What I’m listening to: Wake Me Up When September Ends by Green Day
It was that song (link above) that inspires this post. Well, that and the few documentaries playing when I woke up this morning. When it came up on my iPod, I knew this post had to happen.
It’s been fifteen years. Somehow, it always feels like it happened last week, last month, yesterday… any warm day with blue skies and perfect fall-like weather is a reminder.
Like everyone else who was old enough to remember, I remember each detail of my day. I was sitting in my office at the magazine, typing out notes on an article. A woman from the graphics department — Jill — popped her head in my door.
“A plane just hit the World Trade Center.”
“Wow,” I said. “Someone’s going to be in trouble.”
I thought it was a small plane. I thought it was an accident.
Less than 20 minutes later, Jill was back. I can still see her arms wrapped around her protectively, wearing what I can only describe as a look of repressed terror.
This was no accident.
I followed her to the small conference room, where the office manager had placed a TV. I sat with a few other people at first, then a few more. When the news came about the plane hitting the Pentagon, horrified gasps broke the silence.
My coworkers and I exchanged glances. My God. We were sitting right between New York and DC. Were we next?
My kids. I had to get to my kids. One was with my parents (I’d moved and he wanted to stay to finish his schooling there). The other was in school. I walked quickly back to my office. The voice mail button was blinking – the school had called. They were sending the kids home. All kids were fine, and some knew what was happening, but the school had turned off all TVs.
When I went back up the hall, people were being moved to the big conference room, where chairs had been rolled in or brought in by those just joining the rest of us.
Then buildings fell. First one. Then the other. With it came the realization that many people had just died with us watching.
I was still sitting there with my friends when the news broke — a plane had just crashed in western PA. I bolted back to my office. My parents were in western PA. My mom spent her Tuesdays at auctions in the area they were talking about.
I dialed. No answer. Again and again until I saw on the Internet the name of the place the plane had crashed. No, she’d never gone there. I was scared, but I latched on to that bit of news like a life preserver. She’d be fine (she was).
My daughter called. She was with the neighbor, who was able to get home sooner.
The announcement was made — all employees who needed or wanted to go home could do so. The office was closing. A lot of employees had already left. Little by little, each person would get up and walk out. To the person, I don’t remember anyone saying any goodbyes. We each went home, where TVs would be switched on and left that way for the next week or so.
The hope lasted about two weeks. Survivors would be found. People would be in hospitals, surely. In the chaos, names must have been missed on admission forms.
Only they weren’t. When my aunt called two weeks later, she said, “You’ve seen your cousin on the news, I’m sure.”
I hadn’t. I’d turned the TV off because it had been too much. Too, too much.
I’d missed my cousin, standing in front of a local news camera, holding a photo of her husband of six months, saying how sure she was they’d find him. If only someone who’d seen him would call.
He was in Tower Two, 104th floor. Last she heard from him was after the attack. He’d called to say he was fine and he was about to find his way out.
His name is now etched in stone alongside so many others at the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan.
To this day, I remember what I was wearing. One of the publishers had come by the day before and had handed out company polo shirts to everyone. Like a number of people, I’d worn mine that day.
When I got home, I took it off and threw it in the trash.
My story is one of millions of stories — a collective, a meshing of snippets that somehow help us cope. It’s what we did in the weeks and months following that day — we shared stories. My email was filled with stories sent from contacts and colleagues.
A marketing contact in Manhattan told his heart-wrenching story of watching papers floating down from the sky and realizing they had come from those offices two blocks away. Another contact shared the horror he saw from his office window when the dust from fallen buildings swept over everything and blacked out the sun. Our editor-in-chief sent his thoughts from Monaco, where he’d been attending a conference, and where he was stuck when air traffic came to a halt.
We wanted to share — we had to share. It’s how we realized we weren’t alone, weren’t crazy, weren’t adrift in this strange, new landscape.
You have your story, too. If you’re willing to share it, please do.