My wife dropped the big boy off at Kindergarten, I dropped the little guy at pre-school. I crossed Eighth and 23rd and an emergency vehicle took the corner exceedingly fast, the pedestrians jumping back onto the curb. One woman crossed herself and I thought “you don’t see that much anymore.” Growing up, there were people who would cross themselves when a car backfired. Not so much these days.
So I’m thinking this sort of stuff when I enter my buidling and the doorman says “Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center.” And I say “Two planes collided in mid-air and fell into the building?” and he says ‘No, one flew into one and one flew into the other.”
So I knew it was terrorism. In the elevator going to my apartment I’m thinking about a 1945 photograph from when a B-25 crashed into the Empire State Building. You hear that a plane crashed into the Empire State Buidling and you’re amazed and then you see the photo and it’s only a tiny hole. So that’s what I’m visualizing.
I get to my apartment and my wife left a note that said ‘Go to the roof.’ So I go to the roof and there’s a crowd of people, many of them with cameras.
And I see the jagged orange line across the entire North Tower.
And my brain starts running through rescue scenarios – maybe they can land helicopters on the roof or something. And eventually I conclude that everyone above the orange line is going to die and I suddenly feel ashamed that I’m staring. So we go back to the apartment.
The rest of the day was punctuated by shock and awe. Learning that those were commercial liners, learning that the Pentagon was hit (and wondering if we were at war with China), seeing the towers fall, waiting on line to give blood at St Vincents. But no one needed blood.
Going to a supermarket that evening. No one said a word. Everyone was thinking about how the rest of their life would be different.
The first flyers went up the next day (that, by the way, imho, is what the Memorial should look like – photos of people holding kids, people laughing at parties, on flyers, where someone who loved them scrawled “Have you seen?” hastily).
And bit by bit we learned of friends and colleagues who were ‘involved.’
I’ve driven past Gabreski Air Force Base in Suffolk County, New York many times. There’s a jet fighter on permanent display, on which it is painted “NEW YORK AIR GUARD.” There’s one in front of Westchester Airport as well.
I used to understood that to be a promise of protection. Now of course it’s obvious that it’s meaningless.