Where were you on September 11th? What do you remember?
I was awakened earlier than usual to be told that a close relative was in the hospital with a broken hip, so when I flipped on NPR to catch the morning headlines and heard that a plane had crashed into the Trade Center, I immediately turned on the television and was shocked to watch as that second plane went in. The first could have been a weird accident; the second was clearly deliberate, but who? why? The horror continued as I flashed on the few times I'd taken an elevator up to one of the towers' high floors. How long it took even on the express. To think of trying to walk down through smoke and fire . . .? Ghastly. In addition to all the people who died that day, there were even more deaths to come. Of the two close friends who lived in lower Manhattan, I'm convinced that breathing those contaminants for months caused the death of one and hastened the end of the other even though neither was in the building itself.
From Nancy Martin:
I was living on a mountaintop in rural Virgina--alone because my husband had already moved back to Pennsylvania for a job. Between writing the last chapter of my first mystery, I was packing boxes that morning and watching the Today show. With packing tape in my hand, I heard Katie Couric's incredulous voice saying, "We don't want to alarm anyone, but it looks as if a small plane may have crashed into the World Trade Center." And while I watched, the second plane hit. I thought, "My daughter is in New York," and you know that expression "my blood ran cold?" Well, that's how I felt---as if a terrible block of ice hit my chest and spread through my veins all the way to my fingertips.
An instant later, the phone rang, and the voice of my great friend (and backblogger!) cried, "Are you seeing this?" It was just like our mothers telling us about Pearl Harbor. We couldn't believe it. The sky was so blue and perfect. For hours, I kept trying my daughter's phone, but of course it was out. Thank God for Ethernet. When she got back from class, we emailed, and she begged me to phone her boyfriend's mother in DC. Her boyfriend had been on a plane from New York that morning, but I couldn't make the call. I kept thinking he'd been in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. I couldn't call a mother whose son had died. But he was already on the subway in DC when the plane went down, and he reached my daughter by email within a few hours.
My mother called from Pennsylvania. Her voice shook. "An airliner flew over the golf course. It was so low, we thought we could reach up and touch it." That was minutes before it crashed. When I phoned my husband--already at his new banking job--he said in amazement that the guys he'd been doing business with the previous day weren't answering their phones. They worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. My sister, in Brooklyn, said her front steps were covered in burned bits of paper with the Cantor Fitzgerald letterhead.
That night, alone in the house on the mountain, I heard a tremendous roar of powerful engines down in the valley. It went on for hours, and the concussion rattled the windows of the house. I was afraid to go outside to listen by myself, so I took the dog, and Dolly and I stood on the lawn, listening in the dark. Dolly leaned against my leg. I remember how warm she felt, and comforting. Turns out, all the east coast railroad companies had sent their locomotives to hide in the old coal yard in the town below. To be safe from terrorists. Terrorists! What was a terrorist?
I remember how we all felt in the weeks that followed--joined in a common spirit. Makes the current Congress look so self-absorbed and petty. If nothing else, I'm glad we have so many stories of heroism and patriotism and unity from that terrible day.
From Barbara O'Neal:
I had been on a very challenging hiking trip in Provence, and made it home on September 11 at 3 am Colorado time. I awakened to the phone ringing, and it was my grandmother calling to be sure I was home. She said, "Oh, thank God you are not on a plane. I didn't know when you were coming in. They've bombed the Pentagon." I thought she was being alarmist, but turned on the television to see the towers smoking after the first plane hit. The calls continued all morning--my family calling to make sure I was actually home and not on one of those planes. I have a lot of friends in NYC, but my thoughts that morning were for the friend I'd gone hiking with. She was stranded in Paris, alone, because she'd taken a later flight than I did, and didn't get home for two weeks.
The story I think about the most is one from an editor I was working with at the time. She lived in the village and couldn't get to her apartment for quite some time. When she finally got back, she said the smell was awful in the neighborhood and she commented to her boyfriend that it smelled like rotten garbage all the time. He said gently, "Honey, that's not garbage."
From Hank Phillippi Ryan:
It was a beautiful, beautful day on the East Coast, as you remember, too, Nancy. And chillingly, as it turned out, that's one of the reasons the plot could work--because it was so clear that it allowed the terrorists to see the towers.
I was--crazily--at the hairdresser, getting a hair cut. That night was my station's preview party for the upcoming TV season, and we were all sprucing up. Someone came running in, saying something incomprehensible, and then the news came flooding in. I had wet hair.
