Sunday, September 13, 2009

Never to be Forgotten

The contractor had just broken through the wall, and two small bedrooms were about to become one gracious space. We were trying to create the perfect room for a child who had a million friends, was incredibly social, but had no play space that could accommodate a large group of kids yearning to be free from parental oversight. There was a great deal of banging and knocking which I tried to escape by sitting downstairs in the kitchen, in front of the TV.

It was a peaceful, beautiful day and I was torn between looking out at the garden and watching some insipid segment on the “Today Show.” I’m not sure what drew my full attention to the TV. Maybe it was Katie, clearly upset, switching from the studio to a shot of a plane flying into the World Trade Center. I watched it replayed again and again. As is oft the case, the networks think more is better. And while I usually find this incredibly boring, in this case I was horrified and, at the same time, fascinated by what I was seeing. It was like a movie. And I remember thinking that it had to be a hideous accident.

But then the second plane flew into the other tower. It was so frightening that I ran upstairs to the contractors, yelling about what I had seen on TV and insisting that they come and look at what was happening. For whatever reason, I needed confirmation.

Two of them came downstairs. I could have turned the TV on upstairs, but it was like the event was only happening in the kitchen. We all watched the first plane and then the second fly into the Towers – over and over and over. And then we heard what sounded like an explosion followed almost immediately by sirens and the contractors cell phone. He answered it, seemed a little shaken by what was being said, and hung up. “It was my son”, he said. “He’s an Arlington fireman and he’s on his way to the Pentagon. Another plane just flew into the Pentagon. He’s going to call back when he knows something.”

We all continued to watch the coverage and still couldn’t believe what we were seeing. After about two hours of gruesome photos and reporting, I remembered that my dear friend Sidney worked at Battery Park, which was right next to the Towers. It wasn’t easy to get a call through to New York. But I was relentless and she finally answered her phone – at home.

“Are you OK?” I asked stupidly because of course she wasn’t OK. Among other things, she was exhausted from having walked from Battery Park on the West side to her apartment in the East sixties. “You cannot believe what it was like,” she said. “I was on my way to work and stopped for some coffee. There was a wall of windows and when I started out the door, the sky got black. It was blacker than night. Then a police officer came running in and said it was too dangerous for us to stay there, and we needed to get out of the area. We all walked outside into what turned out to be ash and metal and God knows what else was in the air. And when I looked up there were people falling out of the windows. Maybe not falling, maybe throwing themselves out the windows. It was something I will never forget. The officer moved us to another building but I just wanted to get out of there. I just wanted to make sure Howard (her husband) was OK so I left and walked across town. I had to walk. There were no cabs, no subway, no cars, nothing. I just kept walking.”

There was nothing I could say to console her. We exchanged endearments and hung up. I sat back down in front of the TV. By that time, another plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. There were reports that this plane was aimed at the Capital or the White House. There were other people in NY I tried to reach to make sure they were OK, but by that time it was impossible to get a call through.

At about 4:30 Jordan came home from school. There was an Arlington County decision that all the kids would be kept in school until it was certain that they would be safe outdoors. People forget the Pentagon is in Arlington. Eight years ago today, we drove over to the Pentagon (there is a road that runs right by where the plane crashed). We pulled over and joined hundreds of other people just staring in disbelief, at the giant hole in this historic building.

There are those events, like the first walk on the moon, the Kennedy and King assassinations, or the election of the first Black President, about which we will remember every detail. And, one about which, I will try never to forget. We’re just sayin’..Iris

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