We just closed all of the windows in the house. We’re close to the Pentagon and the air is thick with black smoke. It’s beginning to seep into the house. We sat outside with all of the neighbors for a while, but the air was turning our eyes red and making it hard to breath. It was time to come in.
Everyone smells the fuel. It’s not just my imagination. I’ve showered several times now. Washed my clothes again and again. I can’t get rid of the smell, I was no longer sure if it was real or my imagination. Everyone tell me it’s real, but for a while I wondered if they could be humoring me, pretending to smell it. It’s hard to know what the fuck to think.
We never turn on the TV in the mornings. Today, on a whim, Husband did, just as a plane hit the WTC. As they were showing the impact in replay they cut away. A second plane had crashed.
It was unthinkable. It was confusing. It was also New York, it wasn’t here.
I tore myself away and got in the car. I had a meeting, there would be hell to pay if I missed it. The Dean would never forgive me. I had a bad feeling but I went anyway.
As I drove in I surfed the radio stations looking for news. All music. No mention of NY. Traffic was bad on the highway. I had this delusional idea that I should take a shortcut. That it would be a safer route. I don’t do it often, since it’s easy to get tangled in a military convoy if you scoot through at the wrong time of day. It involves some access roads, the Pentagon parking lot, some back roads. It’s hard to know what I was thinking, but I’m pretty sure I felt like of all the potential targets in town, no one was dumb enough to hit the Pentagon. Plus, there wasn’t any news on the radio, so we had to be in the clear.
As I came up along the Pentagon I saw helicopters.
That’s not strange. It’s the Pentagon.
Then I saw the plane. There were only a few cars on the road, we all stopped. I know I wanted to believe that plane was making a low descent into National Airport, but it was nearly on the road. And it was headed straight for the building.
It made no sense.
It was there. A huge jet. Then it was gone.
A massive hole in the side of the Pentagon gushed smoke. The noise was beyond description. The smell seemed to singe the inside of my nose. The earth seemed to stop shaking for a second, but then sirens began and the ground seemed to shake again – this time from the incoming barrage of firetrucks, police cars. military vehicles.
People were pouring out of the building like ants. An MP checked on me. Made sure I hadn’t been hurt. No burning debris in the car, just smoke. Just me.
We had a conversation. I don’t remember it.
He tried to send me south, but traffic was pouring out of the city by now.
“Where do you work?”
I told him.
“Go there. Stay there.”
He cleared me to leave the grounds and sent me on my way. I felt like I’d been hypnotized. The man told me to drive north, so I drove north. It was the stupidest possible thing to do.
I called my boss. I had no memory of how to work my cellphone. I hit redial and his number came up. “Something hit the Pentagon. It must have been a helicopter.”
I knew that wasn’t right, but I heard myself say it. I heard myself believe it, if only for a minute.
“Buildings don’t eat planes. That plane, it just vanished. There should have been parts on the ground. It should have rained parts on my car. The airplane didn’t crash. Where are the parts?” That’s the conversation I had with myself on the way to work. It made sense this morning. I swear that it did.
When I got to work, no one could believe that the Pentagon had been hit. They were busy following reports that the State Department had been bombed. There’s not a lot of airflow in the media center, there in front of the monitors. After a few minutes or arguing with my coworkers, insisting the Pentagon had been hit, it came on the news. The images came on the news.
Up to that point I’d been ordered to attend that meeting I went in for in the first place. My somewhat sooty, smelly, shocked demeanor got me out of it.
Unfortunately, now there was no way to get home. The roads were jammed. There was no where to go.
I finally cleared my head enough to drive and spent hours getting home. I spent an eternity in my car. I couldn’t roll up the windows, the car smelled like the Inferno.
Eventually I got back home, back to the place I should have stayed in the first place.
There seems to be no footage of the crash, only the site. The gash in the building looks so small on TV. The massiveness of the structure lost in the tight shots of the fire. There was a plane. It didn’t go over the building. It went into the building. I want them to find it whole, wedged between floors or something. I know that isn’t going to happen, but right now I pretend.
I want to see footage of the crash.
I want to make it make sense. I want to know why there’s this gap in my memory, this gap that makes it seem as though the plane simply became invisible and banked up at the very last minute, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.
I don’t want to see footage of the crash.
It seems so unhealthy to see the planes in NY crash over and over. To see the building fall again and again. I saw it once, the Pentagon is shambles. I don’t know that I want to see the crash ever again. Even the pictures of the blaze are too much right now as the firefighters try to contain it. It’s weird to watch it on TV while the same smoke drifts by your windows.
I’ve showered and showered. Ultimately, I think I’m going to throw away my clothes. I don’t think the smell will ever come out.