I knew I had to get to work, GET TO WORK as soon as possible. As a reporter, this was...well, it was work. Separating the journalists from everyone else. I called Jonathan, yelling over the sound of the blowdryer. Yes, he knew. Are the kids okay, in Park Slope? Our step-son works in the city...yes they're okay. I don't know when I'll be home, I said. (And I will admit, what I really wanted to do was go home.)
I walked to work, maybe 4 blocks, in that beautiful day. The bars were all open on Congress Street, all the glass fronts wide open, all the televisions on. I remember, so clearly, deliberately walking slowly. Thinking, so clearly, so clearly, "this is the moment our lives are all changing. When I get to work, our lives will never be the same."
(Ridiculously: I'm the investigative reporter, you know? And my boss came racing into my office. "How did this happen?" he yelled. "You and Mary (my producer) have to find out how this happened!" As if we could do that. I think we stayed in the office for the next--three days? And every time we started to complain, we'd look at each other and say: "We're not dead. Not dead." And then go back to work.)
From Sarah Strohmeyer:
Yes, it was a beautiful September morning and I'd just sent the kids off to school and sat down to write. We'd recently redone our computer system and installed a New York Times news alert. So many ways to procrastinate! Oddly enough, the first message that popped up was from my childhood friend, Connie Jordan, whom I hadn't spoken to in, gosh, ten or more years.
Connie is a smart, beautiful woman, a Swarthmore/Harvard grad and Presbyterian minister whose husband survived a nasty bout of cancer early in their marriage. I've often thought of Connie as being deeply spiritual - though we occasionally butted heads over different interpretations of Christianity. Anyway, I'm still moved by the randomness - or not - of hearing from this woman of God just as my New York Times news ticker started firing bulletins about a plane crashing into the twin towers.
The bulletins were confusing. First it was a small plane. Then it was a jet. Wait, something was going on in D.C.? Was that another plane in New York? Or the same one? I remember thinking that it was probably a joker pilot. About a month before, a single-prop plane had flown precariously close to high rises in Manhattan and in flying from Manchester to New York, our little commuter flight often followed 5th Avenue. You could even see people working in their offices.
But this was different.
Finally, I wrote Connie this: "Something's going on."
Connie wrote back. "I know. But what?"
"It's bad," I wrote back, getting chills as the bulletins became more alarming. A missing plane in Pennsylvania. Reports of a small plane flying into the Pentagon. More planes missing.
"I have to pray," Connie said. And that was it. I've never heard from her since.
I called Charlie at work and he was just getting the news. I flipped on the TV and there was Peter Jennings, smoke swirling from the twin towers in another frame. I told Charlie to come home immediately, that the towers were on fire. I thought of all my friends in New York, of the husband of my daughter's godmother who worked at Merrill Lynch. Like Connie, I prayed.
And then the unthinkable. The first tower fell, just crumbled like a house of cards. Peter Jennings went dead silent as Charlie came through the door and I looked at him and said, "We'll never be the same."
All those people. Gone.
From Elaine Viets:
That’s what I remember most after 9-11. Don and I lived in a beach condo in Hollywood, Florida. After the attack, the airport was closed for weeks, silencing the constant drone of commercial flights.
Instead, the skies were patrolled by sinister black helicopters. Warships cruised offshore, some with the ominous bulge of nuclear weapons.
Three of the terrorist leaders moved to Florida in 2000, near our home. South Florida is an international community, and they blended in. They used our local library, where the computers are free to all. They made one of their last appearances at Shuckums Oyster Bar in Hollywood, where at least two "holy warriors" drank forbidden alcohol – screwdrivers and rum and Coke. You can make what you want of this: They ate chicken wings.
Twelve hours after the attack on the World Trade Center, the FBI flashed their photos around the bar. The Shuckums’ server remembered them – and their lousy tip.
From Heather Graham:
The very words will, for everyone old enough on the day, be horrible and poignant. And no matter how much time passes, we all know where we were and what we were doing on that date.
For me, I was mourning, and cleaning out mother's house with my sister; we had lost her just weeks before. And one of the things that kept running through my mind was at least she doesn't have to see this.
