My September 11th story

I started writing something about the day, but when I looked through my archives to see what I wrote about it in the past, the piece I wrote on the fifth anniversary pretty much still perfectly sums up my thoughts.

Some things have changed, obviously. You don’t get too many spontaneous remembrances about September 11th anymore. There was a time when almost every gathering of a small group in a bar or a restaurant, would invariably involve the “where were you,” conversation. The site itself is now more of a pain in the ass than anything else.

I worked at a company in Newark for a while last winter and every time I had to climb out of the subway to switch to the Path train, instead of flitting through the underground Concourse which used to connect the services, I cursed the names of every terrorist, lawyer and politician responsible for my inconvenience.

But every now and then, it still hits me in the way it did in those weeks after the buildings fell. A sudden gloomy knot will form in my throat. I’ll remember the images of the fire fighters carrying the body of the ash-covered chaplain to the church across the street. Or the two-year-old daughter of the only woman officer to die in the Towers, curled up in her father’s arms. Her mother was a Mets fan and her dad was a Yankees fan, but I remember how he said that his daughter was watching the TV and would just start smiling when the Mets came on. I remember thinking, yeah, she’s definitely taking after her mother there, only fans smile when the Mets come on. And then we wince, cover our faces and weep. I remember feeling sorry that her mother wouldn’t be there to explain about that part.

Even Hollywood has started to treat the September 11th attacks more as plot devices to set a time period or illuminate the point about parallel universes on television shows. I watched two wholly unremarkable movies which both ended up weaving in shots of the Twin Towers on that day: Dear John and Remember Me. I was so mad because with just a ten second flicker of those images, the movies evoked a whole range of emotion and reactions without earning it through good script writing or plausible acting. Lazy vultures.

Well, anyway, these are just my thoughts. My thoughts. To quote Jay-Z.

Be easy.

I woke up late five years ago. Just like today, I immediately turned on the television. With my half opened eye, I saw the World Trade Center burning.
Old LLP was downtown, about ten blocks away, and I worked in a department I hated, doing work that was crushing my very will to live.
I immediately decided that I would tell them I couldn’t make it to work because of the Trade Center Fire.
I was watching Channel Five news — back in the day when Good Day New York was my favorite morning program. They have that weather guy who is also a pilot. They always trot him out whenever there is an aviation disaster. Flight 800, JFK Jr…you name it, I guess they figure, why pay for a separate guy.
He was explaining the possible reasons for a plane accidentally flying into a building…he postulated that maybe the radar was malfunctioning and the pilot didn’t have enough time to redirect the plane, before impact.
They were mid-conversation when the second plane exploded into a ball of building-enveloping flames.
“Man, they’d better get that radar fixed,” I thought rolling over. But hey, I was definitely not going to work today.
Within minutes though, the weatherman/aviation expert was yanked off the air. The cameras cut away to seasoned news people. Yes, I mean Penny Crone.
This was no radar issue.
Uh oh.
This was serious. Which in the Summers household pretty much means it was time for ABC News.
Peter Jennings was already on-air.
Diane Sawyer was field reporting.
My phone rang.
“Thank God, you’re so lazy!”
It was my mom. She had tried to wake me up that morning to go vote in the New York primary with her.
She works in a hospital, so she wasn’t being allowed to leave.
I called pearatty after I hung up with my mother.
We were supposed to go to France that Thursday for a week-long vacation.
I, of course, had no intention of getting on a plane for the rest of my life, much less in two days.
Scared.
Everybody was scared.
Not me though.
I wrote about this once before, but I had never <a href=”http://www.clareified.com/2004/05/19/my-september-12th/”>felt so safe in the ghetto in all my life. </a>I was worried about my mom getting home safely, but the rest…the rest was like a disaster movie unfolding on my TV.
The side effect of twenty years of desensitization, I am sure.
The news footage was raw and uncensored.
The things I saw that day…bodies…limbs, jumpers, fallers…crumbling…bloody faces, flattened fire trucks…wreakage. I watched and watched and watched and watched.
I remember watching an overweight man in a suit and tie inch along the side of the Trade Center.
The camera fixed on him clutching the face of the building. I wondered what he would have said or done, if he’d known we were watching him there.
Would he have mouthed his goodbyes…final messages of love…would he have asked for help? Or did he know…know that in seconds, he would lose his footing, his grip. That his jacket would flap in the wind as his arms grasped at nothingness.
I don’t know his name, but I remember every second of his last moments of life. Except the final one. The cameraman spared us that. Though, I doubt he could spared himself. The impact.
My mom finally made it home around ten, after fours hours on the subway and forty dollars paid to a driver to take her twenty blocks – a ride that usually cost 6.
Pearatty and I talked throughout the day…did we know anyone who worked down there? Who could have done this?
Do we have to like President Bush now?
I stayed up till sunrise watching, wondering if Manhattan would survive this. Would I go back to work there…would people move away?
I slept a little, but woke up by seven…just to see if it was real.
It was.
I ventured into Manhattan that Saturday. Saw my first glimpse of the smoking, broken skyline as the Q train crawled across the Manhattan bridge.
Pi and I made our way downtown to see Tompkins Square Park covered with flowers and candles and posters.
The air was charred. My eyes watered and my breathing started to become labored, so we called off the plans to walk down to “Ground Zero.”
I would see it soon enough.
The Jewish holidays started that following week. I was the only non-Jewish first year in my department, so the head dude called me to ask if I could come in to file some papers.
I took a car in and we drove past the WTC site. I saw the last remnants of twisted metal jutting from the ground.
The smell was pungent.
Gray dust covered everything.
I spent three hours in the office that day. It was all I could stand. The smell lingered in every corner of every hall. I imagined that with every breath I inhaled the ruined buildings and the vehicles and the people; my lungs permanently coated with death.
I did their stupid filing -making at least three mistakes that they would have the audacity to point out during my annual review-and vowed to start looking for another job.
Alas, a year later, I was in a department I enjoyed more, working with people I actually liked. The firm gave everyone the option to stay home.
The senior associate on the case was a hardcore ex-marine and we had a hearing in late September, we wondered if he would let us take the day.
“Umm…so…Matt….about tomorrow…”
“I won’t be here,” he said flatly.
He then told us that he was walking to work, just blocks from the Trade Center when the first plane hit the buildings. He was covered in soot and papers flying from the offices above.
He said he picked up a handful of what looked like trade orders from Marsh & McCllennan. That he imagined what had happened to the man working on those papers just that morning. He stuffed them into his briefcase and continued walking to work.
When he finished, he leaned over and when he came up, he spread out four pieces of white paper with charred edges on the conference room table.
No, he would not be coming in tomorrow.
I didn’t go in the following year either.
And with the last two years falling on weekends…well, this was the first workday morning for me in five years.
And once again it started with two buildings on fire.
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2 Responses to My September 11th story

  1. PokerLawyer says:

    No words, just tears. Very, very…very moving.

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