"A plane hit the World Trade Center. I have a picture of it on my PC."
As I walked to my friend Tom's desk, I recalled the stories that my mother had told me about the same sort of thing happening to the Empire State Building back in the 1940s. Tom had saved the image from CNN.com, and it was clear even in this distant shot that it had not been a small plane. Heavy dark smoke was crawling up the side of the tower. How could this have happened?
Soon enough, news began to trickle into the office that it was not an accident, but my first impulse was to argue against hysteria. It just seemed too soon to characterize it as a deliberate act. Surely it was a horrible, horrible accident.
Everyone in the office moved around as if they were covered in a thin film. Eyes met, eyebrows raised in concern, heads shook gently, and we retrieved our faxes, dropped off our reports, and sat back down at our desks. Waiting.
And then the word came that a second plane had hit the other tower, and naked, raw emotion took the place of that dazed, plodding calm. Someone received a phone call from her son on one of the upper floors of the first tower hit, and left the office in tears.
"I don't want to be here. Can we leave?" people asked. I didn't quite know what to say. I called my wife at home and told her to turn on the TV. I heard my two-year old daughter Lana in the background, laughing, unaware. They were scheduled to fly to Japan on 9/13 for a three-week visit.
A TV was rolled into the lunchroom downstairs, on one of those tall, classroom-style carts. I did not go downstairs to watch right away. Someone came up from watching the news and said that one of the towers had collapsed. I thought it was probably the top portion of the tower, but they insisted it was the whole thing. I went downstairs.
The lunchroom was filled with people, some in tears. The enormity of the whole thing could barely be contained, and it was the smaller details that gripped people. When an eyewitness was interviewed and related that people were jumping out of tower windows, the entire lunchroom gasped as if they had been stabbed.
The office was dismissing people at 11:00, and I hung around until 11:30, listening on a clock radio to a flurry of reports about more planes, the Pentagon, car bombs. It was bleak, and I wanted to go home.
Much of the lore of 9/11 seems to speak of what a beautiful day it was, as if Nature somehow lied to us. As if it is Natures responsibility to design a set to match the plot. I spent the day my father died in 1977 riding my bike in a freckling sun. I drove to Harlem to pick up my brother's ashes 17 years later with my left arm out the window, catching a patterned burn. Bright sunshine on 9/11 was neither ironic nor inappropriate. It was simply bright sunshine.
I stepped out of the car onto the loose stones that make up our driveway. A white van pulled in behind me. The handyman who was scheduled to take a look at our perpetually running toilet was keeping his appointment. He told us that the AT&T tower about a mile down the road, a primary switching station for cell phone users, had been barricaded. He had a moist kindness in his eyes, and kept apologizing for the interruption. He had a golf-ball size tumor jutting out of his left cheek.
My wife and I decided to do some grocery shopping. We agreed that if either one of us sensed something strange, we would immediately evacuate wherever we were, no questions asked. The Fairway supermarket was very crowded, but it was not the panic shopping that precedes the promise of harsh weather. I think we were most of us there in an effort to purchase a little normalcy.
Following that we took our daughter to a large park, to play on the swings and walk around the lake and watch the geese. In my memory, the three of us were completely alone, although I'm sure that was not actually the case. I don't recall much of that visit beyond pushing Lana on a swing, following her trajectory upward into a dark blue sky, then watching as she arced back towards the sand, which was dimpled with hundreds of footprints...