Saturday, September 11, 2010
Nine years later
I awoke this morning to a peerless blue sky, the temperature hovering near seventy. September is a golden month here in the northeast and today is no exception. Beautiful, just as it was on that morning nine years ago.
It was an ordinary day. A Tuesday. A day I planned to spent at home, going through lists of chores, running errands. A regular Tuesday. I got my boys breakfast, made sure they had their school things; saw them off on the school bus. House to myself, I poured a cup of coffee and sat out on my deck. A few moments of peace before tackling that long list. The phone rang. My husband calling from work. "Are you watching the news? There's something going on, a plane crashed into a building in New York."
My husband and I are transplants; we grew up in New York State and moved to New England. Still attached to our roots and the New York sports teams, we had managed to fix it so that our TV satellite got all the local NY stations. I switched on to channel five. It was nine o'clock in the morning. The story was just beginning to unfold. No one was quite sure what had happened. A plane had crashed into one of the World Trade towers. The south tower. No, the north tower. A small plane, no a jet-liner, a 747 out of Boston bound for Los Angeles. Speculation ran high. An accident? How could a jet-liner pilot make that sort of a mistake?
The reporter in the studio was on the phone with a man in a north tower office. The man had no idea what was happening, someone said something about a plane? They were evacuating the building. He said he'd call back once they knew more.
I watched as a plane hit the south tower. We've all seen the footage, shown over and again. But that first time, that moment of disbelief, sits with me. I watched as scores of people walked through the streets of NY, watched as they crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on foot. I watched the south tower fall, a building gone from solid to something more akin to water, a terrible rumble as ash flooded the streets as though a dam had broken. I watched the people, still walking, covered in ash. Watched the north tower fall, leaving a ghost building, the bottom few floors like a church spire, before that, too, fell. I watched as the news reported a third plane at the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
My husband called again, both of us too shocked to talk, wanting to make sure the other still stood. My kids came home from school with long, detailed notes on how to handle and talk about the crisis. We sat in the living room, the plane crashing again and again on our TV. The truth, I saw, was there was no way to talk it over. Nothing to do but sit in the living room and witness.
Later, the stories came. A friend whose brother had been in building seven. Safe, but not heard from for hours. The friends of a friend who had gotten on board a plane in Boston, expecting to land in Los Angeles six hours later. The local paper quoting the pilot's wife as she spoke of him going to work that day as he had so many days before. The fire Chaplin, a fellow alumnus of my college, who rode with his fire company and never made it back to the fire house.
Nine years later, it's another September day. My neighbor mows his lawn. A plane flies overhead, off in the distance, a siren sounds. Ordinary. Just as it was on that morning. On that day, the sky azure and clear, we got up to go to our jobs and tend to our children. We boarded planes in Boston. We rode the crowded subway. Maybe we stopped for coffee at the local Bodega. We answered the fire call, put on our boots, got on the truck. We called the news station. "They're evacuating the building. I'll call back later. "