Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years ago today

Five years ago today, I was self-employed, working out of my cramped apartment--my "office" consisting of an egg-shaped iMac perched on a two-foot-wide table in a corner of my bedroom. I rolled out of bed around 8:30 and immediately headed for my computer, to check my email and finish up a project before having breakfast. My then-fiance had spent the night, and was still sleeping.

A little after 9, his mother called me. (She always knew where to find him.) "Turn on the TV," she said. "They're saying that a plane just hit the twin towers." I flipped on CNN, then roused my fiance--work forgotten, breakfast forgotten, everything forgotten but the images onscreen.

Like most of the rest of the world, we were glued to the TV for the next few hours, watching in horror as life as we knew it changed forever. Our immediate thoughts were for his roommate, who worked on the 92nd floor of Tower 2, and my roommate, who worked just down the street. We spent an agonizing day trying to track them down.

Finally, we heard from his roommate, who had been late for work that day, and came up the subway steps just in time to watch the second plane plunge into what was formerly his office. He wandered uptown in a daze, unable to get cell reception to let anyone know he was alive. Later, he learned that nearly everyone he had worked with had died.

Much later, we heard from my roommate, who had walked 50-plus blocks uptown, covered in ash, sobbing, to get to her best friend's office. The two of them fled to her friend's parents' house in Westchester--by train, of course, since there was no car traffic allowed on or off the island.

Sometime that afternoon, we walked over to a friend's apartment building, the highest in the neighborhood, and stood on the roof with some of his equally stunned neighbors, looking south to the giant plume of smoke and ash. Our friend had tried to donate blood, but was turned away--too many others having had the same thought.

The most striking thing that day, and the days that followed, was the silence. No planes overhead, except for the occasional fighter jet. Almost no traffic. Everyone I saw moved in a kind of hushed shock. Stores were closed.

The worst actually came days later, when it seemed every spare surface across the city was blanketed with "MISSING" flyers, smiling faces captured in happier moments--and knowing that behind each one was at least one broken heart. By then, the burning smell was everywhere.

We were extraordinarily lucky in that no one we knew was hurt, physically at least, that horrible day. But no one we knew was left unscarred.

Five years ago today, on a beautiful September morning, the world turned upside down. And nothing would ever be the same.

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