I am running out the door to a client meeting, my briefcase banging on my hip, and the phone rings. It is my client.
“Don’t come in. Turn on your TV.”
I dig for the remote control in the couch cushions and sink down while pushing the button. The skyline of NYC, home to my extensive Irish family, all NYPD. Three generations of NYPD. And one of the towers of the World Trade Center is on fire. It is surreal.
I also have relatives in finance. And some who work closely with the Port Authority. My brain kicks out an immediate list…”Where is Uncle Jimmy? Peter? Danny? Kevin? Scottie? Billy?” I fumble for my cell phone and begin dialing. Blocked calls. Blocked calls. All lines busy. And then the second plane hits the second tower. I am numb, uncompreheding. And then I realize…if my cousins responded to this, they are directly under this tower, this hellish debris.
I reach my Uncle Jimmy at my cousin Peter’s house…his voice is distant, slow, tight in his throat. “I made him late. I came over to get the baby and made him late for work. He’s coming back now.”
“Who, Uncle Jim? Peter?” I curl up on the couch, phone to my ear, eyes glued to the TV. “Oh, I’m so glad, so glad, has anyone heard from…”
Just then, in my Chicago living room, and his New York living room, a tower falls in waves of debris and dust. I moan. “Uncle Jim, the tv…”
“Oh God, on no, those poor people, on God, I have to go…”
We hang up. And I’m alone on the couch with my laptop, cell phone and TV.
I try finding my mother-in-law who travels United weekly. I try finding my husband at work. No one can tell me anything. My panic is rising. I try dialing my sister in Butler, PA. We talk quietly and quickly. “Has Laura heard from Scottie? Danny and Billy turned around and went back after the first crash? Where are they now?” Then her voice becomes hysterical as her husband, a PA state trooper bursts in the front door carring a rifle, “What? Another plane down WHERE?! Somerset??” This is the town where my nephew and niece were born, where they had their first Christmas. It is in the middle of nowhere. “What is going on?” We both wail. And then she hangs up so that she can go get the kids.
The news is now reporting on 3 downed plans…the WTC and the Pentagon. I switch channels desperately…”what about Somerset? Are there more planes?” I begin to cry as I imagine a sky full of potential explosions and my new husband in his office building. If Somerset, then anywhere. There is no rationale to targets. I dial his voice mail again and again, sobbing into the phone.
Then the waiting begins. With my laptop and cellphone, I begin to systematically track down every relative, every ex-colleague consulting in NYC, every potential traveler.
My mother-in-law calls. She didn’t fly this week…her trip was cancelled. We pray together. My mother calls…Danny and Billy have called in OK on rescue, Kevin was hit by falling debris and is in the hospital, Scottie had switched shifts at the PAPD…his whole unit is missing and presumed dead. Many childhood friends are missing. Many of my Uncle Jim’s Port Authority friends are missing. They were in their offices when the tower fell. An ex-business colleague is missing…he was consulting high in the tower that morning and his new wife is frantic.
My husband calls. I lose it…cry fiercely and ask him to come home. He is cool and calm, but concerned about me. He starts for home.
A Fed-Ex truck pulls up outside of my house and my heart races.
There are no planes overhead. We hear them all of the time over our neighborhood, close to O’Hare. And there are no planes. Silence. Nothing but the EL.
I search for the BBC. I search the Internet. Have to find a way outside of this wall of self-absorbed US media to get the whole story. I travel extensively. I already know that cocky, uncooperative, condescending, hypocritical foreign policy decisions have soured the world’s opinion of the US. The email begins to flood in. My fingers fly over the keys to address the damage. This is NOT Afghanistan… this is the Taliban and they are separate. This is not Islamists, these are separate fundamentalists/fanatics who do not have religion on their mind, they are driven by hatred and fear. And some of it is justifiable, however hard it must be for the American people to hear it. Nothing justifies the terrorism, only their anger is justifiable and we should have been asking ourselves long before now what we could do to minimize the anger, the unfairness, the hate.
I have every reason for anger, for hate myself and I cannot find it. I cannot feel the passion for retaliation and escalation. Only justice…truth telling…accountability from the American government.
I get another email. It is from an ex-colleague. They know our co-worker has perished. They have set up a website. They send me the address. I stare into the smiling face of his photo on the site. He is laughing with his new bride and giddy with life and the love of his family and friends.
He is Indian. He is Hindu. He is a young man, a colleague, a funny and kind person who is too young to be memorialized. I listen to a TV report about an Indian Sikh shot and killed at a gas station in the southwest. I silently mouth “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” at the screen. I get smaller on the couch. I hold onto my phone. I cry. I pray. I wait alone.