• Where I was. Sitting at my desk in B Tower at the Home Depot Store Support Center in Atlanta, computer on, first pile of work ready, first cup of coffee at my right hand, starting the day.
I’d been keying for about 50 minutes or so when, through the noise-canceling headphones plugged into my radio/CD player, I heard a local radio personality stop the interview he was doing and say into his mic, “Hold on a sec, folks… we’re getting breaking news from New York, an airplane has just hit one of the Twin Towers… did I hear that right? Yeah, a plane has flown into a Tower, no one knows why… We don’t know if it was accident, or… Oh, my God.”
• My first thought. My boyfriend in New York City, and the hope that it was a hoax.
I know that your neck turning cold and the hair standing up on it is a terrible cliché, but that’s what happened. I remember ripping off my headphones and getting up. I don’t remember hurrying to the elevator and riding down to the first floor lobby where a massive wall of TV monitors were showing different news sources. I was just… there. Sure enough, the WTC 1 was billowing smoke through a gaping hole. The sight was so surreal, I remember thinking that it looked like something Godzilla might have done. I also remember laughing out loud even though I found nothing even remotely funny. I understand now that the laughter was a coping mechanism as my brain struggled to process what I was seeing, but couldn’t.
• A second plane. As the lobby filled up with co-workers from every department, I convinced myself that it was a freak accident. I mean, what else could it be? The alternative was unspeakable. That’s when the second airliner came out of nowhere and I watched it fly straight into WTC 2 in real time. On purpose. No mistake.
The sea of co-workers started screaming, talking, trying to make sense of it. A friend next to me said, “What the hell! Who would do that?” I looked at her and snapped, “Bin Laden.”
“Osama Bin Laden!” I was furious.
“Who’s that?” Nobody seemed to recognize name — yet. I did because I’d just spent months researching Egypt for an Arabic female character in a novel-in-progress, and run across the man and his inhumane way of thinking.
“You’re about to find out,” I said. “I’ll bet you money, it’s him.” (It was.)
My knees started to fail as I thought of my then-boyfriend of several years. He worked right there, near the World Trade Center towers and sometimes in them, for a major news organization and would be either be trapped on a job in the area or holed up in their studios down the street, preparing all the raw footage from Ground Zero and the surrounding streets for TV.
The next day, when I finally got to talk to him, he’d been living a nightmare, physically censoring bodies and body parts and other things too graphic from the television footage, hearing the sounds of the bodies of jumpers from the burning towers hit and wondering if any of them were his colleagues or his friends, praying there wasn’t another plane diving in to hit his building, settling in as night came on because, with the subways and bridges closed down, no way was he getting out of Manhattan for a good long while.
But that day, at that moment, I sat down on the floor in that crowd with my head in my hands and cried, with my friend’s arm around my shoulders. She cried, too. All those people, terrorized and wiped from the Earth when their lives had been no one’s to take. Cell phones were relatively new to the Average Joe, and there were so many land line calls going into New York that I couldn’t get through (not that my boyfriend could have stopped to take a call anyway), so I had to go the entire day wondering if he too was alive, or hurt, or traumatized.
Torture. That was 24 hours that good and truly sucked.
• Aftermath. As the weeks came and went…
Many of my co-workers received confirmation that they had lost family members and friends in the Twin Towers. There was nothing you could say to help the situation. All you could do was hold them.
It came to light that the hijackers that flew into the North Tower had done some shopping and supplemented their pilot training here in Atlanta on their way north. Just wonderful.
There was nothing I could say to my boyfriend, either. He had to see and edit out the innocent victims that went down with the Towers and the bodies of the first responders who’d tried to save them. When Christmas rolled around, the smell of charred human flesh was still in his house. He was a wreck. All I could do was be there for him.
I’m sitting here trying to come up with the words to end this post, but sometimes there just aren’t any, I guess. I got nothing.
Then again, maybe that is the point.
Aaaaaaand here we go again.
Is this all that human beings are good for, revenge (or imagined revenge) killing?
» [CNN] Man Accused of Bomb Plot at 9/11 Memorial, FBI Says (9/10/2015)