Sunday, September 11, 2005

9/11 Fourth Anniversary

Originally uploaded by lightpainter.
It seems kind of sick and sad to call it an "anniversary" when there is nothing to celebrate about the day. Here's my account of that day:
September 11, 2001
It was a clear, gorgeous early fall day, just like today. At about 8:45 I arrived for my first day of a new temp assignment, in the legal department of a large brokerage house. One of the attorneys gave me a stack of papers to Xerox. I was in the copy room, when he came by and said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center and if I went into Senior Counsel’s corner office, there was a clear view of the fire. Hearing the news, I kind of rolled my eyes, thinking that some rich guy in a small private plane, trying to take pictures or impress his passengers, had flown too close and gotten caught in an updraft. By the time I finished making the copies and went in to the corner office, the second plane had already hit the south tower. The phones were still working and calls were coming in from wives, husbands, children. One of the assistants was on the phone; she had two brothers who were firefighters and one that was a cop.
I finally got in touch with my husband and he told me the Pentagon was on fire, and that we were being attacked. I was in a cubicle next to someone whose parents lived in Washington DC. She couldn’t reach them.
All of us kept going in and out of Senior Counsel’s office watching as though it were a huge IMAX screen, a horror movie being shown on it. I was back at my new desk when we heard a roar go up from that corner office. Everyone ran down there to see the black cloud that was used to be one of the towers. Someone next to me said, “ I hope all those people got out.” I went back to my desk and called my husband again. I couldn’t reach him this time. Panic was growing, people were crying all over the office, frantically trying to make phone calls. I tried to call the temp agency to see what I should do and the lines there were dead.
Another roar went up from down the hall. I jumped up and ran down the hall to see what had happened and the Senior Counsel was crying, his arms wrapped around himself, as the skyline filled with more black smoke than I had ever seen. Both towers gone now.
No one had a radio, TV, so I went two floors down to the trading floor. There was live footage on all the monitors, the one I was standing closest to was showing nothing but that black smoke and a flashing crawl at the bottom of the screen that read, “BOTH WORLD TRADE CENTER TOWERS HAVE COLLAPSED.” The floor was pandemonium; a woman told me that there were four more hijacked planes in the air. People were yelling out that there was a lockdown in Manhattan, no getting in or going out, assistants had hotels on the line, calling out asking who needed rooms for the night, two analysts walked by the monitor I was watching, one pointing at the screen, saying, “Look, they’re not there anymore.”
I went back up to my floor, the floor where I had just started working with all these people less than 2 and a half hours ago, but was now bound to forever, and the Senior Counsel called everyone into his office. He had a colleague on speakerphone who was calling in from I don’t know where after the firm’s offices in one of the towers had been evacuated. He said that everyone was accounted for except for two people who he named, and “a temp.”
We were all told that if we wanted to go home we could, but that the best, safest thing to do was to stay put. Keep telling yourselves that, I thought, as I announced my intention to leave, figuring I didn’t want to be anywhere near any large buildings that had anything to do with American money when they are aiming planes at them. I left. Foolishly, out of habit, taking the elevator.
Out at 50th Street and Broadway, I managed to catch a bus, not yet heaving with people. As we passed through Times Square, it was a sea of upturned faces, the giant video screens that normally showed glitzy ads now showing the unimaginable. I got off near 16th Street and ran towards home; passing people gathered around car radios; the TV/VCR repair place had a TV in the street, people were glued to it.

My husband and I stood in line to give blood at St. Vincent’s. We were soon told to go home, as there were not enough syringes and other equipment to accommodate everyone.

The next day, my husband bought two small American flags from someone in the street. He had them with him when he went into Maryanne’s in Chelsea to pick up dinner. People in the restaurant stopped him, asking where he got the flags, offering to buy them from him.

I remembered today that about a day or two before 9/11/2001, some guy had parachuted or hang-glided over the harbor for a stunt, becoming entangled in the torch of the Statue of Liberty, requiring FDNY and other rescue workers to go get him. Rudy held a press conference saying that firefighters and EMT had enough to contend with without “some idiot” putting them in unnecessary danger with a stupid stunt. A day or two later, we all had more than we could contend with.

Everytime I see a plane in the air, I think of that day. Everytime I see a fire truck, I remember the 343 firefighters who died that day. Everytime I look at the skyline of southern Manhattan, I think of the words of that analyst, "look, they're not there anymore."

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