On 9/11, my dad called me and told me he wasn't in the Pentagon, the U.S. Department of Defense headquarters.

He had one of those secret jobs that so many people around Washington have. I didn't really know what he did -- still don't -- and, to be honest, I wasn't concerned that he was in the Pentagon.

Perhaps, if I knew that he worked there, that day would have etched a completely different memory in my mind.

But, it didn't. I didn't lose anyone on 9/11. I didn't spend the ensuing days mourning a close relative or friend. I don't have that kind of story.

We've heard a lot of stories over the years of the heroics of the firefighters, the sorrow of the widows, and the horrific stories of those who trapped in the World Trade Center's North and South towers, above the fires. What we don't often hear, is the story of the everyday American citizen.

One thing 9/11 taught us all is that, you didn't have to know someone directly or even live in New York or Washington -- we all experienced 9/11.


Every year, when Sept. 11 rolls around, the question always comes up, Where were you on 9/11?

When I found out that two planes hit the World Trade Center, I was in a 12th grade film studies class -- an elective in my public high school in Virginia, 11 miles from the Pentagon. A  girl who'd come to school late that day had heard it on the radio and burst into my classroom with the news.

We all sort of shrugged it off, commenting, Man, that'd make a great movie, or, It's just like Hollywood.

Then, we finished watching our movie and didn't think much of it.

Looking back with my post-9/11 perspective on the world, it's hard to believe how incredible blasé even our teacher was when she first heard the news.

That was the day's 4th period class.

It wasn't until 5th period that things got eerie. My friend Gwen, whose mother worked in the Pentagon, ran towards me in the hall between classes and fell into my shoulders, crying. She hadn't heard from her mother.

The phone lines weren't working and all we could do was stand there and hold each other.

I didn't know at the time that my dad might have been there too. I didn't know that I was supposed to be worried.

As one of my high school's peer mediators, I was sent out into the halls to be there for anyone who needed it.

As it turned out, a lot of people did.

When all was said and done, five kids from my high school lost their parents in the attacks -- four in the Pentagon, and one working as a stewardess on the plane that hit it.

That evening I went into work at a local bakery. It was my first job, and my manipulative boss called to insist I come in.

Only one costumer showed up.

At first, I couldn't figure out why he was there. No one had come in all day, and we were just about to close the shop when he walked through the door. He was very jittery and chatty. We were the only shop open on the block and it became obvious that the man just needed someone to talk to - someone to help him make sense of what had happened to his country.


Everyone talks about how Sept. 11, 2001 was such a beautiful late summer's day. I remember it that way too, though I'm sure that time has tainted my memories.

Americans love our stories to have epic dynamics and for tragedy to strike on such a warm, sunny day offered a sobering contrast of spectacular beauty and unimaginable ugliness.

For me, 9/11 was always about the Pentagon. That's what I experienced. That's what hit home the most.

Then, five years after the attacks, I moved to New York City.

Nearly 10 years after, I moved into an office building overlooking ground zero.

Out of my window, I watched the slow process as workers rebuilt something that could never be rebuilt -- trying to recapture something that will remain lost.

As the 10th anniversary approached and I spent my days scrutinizing the progress of the 9/11 Memorial from my office desk, I realized that something had changed. Somewhere along the way, I'd switched from a Virginia boy worrying about the Pentagon to a New Yorker concerned about the World Trade Center Memorial.

After all, I'm a New Yorker now, and arguably the greatest tragedies of that fateful day happened in New York.


Looking back, the events of Sept. 11 were just like the movies I watched in that 12th grade film class. It was the kind of thing that only happened in Hollywood blockbusters.

No wonder I didn't get it back in 2001. No wonder the news of the attacks meant nothing when I first heard it. I was too naive to think that such a thing would ever happen in the United States.

I really miss that naivete.

I think we all do.