Yesterday, Mike LaMonica’s blog topic about “where were you on 9/11?” was featured in WordPress’ Freshly Pressed area (a highlight of blog topics), and he invited readers to share their memories of that day. It is like our memories are a part of one whole, regardless of where we were in the exact moments of first knowledge and those following after. It is also fascinating the pieces that the mind holds on to and what is let go.
My mind has erased the details of what I was wearing, but I can tell you how beautiful the day was. That is the first thing that directly conflicts with how tragic it ended. The general cloud overhang of Cleveland had parted and I remember driving to work with the sun rays beaming into my car. I can tell you I was next sitting at my desk, staring at a laptop screen filled with proposal text I was drafting while nursing a mocha. When Ellen, my neighbor over the wall, got a call, I heard her saying both into the phone and to us within earshot, “a plane just hit the World Trade Center.” We thought it was a media plane filming rush hour shots or a hapless amateur pilot who became misdirected. We kept working and even made comments wondering how could become that lost or disoriented since the towers are hard to not see.
Then, Ellen’s voice said in a puzzled tone, “another plane hit.” And I knew right then something was wrong. I can’t tell you how I knew. I can’t say I instantly thought it was a terrorist attack. Only that on sheer instinct I asked her “what type of plane?” When she didn’t hear me, I stood up calling over louder “Ellen, what type of plane?” She asked the person from New York she was talking with and then said “a large one, like a 737.”
I can tell you that I next sat down and aimed for the CNN website, able to get a glimpse of the breaking news story…two planes hit the twin towers…before the website crashed from overload. I then started calling my sister’s cell phone and office phone not able to get through. At the time, she lived in NYC and I knew she’d be at the Trade Center area. When I visited her in the early fall of 2000, we’d taken that route one morning at this same time–enter the WTC, up in the lobby to get breakfast pastry and window browse, back down to the Path trains, ride to Hoboken, New Jersey. My sister has a notorious habit of running late, so I knew she could have been in the towers as the planes struck.
I can tell you about my building’s evacuation, the moments of fear while trapped in the congested parking deck. Of hearing the radio announcer explain how downtown Cleveland now had an unresponsive plane flying in our air space. Would Terminal Tower or Key Center be next? I can tell you about the hours spent crawling my black Corolla out of the downtown area, repeatedly dialing and only being able to leave static filled messages I wasn’t sure my sister would ever get. Howard Stern became the voice of my reality since he was in New York and stayed on the air to tell anyone listening whatever he could glean. I can tell you how, in those hours, I made the promise of a daughter to not speak to my parents until I could tell them where their oldest child was. I found my sister safe five hours later. She hadn’t run late. The first plane hit as she rode the train and once it pulled into Hoboken, they heard an announcement come overhead that there had been an “accident” at the towers. My family–we were the lucky ones.
Only last weekend did I finally watch the United 93 movie. I watched it not to gawk at the true-to-life facts, but to get a glimpse into another part of the oneness of us as citizens. Though put together from what could be heard from the flight recorders and the actual messages and calls from those onboard, none of us can say what truly happened at the end as the plane went down. Yet we can take comfort in knowing the spirit of humanity and quest for basic survival took over and helped that group to form a plan. It permeated throughout the walls of the Pentagon and Trade Center towers as people struggled to get out or to hunker down where they were trapped. It rippled through those hijacked flights. It held both the anger and the tears while many of us watched as Mariah sang Hero and Alicia noted Someday We’ll All Be Free on the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon some nights later. And we will never forget.