I was getting ready for work, listening to local news radio as I always did then. At the time, I was working at Court TV, so I was still at home in Brooklyn when the news first broke that a plane had hit one of the Towers. A caller from the Bronx said she had seen a low-flying plane and I imagined a small prop plane. So I walked into my living room to turn on the TV and my eyes focused on the smoking, gaping hole.
“How weird it will be going to work and seeing that hole,” I said to my then-boyfriend.
Not long after– we all know the minutes now — we heard a loud BOOM from outside. And then, on TV, we saw the second plane hit. We looked at each other, realizing then, just how close we were. How real it was. Newscasters were already talking about terrorists and I texted a Pakistani coworker and friend, telling him to stay home, worried how Americans might react toward him. What they might do.
My brother still worked just blocks from the towers, and I hoped he was still a late-riser and still at home.
My mother, on vacation in south Jersey, was calling me, and although I could hear her voice on the phone, she couldn’t hear me. Her worry, her yelling for my dad, scared I was at work, still in my ears.
“Wow. It’ll be weird seeing two holes…”
Then they started to fall.
Dust and papers covered my neighborhood. The names of companies and people who I’d later see on missing posters covered the ground all around me in pieces. Faxes, spreadsheets. Important work details now reduced to scraps.
I can’t remember much after that. I don’t know if it was then or the next day when we trekked over to Union Square, the furthest point south in Manhattan you could go at that point. We read each of the signs of the missing, and watched the melting candles that covered every inch of that park. Everyone’s eyes swollen and bloodshot. People talk about the silence that hovered over us those days, but there were also a lot of very passionate debates happening — about revenge, about blowback and Americans’ myopia, about what it meant now to be American, about seeing history happening and wanting to make good choices; all of us trying to make sense of what had happened and what was coming.
It was in that park that I met a man from Grenada who spoke to me about listening to a friend’s radio station go silent when the US invaded in 1983, and the sadness I felt suddenly compounded with those felt around the world. He said, “I will never forget that feeling, and I’m feeling it again today.” I now saw myself experiencing a pain that other people in so many other countries had felt, were feeling, and were feeling daily, even. My own sense of place and purpose in the world had now begun to unravel and the urgency I had long felt for change grew stronger. In that moment, the images from TV of people crying for us from around the world took on new meaning for me. America no longer lived in a bubble, free from the horrors seen elsewhere. Far, far away had now come home.
I’m not much into navel-gazing historical moments such as this but it struck me as strange to me to think my daughter will be as distanced from 9/11 as I am from the events of Pearl Harbor. I will tell her my story and her father will tell her how he tried to go donate blood but so many had already donated, they actually turned him away. And I will tell her the story of the man from Grenada, too. May we never forget the feeling so many of us had in those days of being one with the rest of the world.