Shannan Stamper Carroll
My "9/11 Shoes"
This September 11th, I will again put on the same shoes I wore when I evacuated my DC office on 9/11/01. I worked in a law firm just three blocks from the White House and lived in Arlington, VA. I was running late for work that day and got in my car just after the second tower in NYC was hit -- I first heard the news about both crashes in NYC on my car radio.
My drive to work took me right by the south lawn of the White House -- I briefly thought it might be blocked for security but I remembered the president was in Florida and kept on. I drove by the south lawn about 20 minutes or less before the Pentagon was hit.
I then parked in the government building garage across the street from my office ("Have you heard what's happening in New York?" I asked the security guard who screened my car for bombs as he did every day I parked there.) I left the garage and crossed Pennsylvania Avenue probably just 10 minutes before the plane hit the Pentagon, but I never saw any plane flying overhead.
At my office, everyone was abuzz with what was happening in New York - two of our firm's partners were on a train traveling to NYC and they were calling our office to find out what was happening. We had no televisions nearby, though, and the internet was starting to slow.
Then, another partner mentioned that there was an accident at the helicopter pad at the Pentagon. Before we knew what was happening, a friend of mine in Kentucky left me a voicemail hoping I was "okay." Next, just after 10am, I received an email stating that our office was closing for the day.
It was still unclear what was happening at the Pentagon, and there were (later proven untrue) rumors spreading about car bombs at the State Department. The phone lines became jammed, and my cell phone battery was dead. While I didn't know if we were in danger, I knew I couldn't stay where we were. Yet It was unclear whether the Metro system was running, and the government building where I had parked had been evacuated, so I knew I could not get my car out of the garage.
It felt like every route I knew home was unavailable, save one - just walk. Many of us who lived in Arlington had the same dilemma, so a colleague who lived near the Zoo invited us to walk home with her. The route took us north, away from government buildings, which made me feel safer which each passing block. Along the way, we stopped at other buildings and picked up people's spouses, who filled us in on the latest details: the collapse of the towers, the fourth plane missing.
Eventually we found a bank of pay phones that worked, and I called my parents in Kentucky to let them know I was alright. The way my mother cried "Shannan" when she heard my voice has stayed with me to this day.
We eventually passed a TV repair shop with TVs in the window showing the news coverage -- it was here that I first saw any video of what had been happening. As part of the crowd gathered around the window to watch, I felt that I was in one of those photos I had seen of people gathered around storefronts watching coverage of JFK's assassination.
Still we had to keep walking, keep going, until we got someplace where we felt safe. We walked approximately three miles to my friend's home, where we watched the news coverage until it appeared the danger had passed, and my friend drove us back to Virginia.
Later, in one of those moments where you reach for anything that can cheer you up in the midst of such awfulness, I joked to my mom that I was glad I wore comfortable shoes to work that day. I don't wear the shoes anymore, but every year, I put on those shoes and wear them for one more day, to remember those who perished that day, and to remind myself how to keep on keeping on.