There were no clouds in the sky. Not a one. The unmarred expanse of blue overhead was brilliant, almost hurtful to the eyes.
Sun on the shoulders and the sharp but pleasing scent of fallen leaves of orange and red and brown tickling at the nose.
Someone heard there was a plane crash in New York. Then it was in the city. Then it was into a building. Then it was the World Trade Center.
The Trade Center? How does that even happen?
It wasn't a commuter plane. It wasn't a single engine plane. It was a big one. A big one. With a lot of passengers on board.
The first huddle commenced. Time to discuss. Something rang hollow in this. Local radio wasn't interested in the full details yet. The conspiracies began to fly.
One nugget of concern cropped up.
Remember the first bombing? In the Trade Center underground parking?
Did they come back?
The phone rang.
Another plane. The other tower.
This was war.
Another phone call. The fucking Pentagon now.
Someone dug up a portable television set. Black and white, it was that old. Tiny screen. Terrible reception. Antenna stretched to its limit to grab the WGAL signal.
Grainy picture showed shafts of smoke wafting from both towers. Helicopters circling the scene of destruction. Emergency crews on the ground, looking up. The magnitude of the event was etched on their faces.
So high, the areas of impact.
People above the flames. There had to be survivors above it. How could they get to them? How could those people get down?
We waited for the miracle. It had to happen. Someone would make it happen. There would be a way through the flames. There would be a way down. The fires would be extinguished.
Somehow, it would be okay.
The television fizzled. We pretended to work.
Tried to not process the fact that people were jumping from the towers. That some of those tiny black spots falling from the windows were humans. People who decided one giant leap was better than waiting for the flames to take them.
Tried to fight the endless waves of chills that kept dancing up and down the spine.
Denial. Flimsy denial.
Another phone call. Everybody held their breath. A ringing phone only brought more horror.
And so the horror continued.
The towers had fallen.
Both of them.
All those people inside. All those rescue workers. All those people. Dead. Crushed. Incinerated.
There was a plane missing. It might be over Pennsylvania.
More breath held.
Three Mile Island.
Too damn close for comfort.
Could they do something bad to it? If they hit it, would it damage the core?
Were we about to get our asses nuked by proxy?
All eyes went to the sky. Still blue. Still flawless.
The television began to cooperate again. The missing plane was reported down. West of us.
A rush of customers.
No panic. Anger. Rage. Fear. Palpable fear. Stoic preparation for the worst case scenario. No scoffing behind their backs. Who knew what was coming next? The world had gone mad, after all.
The television fizzled just as quickly as it had started working again. Frustration danced with relief. Too much to take in. Every news flash hurt. It physically hurt.
That was the day we learned how deep fear could run. How quickly life could change forever.
"Welcome to the New World Order." That how I greeted my dad when I went to my parent's home for lunch and a status check. To find out if there was even a point in returning to work.
I forgot to be hungry. Hunger seemed frivolous.
I wished I had the grainy, unreliable reception of the broken television at work rather than the crystal clarity of cable tv. Couldn't watch any longer. Couldn't look away. Rubbernecking from the couch. Unable to process all the information. The lack of information. Speculation. Dramatic commentary over the relentless images of dust, dirt, fleeing survivors, evacuees, New Yorkers turned refugees.
Sleep came that night, but it wasn't restful.
The days that followed passed in a dream-like state. A constant sense of the surreal, and an ever present disbelief and grief prevailed. The skies were clear in a different sense. No contrails. No hint of the usual air traffic overhead. The heavens were empty and that vast unused space pressed in. The silence roared in the ears. We didn't realize how much happened over our heads every day until it was no longer there.
Turning on the television was a deliberate choice to allow in more sobering news. There were no other options. All cameras were pointed at Ground Zero. Day and night, they monitored rescue efforts.
We still hoped for a few miracles, but we knew deep down inside they wouldn't come.
There was no hope of survival. No matter how sincere and desperate our hopes were, they were futile.
Recovery turned to clean-up, and almost blissfully, the collective decision was made to return to normal television programming. The attacks still dominated, but the constant, oppressive coverage was over.
Rudy Guiliani went on Saturday Night Live to say it was time to laugh again.
The strained laughs trickled in, demonstrating that eventually normalcy was possible. Someday. Some way.
Good things happened.
The epic tale of the battle for control of Flight 93 spread. We hoped it was true. We hoped that if they had to die, they died defeating the slimy bastards who had taken control of the plane.
People were nicer to each other.
We said hello to strangers.
Criminals forgot to do criminal things.
Traffic jams sprung up around fire stations. Nobody honked. Nobody yelled. Everybody was too busy scrounging for loose change to toss in a rubber boot as a fireman walked the line of cars, asking for donations for supplies, for food, for blankets, for anything the workers at the crash sites needed as they continued their work.
It wasn't charity. It was what we had to do. What we wanted to do.
This was what it meant to be American.
When the going got tough, we rallied.
Patriotism was alive and well. There was something oddly Rockwellian about it all. Flags flew at half-mast on all the government property. They hung over porches, they flapped on cars.
Planes flew overhead again. We pretended not to feel a rush of fear if one flew a little low.
Everything became black and white. All events great and small were categorized as Before 9/11 and After 9/11.
Anger swelled. Fuck any terrorist who hated us just for being American. Fuck those cowards who plotted against us simply because we have the freedom to be a great country. For having the freedom to be stupid. To be assholes. To be arrogant. To be kind. To be accepting. To be bigots or philanthropists, teachers, students, lazy bums, spaced out artists, money-grubbers, overachievers, underachievers. This is us. Despite all our innumerable flaws, we have the right to be us. How terrifying.
Al Qaeda was on everybody's lips. Bin Laden was the most hated person on the face of the planet.
Revenge. Revenge. Revenge.
Almost 3,000 souls killed in the attacks.
Firefighters. Police officers. Paramedics. Regular people who just were trying to earn a paycheck. To pay the bills. Keep a roof overhead. Travelers. Vacationers. Commuters. Children.
Babies born after the attacks, never to meet their fathers who were killed that day. Kids who remember the day a parent never came home.
Families destroyed. Bright futures extinguished.
Does it still make you angry?
I know I'm still angry. I don't think that'll ever go away.