Eight years later, I see him still

I suppose the “blogosphere” will be swamped today with messages and memories of September 11. The fact that the disaster happened at all seems surreal in a way — especially when we all take the time to reflect on our own lives and how we are different, not because of the tragedy, but simply becuase time changes people.

On September 11, 2001, all those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and on board United 93 were already gone by the time I woke up. I remember the night before explicitly. I was working at a TV station in Rock Island, Illinois, and I had worked well past 11 that night. I came home and had a beer (disclaimer — I did not know I was pregnant at the time!) and went to bed, exhausted.

I woke up at 10 a.m. central time, two hours after the first plane hit, 40 minutes after Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, and 30 minutes after the second tower fell. All those lives — gone — as I slept soundly in my comfy three room apartment.

I woke up as usual. I normally went to work at 2 p.m., so I rarely set an alarm. I generally ambled out of bed, shoved a little coffee down my throat, and clicked on the news. But this particular morning, I had pulled back the blinds and noted what an awesome day it was. Blue skies, warm temperatures, summer holding on. I thought, I am going for a bike ride! I hadn’t gotten both feet over the bed and onto the floor when the phone rang. It was Cliff, the assignment editor at my station.

 “You better get in here,” he said.

 “Why?” I asked.

 “You don’t… (sigh) Just turn on the TV.” He hung up.

I clicked on the TV to see what was already over — the towers were down, the Pentagon was attacked, a plane was down in Pennsylvania. Air traffic was grounded. The President was… somewhere. No one knew what the hell was going on. I threw on a t-shirt and a pair of jeans and aimed my trusty Cavalier toward the station.

Six flights had been diverted to our airport in Moline. We rushed to the airport to talk to the travelers, all of whom had two questions: What the hell happened, and where the hell is Moline, Illinois? I don’t remember where those flights were from. We organized cut-ins from the network, live shots from the Rock Island Arsenal which had upped security, interviews with people at the airport trying to rent a car. We found people who knew people who knew people who worked in the towers. We talked to old military men and local officials about security and took feeds from Chicago which was sending everyone out of the city. We worked non-stop until after midnight, when I finally went home, downed another few beers (still not knowing I was pregnant, mind you) and sat in front of my TV, watching some more, until I finally fell asleep on the couch.

This morning I was discussing the day with my husband, and asked if he remembered the people jumping out of the buildings. He said he never saw that, and it occurred to me that part of the reason I saw it over and over is because I was working in TV, and I was watching the feeds all day. I wonder if the fact that I worked in TV and had access to feeds and video that weren’t necessarily shown on network TV is why I feel more haunted by September 11 than he does.

There was one man. I cannot tell you which tower he was jumping out of. He had dark hair, my guess is that he was somewhere between 25 and 40 years old. Average size, he was wearing a dark suit and a tie. He jumped from high up, and the camera followed him all the way down. He fought it every step of the way, kicking his legs, his arms flailing. He didn’t want to die. I could fee that much. But given the choice, die by jumping or die by fire, jumping was his better option. Yet still, he fought it, all the way down.

When I got home that night, before I snagged my beer, I thought about him. I went to the bathroom, and stared at my towels. I thought, somewhere in New York, or New Jersey, or Connecticut, is this man’s bathroom. His towel is hanging in the bathroom, possibly still damp from the shower he took this morning. Maybe he has a dog waiting for him to come home. Maybe his wife opened up one eye to see him leaving their room early that morning as she slept. Maybe there was a grocery list he had scribbled out stuck to his fridge. Maybe his kids were looking out the window, waiting for him. But one thing is for certain — his towel is hanging in the bathroom. His clothes are hanging in his closet. There’s food in his cabinets. The most basic of living essentials. Only he’ll never see them or touch them again.

I’m older and I have a husband and children now, including the one that was already brewing that day and I didn’t know about it. I have a completely different life now. But he’s still gone. I think about this man a lot, but more so on September 11. I wonder where he would be today if he had just missed that first train, or if he had accidentally slept in, or if his car wouldn’t start. I wonder why I had to watch him die. I wonder who picked up his towel, washed it, folded it, and put it away. I hope for them, they didn’t have to see what I saw.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Eight years later, I see him still

  1. Jacki

    So – thanks for the cry. When I think of 9/11, I think of the same thing….the people jumping from the towers. There were cameras on the scene, feeding live video and I remember watching people jump and it haunts me. I remember saying out loud, with fingers held lightly against my lips “oh my God, people are jumping”.

    I worked in the loop, not far from the Sears Tower and we were all evacuated b/c they weren’t sure if the Sears Tower was a target. I jumped on the first Metra train I could and rode it in silence, staring out the window…counting my blessings.

    I also remember a few days after it all happened, my boss wanted me to key in a bunch of business cards that he had (lazily) collected over time. Mind you, this was not my job…I was not his admin…but I don’t know how to say “no” and he knew this. So, there I sat, mindlessly inputting business card crap….and the next one was for a woman – the name escapes me – who worked out of an office in the World Trade Center. When I got to her address, I stopped typing. I picked up the card and felt sick. I set it down and stared at it thinking….is she…dead?

    I went into my boss’ office and strangely enough, didn’t even know what I was trying to ask. He just looked at me and said “what’s wrong?”

    “I….uhh….this card…the address on it is the World Trade Center – (handed it to him when I saw his facial expression change) …it might not need to be keyed into your Address Book”…that was the nicest way I could say it, and it sounded so stupid.

    She was lucky and alive – we checked up on her.
    It was the least we could do.

  2. trumanmeg

    Wow. When I think of today, I too think of the people jumping. It just seemed surreal at the time and today it haunts me. I can’t go into the city and see all the skyscrapers and not wonder what if it was Chicago instead? What if it is Chicago the next time? What if a loved one or I’m in one of those buildings.

    I also think abou what I’m going to tell my kids and try and explain the crazy world I was just becoming aware of. To my kids it will always just be the pictures and videos, but to me it is real. I remember just how quiet our country was for that period of time and then how we came together. How do you even begin to describe everything stopping and coming to a halt in a world that is go-go-go?

    What a day. I’m glad though 8 years later we all still take time to remember that we are a great country but not invincable. I hope we always continue to do so and that this day doesn’t get forgotten as time goes on.

  3. That morning was started so beautifully, bright blue sky and big fluffy clouds. I was working in a school and the day started with the hope and excitement of a new school year. When I went outside at lunch, you could see the mushroom ash clouds and just felt this sense of impending doom.

  4. Mom

    I read your poem again today. It still makes me cry. Mom

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