the pentagon

yep, there i go again, mentally meandering around my neighborhood, thinking about terror again. i guess it is hard at times to divorce yourself from fear – it isn't every day a plane goes down 5 minutes from your house into the center of your nation's defense group. i think only new yorkers can understand — maybe even better than we DC metro folks — how you always have this creeping sense of dread in the pit of your stomach. i live in the flight path of National (i refuse to call it REAGAN Nat'l, so don't even make me) Airport, and every time i hear a plane, i twinge for a hot second, thinking of a split-second mini-prayer that the damn thing stays in the air until it is good and ready to come down of its own volition.

anyway, the pentagon. i am shocked and stunned that the building is fixed ahead of schedule. in my short but eventful career as a nearly-civil servant, i have never, ever, EVER heard of something being done on-time and under-budget. anyway, i was thinking about this as i took a mini-stroll down memory lane. i just relived my impressions of the first time i went past the pentagon after a plane was dropped into it.

here they are. from 10/7/01.

Yesterday, my husband and daughter and I were running errands – nothing unusual about that, of course. What was unusual was the fact that the entrance to Rte 395 was open from the GW Parkway. Now, big deal, I guess you might say. But this entrance has been closed for a while to us locals, thanks to that hijacked plane crash-landing in the Pentagon on September 11. Like everyone else around the world, I have seen many pictures of that crash site on TV and in the paper; I have consumed the statistics. I have even gasped upon reading obituaries in the Washington Post of people found (or not found) in the wreckage. But in truth, there has been such immense loss and destruction up in New York, and thus so much intense focus there, though, that I could barely contemplate what had happened here. The media coverage concentrates on New York, and understandably so — thousands upon thousands of people, just gone. Buildings that defined a skyline — that I have thrilled to see for most of my life — obliterated. Maybe it is just easier for me to focus on New York — that way, I did not have to think about what is happening here in my home, Arlington.

So I suppose I was not prepared for actually seeing the Pentagon with my own two eyes.

As we merged onto Rte 110, we were suddenly confronted by an immense, black, gaping hole in the side of the building. You've all seen it, I am sure, but to see it right there, right in front of me… I wept. The realization that I was so close a place where evil visited was simply overwhelming. The fear of that horrible day returned to me in an instant — all the rumors of planes still in the air over Washington. The terror of wondering where my husband was. The seemingly-impossible task of keeping my family safe. (People merging there with us in traffic must have had the same “kicked-in-the-stomach” reaction – I was uncertain for a split second whether other cars would collide with ours.) Anyway, back to the building. Astonishingly, the inner ring of the building looks incredibly intact. Chalk one up for the defense contractor who built that puppy. I am sure “withstands a direct hit from a suicidal terrorist air attack” was not in the requirements for that contract.

As we returned from our errands, we missed our usual turn and ended up going on the Pentagon entrance that dumps you onto Columbia Pike. (Many locals always giggle at tourists who get lost here — somehow, if you are unsure of yourself in that neck of Arlington, you inevitably end up in the Pentagon parking lot. In recent days, that would not be possible, as many Pentagon exits were closed. Period.) As we drove up the Pike towards the Navy Annex, we saw something amazing. Cars parked on medians. People in droves, on the street, on the medians. Just looking. Just staring at that building's gaping wound. To say it is surreal would be the understatement of the year. A makeshift memorial is up near the hill, and all sorts of tokens of love and sorrow are scattered there. Here we were, October 6, and people were still simply stunned. It happened. Here. Here, in the self-proclaimed epicenter of the free world.

Our Arlington firefighters. Our cops. Our EMTs. People who live here in the metro area. The military planes overhead. The hospital where my daughter was born was the same place where many of the victims were taken. I imagine that the Dulles terrorists also must have been here before the attack as well, and it sickens me. Try as I might to distance myself emotionally from this entire experience, I cannot any longer. In the past, residents here often would joke about a situation like this. I know I have joked — hell, we live in the flight path of Washington (AKA Reagan) National Airport and are five minutes from the Pentagon. When danger happens, we are toast, I used to laugh. I am not laughing anymore.

But people here, like their brethren in NYC, are pretty darn steely. On September 12, Washington, DC was open for business. As the Nation's Capitol, Washington is required to brush itself off and carry on. While we surely did not suffer the physical manifestations of the attack to the astonishing level suffered by New York, we definitely share the psychological ones. But life must go on. And freedom will prevail. It is our job in the days ahead to make it so, I guess.


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