But my mom's passing became back-burner; I hadn't seen a TV. I was driving to a store to buy cleaners when a friend called me and frantically told me not to go to downtown Miami. At the time, I never went downtown, and I thought she'd spiked her morning diet coke. Of course, when she told me that two planes had hit the towers, I immediately started trying to reach my third son--he was going to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn at the time, and the kids there were always on the Path train to reach the store where they bought their art supplies. I was frantic, trying to reach him. His cell went straight to a dull tone.
I rushed back and got on my computer and I was amazed when I got an instant message. He was on the roof at Pratt and miraculously, his Internet was up. He was alright; he was feeling his gut wrench as he and fellow students watched the towers burn. Suddenly he wrote, "OMG! It fell, it fell!" And I didn't know what he was talking about, until he explained, "It went down; the whole damned tower went down. Oh, God, oh God."
The day that travel was allowed again, Dennis and I got on a plane and flew to New York; I had to see him, and friends in the city who had lost loved ones. If I didn't get on a plane, I could never suggest that anyone else ever do so again. I was terrified getting on that plane. It turned out to be Dennis and I, a few scattered people, and about ten pilots heading up to start commercial travel again. I'll never forget flying by the place where the towers had been--and the ground was still smoldering.
I'd considered myself a student of history, and I had thought I'd known something about terrorism; my mom and her family left Dublin because they were "mixed" and the "troubles" continued. But I had never understood the kind of hatred that could make anyone massacre so many people so blindly. I'd been to Egypt, I had friends who were Muslim. And I had to make myself realize that while their was a culture of hatred--quite possibly the result of poverty and misery as so much hatred was--was not the culture of everyone.
Today, I know that we often wonder what our men and women in the service are accomplishing because it's true that you can't kill and ideal. But I was with a young serviceman the other day who told me, "You don't get to see the good very often on TV. I was there when we opened a new school, and the parents and the children were grateful and wonderful. Building and giving, yes, we can make a change."
So what do we do in our world today? We defend ourselves. We learn how to do that through intelligence. We suffer, because we can't stop everything. We keep trying to be the country we began to be after the Civil War, seeing all people as equals. It's so easy to hate. And I hate fanatics of any kind who would do harm to others; I pray that I never do so blindly, and I always judge a person for the person they are. And because I really have no control, I pray for our men and women in the service, and I pray for all who are caught in the violence brought upon them by others. Most of all, I pray that we stop being such a party-determined society, and that our law makers can stop following party lines, and work hard to defend and strengthen out country, and show others, through our united front and efforts to benefit all mankind, that we should be emulated, and not alienated, assaulted, and attacked.
From Joshilyn Jackson:
I went downstairs to get coffee and I turned on a little television I had on the kitchen counter. There was the first tower, with the plane going into it.
I immediately called my friend Lydia Netzer and said, Turn on your television, because I didn’t want to be watching alone. They showed it over and over. It seemed crazy and impossible. We began coming up with explanations for it, back and forth, two fiction writers constructing implausible scenarios, looking for a way it could have happened. We were like children telling each other fairy tales ---- pilots having strokes and electrical instruments going haywire, anything to keep ourselves from understanding.
The second plane came. We saw it happen.
Then we knew. There wasn’t any way to not know. This is on purpose, we said back and forth to each other, but only because there was no other explanation left. We had tried so hard to make it be Fate---God---Accident---Error, anything at all. Anything except a deliberate, human choice.
From Brunonia Barry:
I worked at the World Trade Center for several years in the mid-seventies, soon after it opened. I was in the accounting department of Toyoda America, Inc. on the fiftieth floor of the North Tower. It was one of my first jobs out of college, and I loved the whole experience. But most of all, I loved the WTC. It was like a small community. I was there when Phillippe Petit walked the tightrope between the towers.
Windows on the World had not yet opened, and, for a short while, we were allowed to take our lunches up there and enjoy the view from the top floor. A small group of us representing many different companies lunched there most days, until the construction crews put an end to our visits. After that, we all continued to meet for lunch at the restaurant on the 44th floor.
I was our company’s fire marshall, and used to lead the employees in monthly evacuation drills, things they sometimes participated in and sometimes refused to take seriously. Thankfully, my friends at Toyoda had relocated their company offices a few years before the towers came down, but there were others I knew there who remained, friends who were lost.
Ten years ago on September 11th, I was in the hospital undergoing emergency surgery. I remember the television and everyone huddled around staring. I remember hoping that I was hallucinating from the medication, and then realizing that it was not a dream. In the ten years that have passed, I have not visited the site. It’s still difficult for me to think about, as it is for many of us.