Wednesday, September 15, 2010
This past weekend, on a brilliant blue day, September 11th came and went. I didn't even notice the date until the day itself was almost over. The weather was just about the same as it was then - nine years ago. Not a cloud in the sky. Summer's warmth still trying to creep in after the morning chill of an approaching fall. The mind filled with happy thoughts because of the sun on my face. Until I started my car.
I am a late riser. I do not function well before noon. I get up to a buzzing alarm clock, head straight for the shower, get dressed and pack for my work day. I do not turn on the TV, the radio, the computer or read the paper. I am a zombie until I get into my car to make my drive to the office. My car's radio is tuned to the local sports talk radio station. So when I started my engine and heard Peter Jennings' voice I was highly confused by how my station selection might have been changed. This was my first clue that something was amiss that morning.
I immediately stopped at my local gas station to pick up a pack of smokes and asked my foreign gas station attendant buddy what the hell was going on. Peter Jennings was on my radio talking about planes. The gas station guy was my constant. I saw him every morning and exchanged pleasantries. This morning he looked like he wanted to come across the counter and hug me. He told me about the planes. He told me with fear in his eyes. He wanted me to stay. He didn't want to listen and watch alone. But I didn't understand. I was still not understanding what was happening. I was late for work and didn't want my boss to be annoyed.
I had just been there a week prior. Snapping photos of the skyline from my brother's neighborhood in Jersey City. I had to pull over. When you are just tuning in to reality when the world's axis gets rocked, driving on a highway is not the best place to be. The tower collapsed. Silence. I sat there on the shoulder of the highway, moments away from my office's exit, with my mouth agape and that look on my face. That look that everyone still driving past me had as they looked my way. Horror.
I needed to not be alone. I drove to my exit and parked at my office. I rushed in and was greeted by the small group of co-workers who wanted information. We had no TV. The internet connections were down. The phone lines were sporadic. Radio reception was all we had. I could only tell them what they already knew. And then we all heard history repeat itself a half hour later when the second tower fell. The Pentagon was attacked. A plane went down in the fields of PA. We were scared that planes would continue to fall from the sky and land in our piece of the world. We didn't realize our city was the source of the terrorists' paths.
My phone rang. If there is anyone who can defy the laws of downed phone lines, it is a mother. And there she was. In my ear. Miraculously. So nice to hear her voice in a time of vulnerability and fear. But all she did was fan the flames. She wanted to know where her son was - my brother. Didn't I know he had just started a new job? In Manhattan? At a hotel across from the towers? No. Shit no. I did not know.
My world went from rocked to plummeting in those brief seconds. I could not breathe. I needed a cigarette. I needed out. I greeted my boss' clients who had arrived for their scheduled appointment in the middle of the end of the world. And then I ran. I ran outside and stared at the bluest sky you ever did see. Without a cloud - or a plane. For they had been grounded by then. Such stillness. Such quiet and peace. And I was drowning.
I have never felt so alone in my life. Standing outside on that beautifully scary morning chain smoking. Andy was on the road, making his way home from a long night shift. My parents were shaking in CT. And my brother was MIA at what would forever after be known as Ground Zero.
I prayed. To that presence known as God who surely had a busy morning answering lots of pleading calls. I rode up the elevator of my office building reeking of cigarettes and staring at the floor buttons. And as they blinked I begged. Begged for my brother's safety. Asked God to please spare my only sibling. I didn't barter and make claims or promises. There wasn't time. I just asked.
My mother, blessed with the special power to get through clogged phone lines, had called me again while I was praying. She left word with my co-worker that my brother was alive. That he had abandoned his new job when the second tower crumbled. That he ran. That he was shocked. And that he had been waiting angrily in line behind countless others at a pay phone to make a call to his girlfriend to tell her he was OK and was coming to her. She called my mother. My mother called me.
I knocked on my boss' door and told him and his clients that I needed to go home. They looked like they all wanted to too. And so they did. We all did. We needed to see what we had been picturing in our heads all day. And when we saw it, we realized that our imaginations were safer images. I watched them on loop for hours. And I have continued to see them in my mind whenever I come across the date on my calendar. When the sky was blue and the planes stopped flying.
I helped my brother celebrate his 35th birthday and his 2nd wedding anniversary this week. I am forever grateful that I have him around to pick on, laugh with and love. I think of that every time I watch the floor buttons flash on an elevator ride.