I remember sitting in my comfy chair, as I did every morning, with a bowl of cereal. It was my daily ritual: rush out of bed and through a shower, get dressed and have my breakfast while watching “In The Papers”, a ten minute segment on TV at 8:40 in the morning.
At some point during the news segment, I heard the whirl of jet engines. It didn’t sound like a typical plane overhead headed towards LaGuardia, rather it sounded like one of those military jets that sometimes dart up and down the Hudson River corridor. I looked through my window and saw a large passenger jet cruising down the river. This was before I had my pilot license; still, I knew there was a corridor over the Hudson – an “exclusion”, through which choppers and small planes can traverse the large areas of airspace controlled by LaGuardia, Newark and Kennedy airports.
I remember thinking to myself: “What’s he doing in the corridor? What an idiot, he should be at least 1000 feet higher”.
All those thoughts in a second or two, and I resumed eating my cocoa crispies and watching “In The Papers”. As the segment ended, I got up, put my bowl in the dishwasher and put my shoes on, but I didn’t hear the typical “Sleepy’s” commercial. The “Sleepy’s” advert always followed “In The Papers” – had I already turned off the TV? I don’t remember turning it off, so I returned only to see a live shot of the WTC with a plume of smoke bellowing from the West tower. I sat down for a moment. Initially there was silence, then a few moments later the anchor started to describe the obvious.
My mobile phone rang, it was my ex. At the time, she worked on Nassau Street, about 5 or 6 blocks East of the towers. Although we had broken up a few months earlier, we were on good terms and still spoke often. She asked: “Someone said a Cessna or something crashed into the Trade Center. Do you see anything in the news?” I responded “No way, a Cessna would ricochet off and end up a pile of debris on the ground. There’s definitely something going on, an explosion maybe… There’s a lot of smoke.”
We continued debating what it could be; she insisted it was a small plane. I insisted there was no way a small plane could have done so much damage. We agreed that I would call her back if I learned something else from the news. With no concept of time, I watched the live-shot of the towers, mesmerized. And then a second fireball erupted from the East Tower. I called Samira, she seemed occupied, I said “go home, leave there… one explosion could be an accident, but two is definitely not a coincidence.” I maintained that this may have been some form of sabotage or major mechanical failure within the building. “Something is wrong, go home, now.” Although she heard me, she didn’t grasp the urgency of what I was saying. As I tried to insist, she said she’d call me back.
Annoyed by the nonchalant reception of my concern, I unmuted the TV. They just realized a large passenger plane caused the second explosion. They kept replaying it with a circle following the plane prior to impact. Wow! Who would do such a thing? Then I saw the time… I jumped up – I’m going to be late for work. Damn. I ran out of the apartment with my dry cleaning.
In my lobby, my super and doorman were talking about it. In the street, everyone was talking about it. Everyone seemed to move differently. It wasn’t the usual hustle and bustle of people trying to get to work. Instead people stopped and were talking with each other. They were talking with strangers about this “event”. I tried calling my ex, but couldn’t get through.
I dropped off my dry cleaning and was going to proceed to the subway but finally stopped. It just felt too weird. There was no movement. People stopped moving, instead they were talking. There were no planes or choppers in the air, there was only an eerie silence, broken occasionally by sirens or the jet engine whirl of fighter jets. It didn’t feel like rush hour. It felt like the City That Never Sleeps had stopped.
Resolved that I would be very late for work, I walked back up my block. I went back home. Once in the front door, my superintendent said “SHIT! The whole tower is gone! The whole thing, it’s gone.” I looked at a TV positioned on the doorman’s desk, and there was in fact only one tower left.
No, today is not a typical day at all. Resolved to not going to work, I went back to my apartment and turned on the TV. Now, there was nothing, no towers. Just a cloud of dust.
The phones didn’t work, nothing worked. No word on Samira, Corinne, Grisel, Tamika, Tracy, Nathan , Neil and all the people I knew who worked at Nassau Street.
