Everyone old enough to remember where they were that fateful morning has their story. This one is mine.
I was jolted awake by the telephone. The breathless voice on the other end didn’t wait for a greeting.
“I’m okay!” It was my partner calling.“Everything’s chaos here. I’m uptown, so I’m okay. ”
“What?” I said. “What’s happening?”
“Turn on the TV.”
“It doesn’t matter! Turn. On. The. TV!”
I grabbed the remote, and turned on the set. Images came into focus. It didn’t register that what I was seeing was real.
A plane had hit one of the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center. Was it an accident?
It looked too much like a promotion for the latest Hollywood blockbuster. If so, it was an awfully long commercial.
From the side of the screen, I see movement. Another plane appeared. In slow motion, I watched as the plane hit the second tower. This was no accident.
The phone went dead.
I tried calling him back a few times but could not get through. A mild panic settled in the pit of my stomach. “Wait a minute”, I thought. “He said he was uptown.”
It was little comfort, but it would have to do. I knew I should probably leave the cellular signals free for those who needed it most.
Time slowed. Disjointed images appeared before me through tunneled vision. Horrific images. Smoke. Flames. People covered in ash and debris running for their lives. People jumping from the upper floor windows of the World Trade Center because their only other option was to be burned alive.
All sense of time and space was ripped from my consciousness.
For the next few hours, I joined the rest of America and watched the drama unfold. The Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania followed. The feeling that “this is all unreal” never left me.
I left for work at around noon. I worked at a bar and wasn’t due until 3:00pm, but I couldn’t stay in the house any longer. Maybe the nine block walk would do me good.
The streets were virtually empty. The usual sounds of the city were glaringly absent. I was aware of even the slightest sound; leaves blowing, foot steps, pigeons tapping on the sidewalk. People walked in silence. It was eerie.
The complex mix of emotions on people’s faces was dominated by a collective nervousness. A helicopter rumbled overhead. People glanced up in fear. Some, succumbing to survivalist instincts, ducked for cover. The possibility that Philadelphia could be targeted weighed heavily on the minds of many.
The bar was busy. The saying is true that there’s comfort in numbers. I kept the bar’s televisions on so that everyone could see the latest news. We offered the bar’s land line to anyone who wanted or needed to get in touch with friends or family. By 7:00 PM I received a call from my partner. He would stay in New York City for a few days to help friends.
For the next few weeks I felt as though I was disconnected – like a boat that’s come loose of it’s moorings and floats aimlessly at sea. I was just going through the motions. It’s impossible to remember any of the minutiae that usually bog us down because for the following few weeks we were as one, united against an unknown enemy. Each of us doing what we could to help anyone who needed it.
The most disgusting rhetoric that came out of 9/11/2001 was the assertion by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that America somehow brought the terrorist attacks upon itself. On September 13, just two days after the terrorist attacks, they appeared on The 700 Club and claimed that God smote America because of all the “Pagans, Abortionists, Atheists, Feminists, Gays, and Lesbians, the ACLU, and People for the American Way”. What?! I thought my head would explode when I heard this. How could purported “Men Of God”, mock the memory of so many innocent lives with such hatred and vileness? I’ll let God settle that one.
Remembering September 11th still puts me in that numb place where time and space mean nothing.
I can’t begin to comprehend what those people in New York City were going through. It would be an insult to them if I said I did. I also can’t imagine what could have transpired on UA flight 93 that made the passengers overtake the hijackers before crashing into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, or the passengers of flight 77 and their families, and those of the Pentagon. I have no frame of reference from which I can compare. The best I can do is empathize.
May the people, and their families, who were affected by the events of that day somehow find the comfort that they need.