen brothers and sisters. We had to pick our way through a path strewn with flowers and remembrances just to get to work. None of us could forget, and none of us were permitted to. We worked where people came to remember.

When John Ashcroft came to sign the pact, I sold him the pens, the pens that he told me were "about to being pieces of history." He thought I should be impressed. Mostly, I was sad.

And then the anthrax scares started, and didn't stop. Every package we received was suspicious, every envelope I opened brought me close to tears. Almost daily, it seemed, someone was removed from the building, crying, screaming, to be stripped and bathed in the special showers installed out back. Parliament received so many of these scares that we lost our lunch room to it - a brand new anthrax office was born. White powder was our new enemy. We were sent home with fridge magnets with emergency instructions printed on them. We were fighting our enemy with fridge magnets.

I wanted very badly to quit.

And that's what I remember. We all remember.
Where were you?

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