Later I’d be doing anything I could to escape the city but a few minutes before 9 am that Tuesday morning, I was racing to make it into the city.
I backed into the curb in Brooklyn, claiming my usual street side parking spot outside the Sheepshead Bay Train Station. As I put the car in park, I heard the newscaster making an odd pronouncement. “If you’re near a television, turn it on. There’s a fire at the World Trade Center. Possibly some kind of kitchen fire or something.”
I paused at the strange news for only a moment, and then shut the car off. I wasn’t near a television. I was near the Manhattan bound Q Train, and I got on it.
As the subway came above ground in Manhattan, the Towers were in full view. By now they were both on fire. It didn’t appear to be a “kitchen fire or something.” Someone on the train whispered that they’d heard a plane crashed into the Towers. After that whisper, you could have heard a pin drop, as we stood on the train watching the billowing smoke in a collective daze.
At Times Square, I jumped off the train, and headed into the high rise that housed my law office. I rode the elevator up to the usually crowded and busy 42nd floor, but no one was in sight. I threw my bag down on my desk and walked to the nearest conference room where I found my missing colleagues. No one was talking. Everyone was staring at a flat screen on the wall. We all stared together. Not exactly sure what we were looking at, until …
“Oh my God. It just collapsed.”
A few moments of shock and paralysis and then we heard the news that more planes were missing.
Maybe I still wanted to believe this was some kind of freak accident because I was surprised when one of my friends turned to me and said, “We’re in Times Square. We might as well have a bullseye on us.”
We all decided to leave together and head to a friend’s uptown apartment, as far from the Towers as we could get. I left a message for my parents telling them that I was ok, and where I was headed. I called my husband – a med student doing rotations at a Brooklyn Hospital. He said he was helping set up triage for the overflow of wounded. (He would spend the day waiting. There was no overflow of wounded. There were simply alive and not alive.)
My law office comrades and I walked with the masses through Central Park. It was orderly and calm. No one was running or frantic. I was wearing linen pants and a lightweight tan sweater. It was unseasonably warm and the sky was blue and clear. My shoes were pointed flats, and they weren’t comfortable. I hadn’t been planning on walking 60 city blocks that day.
When we got to my friend’s apartment, we ordered Chinese, and had it delivered. I can’t remember who paid for it. Do I still owe someone money? We all sat in front of the television for hours. My friend and his partner debated using the sudden afternoon off to paint the guest closet. I looked at their choice of paint color and complimented it. Strange to remember these extra-ordinarily ordinary aspects of the day.
After lunch, we went up to the rooftop of the uptown apartment building and watched with strangers as the military jets flew in and over the city. A woman next to me with a vacant look in her eye, told me: “I was there. I got out. A lot of us got out.”
I wanted to believe her so I did.
And then suddenly, I needed to know something I hadn’t thought of earlier. “What’s today’s date?” I asked aloud. I looked down at my Blackberry and saw September 11 on the screen for the first time that day. And that moment on the rooftop, along with the Chinese takeout, the clear sky, uncomfortable shoes, and the linen pants, are what haunt my memories of that day.
I needed to know the date. So that I could remember.
How could I not know that I’d never forget?