Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On September 11, 2001

On that day, I was in Dallas, Texas, preparing for a trial that was to begin on September 11.

Ten years ago I was a trial legal assistant (paralegal) working on an asbestos case that was to go to trial in Dallas.  I had been in Dallas for about 5 days preparing for the trial with my attorneys.  We had been working out of our sister office located in Downtown Dallas.  (I lived in Houston at the time.)

On that horrific morning, I woke up in my very posh hotel room in Downtown Dallas, Texas.  I got dress and put on my finest, black power-suit and black heels.  I tried to look as grown up as a 4 foot 10 inch woman can.  My breakfast was brought up to me by room service, and I ate it quickly, not wanting to be late.  Around 7 AM, I gathered my computer, my blackberry, my to do list and headed out the door to meet my project assistant in the lobby of the hotel.  Since we had flown to Dallas from Houston, we decided to share a rental car to keep costs down for our client.

My assistant and I drove to our sister office located several blocks from our hotel in Downtown Dallas.  As usual, traffic was pretty bad. As we were just about to enter the underground parking garage of the office building, we heard an announcement on the radio that a small plane had just hit a building in New York City.  We didn't think anything of it. We thought maybe a pilot in a small plane simply had an accident.   Once we were underground, the radio stopped.  We arrived at the office and took the elevator up to our "war room" on the 37th floor.  We scurried around, trying to take care of a few last minute items, because our trial was to begin at 9 AM.

While we were discussing our plan of action with our attorneys, we notice several people huddled around a secretaries desk out in the hall way.  Some people were crying and had their hands over their mouths in awe.  We had no idea what was happening.

A few minutes later, my attorney asked me to get some additional supplies for the trial.  As I walked out into the hall, I saw what all the commotion was about.

A secretary had a small TV/radio at her desk.  She was watching live coverage of the World Trade tower on fire, and others had gathered around her desk to watch.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  I got totally distracted by what I saw on that small, black and white screen.  I stood there watching the TV like everyone else, glued to the screen, forgetting everything else. I guess I must have stood there for a long time because one of my attorneys came looking for me and was yelling my name.  When he walked over, he saw the mind numbing scene and stopped dead in his tracks, unable to move.  Then, more people in the office came to see what was going on.  Soon, the entire 37th floor was standing in front of the secretary's desk, watching the miniature TV in astonishment, completely in shock.

Time stood still.  No one cared that there was work to do.  No one cared that business needed to be taken care of.  We just stood there watching the screen--motionless, saddened, and for those in the building.

Suddenly, the news reporters were talking when another plane crashed into the second building.  We all shuddered at what we had just witnessed.  Within minutes, we all knew this was not an accident but something much, much worse--something unfathomable.  America was under attack.

Finally, my attorney grabbed my arm and said we had to go to the courthouse right away.  So, we gathered our boxes of exhibits, our notebooks, our computers, our pleadings and everything else we needed and took them down to our rented SUV.  We headed to the courthouse, listening to the radio as we drove.  I was still in shock of what I had just witnessed on TV.

When we arrived at the courthouse, everything was chaotic.  Security was extremely tight.  As we made our way in, one of my attorneys saw me in the hallway and told me that because of the day's events, our case had been settled and the courthouse was going to be evacuated.  Then, we were ushered out of the courthouse.  A security guard told us a plane had just hit the Pentagon and all government buildings were going to be evacuated along with all high rise buildings in Downtown Dallas.

I didn't know what to do or where to go.  As we exited the parking lot of the Dallas Courthouse, we listened to the radio.  Most of the streets in Downtown Dallas were being closed off and people were being evacuated from high rise buildings.  My assistant and I tried to return to our sister office, but it was being evacuated, as well.  Then, we tried to go back to our hotel, but it was also being evacuated.  We had no place to go.

Since most of the downtown area had been evacuated, we headed out of the center of town, toward the suburbs.  Most businesses were closed. Luckily, we found a Luby's Cafeteria and went in.  The business was open but there were very few customers.  The people that were left were huddled around the TV, watching in horror.

I spent the rest of the day at that Luby's Cafeteria watching TV.  We didn't know what to do or where to go.  Our cell phones didn't work because the networks were overloaded.  My assistant and I just sat and sat.  I was only 23 years old at the time and my assistant was only 22.  We were young, inexperienced and wanted nothing more than to be at home with our families.

After several hours, my cell phone rang.  My attorney told me to get my personal things and go home to Houston to be with my family.  So, my assistant and I drive back to Downtown and were finally let back into our hotel.  Since it was late, we decided to spend the night and return to Houston in the morning.

The next day's drive was somber.  Traffic was light.  The skies were clear and blue.

My mind was racing with thoughts:  How could this happen?  Who would do this?  Why?  

I lived in a simple world that was turned upside down on that day.

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