But they’re at least 5 blocks away.
That should be far enough away.
They should be ok.
I sat there watching a cloud of dust on TV, vaguely hearing some talk of multiple hijackings.
Later that afternoon, I got a call – everyone from Nassau St. was ok but they had to walk home. It wasn’t until they got uptown that their cell phones started working again.
The next day, Wednesday, I went to work at the UN. Things just felt weird. I told myself: just rely on the patterns you know. Go on autopilot, and function. There were police barricades blocks away and I had to show my work ID to get through. That was a first. Seconds later, out of nowhere, someone grabs my arm. It was Singh, from work. He was sweating, and out of breath. In fact he was panting, he had been running. I asked him what was the matter and between gasps he explained: “four guys were chasing me, they were trying to beat me up”. My recognizing him and conversing with him was apparently enough for the police to not pounce on him after he literally dove through the barricade. He showed his work ID and we walked to work together. Singh was not his name; most people couldn’t pronounce his real Indian name, his Sikh name. So we all called him by his abbreviated and westernized nickname. Damn ignorant people were after the guy with a turban.
Every waking minute, it was Al Qaeda this, terrorist that. Giuliani, the mayor I despised, said “get back to your lives. The thing for us to do is not allow them to disrupt us any more than they already have.” He had a point. Ok, I can do that. In fact, I’m already doing that.
For the 3 days after 9/11/01, I wasn’t alone. I had family and wonderful friends. I know I must have; yet as hard as I try, I can’t remember any details other than the ones I’ve described here.
Friday night, Dave Letterman got back on the air. His guest was Dan Rather. I remember watching Dan Rather have a break down. Dan cried in front of America. He cried on the air. He kept apologizing. He kept saying “this is so unprofessional”.
How could he be concerned with appearing unprofessional? Surely he need not apologize for this… Nobody could fault him for bearing his soul in front of us. What an old-school journalist.
Then Dave said: “Why do they hate us? Is it because they don’t get cable?”
I laughed out loud. It wasn’t all that funny, but I thought it was hysterical.
Moments later I cried too. In fact, I couldn’t stop.
I cried for at least ten minutes.
I hadn’t cried since I was a child, and here I am, a man, 28 years old, crying, with no understanding of why.
Eight years later, I realize that not only was I in shock, everyone was. I’d been walking around like a zombie repeating familiar patterns. I was coping, and functioning. With a stupid joke Dave Letterman snapped me back to reality and it also unlocked the chains of restraint that control how we allow ourselves to be seen. Why do we care? Why do we care what we look like even when we’re alone? For some reason we do. And then Dan Rather, by bearing his soul for me, showed me that it was ok to feel again. It was Ok to cry.
Now I’m hurt. I’m sad. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’m furious. The more I think of that time, the more I feel the rage I felt then. Somehow, the fury is fueled by lament for the people who were murdered. I feel for the loss of their loved ones.
I’m helpless to do anything about it.
It leaves this knot in my stomach… my fists are clenched.
My teeth are clenched.
I don’t have anyone against whom to direct this rage. Islam is not the culprit, no more than Christianity is responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing.
There’s nothing I can do about it… I can only endure; in time the rage will fade, again, until next year.
It wasn’t until the week after 9/11 that I realized I’d actually seen one of the planes before it impacted, while eating my morning cereal.
Those poor people.
Today, as I write this, my eyes are welled up in sadness and in hurt and in anger, even though this happened nine years ago – nearly a decade ago – the hurt in my heart is as fresh as if it happened yesterday. And I’m fortunate – I didn’t know anyone who perished that day. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to deal with terrorism and explosions on a regular basis.
I can’t begin to imagine how people who lost loved ones must hurt right now.
I remember how nice people were to each other in New York, after 9/11.
It seems that we’ve forgotten that.
People are back to their old patterns. I wish it didn’t take a calamity to make people be considerate and kind.