Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Where I Was

I didn't have a TV on September 11, 2001. I was living in the Bronx and I woke up late for class that morning, so I didn't even turn on the radio before I ran out the door. It took me forever to flag down a cab, and once I did, the guy refused to take me to Manhattan. An airplane had hit the World Trade Center, he said. No one was going into the city.

It was a beautiful blue day. I stood on the corner of Fordham Road, looking up and down the street for signs of panic. I don't know why I didn't go home. Maybe I didn't really believe the cabbie. Maybe I assumed classes at Columbia were still being held. Maybe all I knew was in Manhattan, and I, in the Bronx, felt impossibly far away from everything familiar. But for whatever reason, I tightened the straps on my backpack and started walking west. I flagged down four other cabs before I found one that would try to get me to the island.

By the time we reached the Harlem River, the first tower had already fallen. The cabbie had Howard Stern on the radio. I can't remember what exactly Stern was talking about - no one knew what was happening yet and for hours the only news we could get in New York were DJ guesses - but I know I heard him use the phrase "towel head." I watched the cabbie's brown neck. He didn't move to change the dial.

Harlem was grey and quiet across the river. We started up a small bridge, but by the time we got out over the water the traffic had stopped. We couldn't see what was ahead of us, there was just the faint pulse of emergency lights above the cars. Traffic behind kept us from turning around. We were stuck. Out the window to my left, we could see the last tower burning - a big black tornado of smoke spiraling up from the building and hazing the sky.

We inched forward until a billboard blocked my view of the tower. The radio was turned up loud. The cabbie and I sat patiently. We felt none of the normal frenzy of New York drivers and passengers. We didn't know what was happening, but we knew it would take time and we both settled back into our seats. We didn't talk. The silence was comfortable, close even. I knew I never would forget that cab ride, or that cabbie, and the few times our eyes met in the rear view mirror, I knew he was thinking the same thing.

Suddenly, Stern began to shout. We inched forward, clearing the billboard. We should've been able to see the tower again. It should've been right there. There were 614 people in that second tower. Even burning, it was the tallest thing in the city. We should've been able to see it, but all that was left was smoke in the sky.


didi979 said...

Wow . . . I had no idea that this was your experience of that day. I remember calling you and being worried about you and my uncle who worked at NSA at that time. Thankfully, you were both safe. I was very relieved that you were both safe.

I remember so much about that day . . . my boss, who has since passed away and whom I adored was the first person I spoke with - I told him we would be at war; he went back to his work - that was Jon; always the work.

Devon called me; they had the tv on at her high school; she saw people were leaping from windows; she was scared; terrified - I left work to be with the girls. Jon understood . . .

God . . . that was a bad day. Yep, it was a really bad day . . .

Nothing much redeeming to say about that

I love you and I'll see you Sunday.

David said...

I was not watching TV that morning. JEW called on my cell, and asked me if Robbie was coming home. "What? Why?" I asked. His words still make me..emotional. He said, "Daddy, something terrible is happening," and then he couldn't talk anymore.

Just like I can't type anymore right now, either..

Alicia said...

I just remember hearing about it and thinking "what a horrible accident." Then the truth set in and it was still so hard to absorb. Classes were ended for the rest of the day and we all sat around the TV for what seemed like weeks. Then we have been left with all that follows and continues today. It makes me think of that George Harrison song "Isn't It a Pity."

cynthia said...
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Robin said...

Wow, Mir, wow.

I was making pancakes and listening to NPR when I heard of the first plane attack and then I ran to the family room and turned on the television. I turned it off almost as quickly, sickened by the availability of way too much information. I stuck with NPR for the rest of the day. Later, I phoned everyone I knew in close proximity to these events, to ask about their safety. All were well, but everyone knew someone, who knew someone, who died that day.

I wanted to keep my loved ones so close that day and for a long time thereafter.