I woke up at around 9 AM on Tuesday. I work for an industrial company answering the phone in customer service in the most generic office in existence. I had only worked there for 4 months since graduating from college. I usually work 8 to 4 but on Tuesdays I work 11 to 7. I got up at 9, and took a walk downtown. Sometimes I’m lazy and don’t go for a walk, but that day I did. It’s a small city, but walking downtown it feels like a real city. The sun was bright and the weather was seasonable. As I got back to my apartment house I noticed a medical helicopter flying overhead. I had walked by the hospital and saw people getting in the helicopter. “Someone must have gotten hurt,” I thought.
When I entered my apartment my roommate said, “You’d better call Jessie.” I asked why and he said that there was an explosion from a plane at the World Trade Center. My friend Jessica lived directly across the street from the towers. I looked at the TV and saw smoke coming from the WTC. My roommate and I had stayed with Jessie the summer before and knew how close she was. It took awhile to figure out what had happened. We flipped through the channels, FOX was still showing 7th Heaven. As the minutes went by, the story took shape, not one, but two planes had hit the towers. Terrorists.
The buildings were on fire, but the situation looked stable from watching on TV in my living room. I tried to call Jessie, but as expected the call wouldn’t go through. My roommate left for work, and I just sat watching the evolving details unfold minute by minute. A plane went down in Pennsylvania. This isn’t over, I realized. They played the tape of the second plane and I screamed in horror as I watched the planed disappear into the tower and a fireball shoot out. I tried Jessie again. The phone rang. Her roommate Troy answered. I asked if Jessie was there. He said she wasn’t thank God. I asked if she was out of town. No, she was at work. I said good-bye and good luck. A few minutes later as the commentators talked, the image changed. Debris had fallen. They replayed video from a different angle. The tower had fallen. That’s when it changed for me. It both snapped into focus the magnitude of events, and had surpassed what I could comprehend. It became a surreal experience.
I had just talked to Troy. I couldn’t even think where he was now. The burning tower in the sky had become a frightening cloud of smoke eating the city. I was simply stunned. Jessie was all right. She was at work, Troy said. “Work” sounded safe enough, far enough away. It had to be. I called my work, but hung up. What did I have to say? I’m all right? Why wouldn’t I be? Logic took pause. My day continued. I drove to work. As I was leaving they said something about smoke at the Pentagon. I looked at other people driving. They knew. It was spreading so quickly. I got to work and the story continued. The WTC fell. A plane down. The Pentagon hit. This isn’t over. A car bomb at the Capitol. I worked. I answered the phone. I did more work than anyone else. I did more than I usually do. I took only occasional glimpses at the television. Rumors were spreading with the truth, I waited to try to only get accurate updates.
A coworker played an emergency radio off the internet. It sounded like Third Watch, but way more horrific. The company I work for has workers in the NYC area that call everyday. They were stranded. But, by the end of the day we heard from all of them. It was hope, hearing their voices. The hours passed. I was at work alone from 5 to 7. It got quiet. Finally I went home and watched TV constantly. As time passed I heard every detail about that day. I called everyone I knew just to confirm things were ok.
I talked to Jessie’s grandma and found out definitively she was ok. Troy had lied. He thought Jessie was dead. She waits for a bus in front of the towers. Only by chance, she had left early. Jessie thought Troy was dead. I kinda thought that too. He stepped out the front door and saw debris and empty streets. A guy on rollerblades was trying to make his way through the mess. Troy looked up and saw the tower coming down. He grabbed the rollerblader and luckily he had held the door open with his foot. They were “safe” in the stairwell. They escaped. A guy at work, who works in New York, his wife was in one of the towers, but made it. My mom’s hairdresser was in NYC. She was at the WTC the night before and it was too late to go up. She was going to come back the next morning, but saw the news at breakfast. She spent the day driving out of the city. I listened to all the stories, memorials in song, speeches and rhetoric. I observed. I felt disconnected. I spoke to Jessie a day or two later. We didn’t talk about it too much. I just wanted to hear her voice. I know it is real, but it remains something I saw on TV, something surreal.