I Forgot the Date

I knew today was the 11th, but I forgot that it was “9/11” until the priest mentioned it at mass.

I first heard of the events that 9/11 morning as I pulled away from my driveway in Cupertino, CA, and turned on the all-news radio station that I listened to during my commute. The announcers were watching live coverage on TV and not long after I started listening reported that the first tower was collapsing. At first I just assumed that I must be misunderstanding something, but by the time I arrived at work in Sunnyvale 20 minutes later, the second tower had collapsed. After parking, I immediately went to the break room and watched the TV in silence with everyone else trickling in that unforgettable morning.


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I remember that I had woken up and turned on NBC on TV, right around 5:45, like I normally would, and was confused that — instead of seeing the local “early morning show”, I was seeing the “Today Show” set. They had cut to the East Coast feed of “Today” when a plane had “accidentally crashed into 1 WTC. I sat down on the couch for a while, and watched with the sort of idle curiousity that one gawks at a roadside accident with… the “Man that sucks, but you still can’t turn away” type of thing. I remember going back into the bedroom and telling my then-wife, “A plane crashed into the WTC,” and her rolling back over to go to sleep. It was interesting, it was news, but it wasn’t jump-out-of-bed-worthy.

A little while later, though, when I told her about 2 WTC, it all became clear. And we spent the entire day sitting on our couch staring at the TV set, not knowing what the next hours would bring.

I remember that I had felt sorta like I had been personally stabbed. I didn’t have any ambition to get up and go to work the next day, either, so I just worked from home. I don’t think I ended up actually driving into the office until the 13th or 14th, and then I still felt sorta like a zombie in the whole process. And again, I can’t quite define “why”. I was lucky in that while I’m a New Yorker, I actually didn’t know anyone (at the time anyway) who was missing or dead. There had been a brief panic of “contact your cousin, who works in Manhattan and make sure she got home to Brooklyn during the mass exodus” (she did), but otherwise, I was — in reality — completely unaffected by it, which makes it hard to understand, to this day, why I felt so sapped of energy and will by the whole affair.

Of course, D and I were watching the Blue Man Group DVD last night, which features their song, “Exhibit 13”, which is just an instrumental over images of various papers that blew into Carroll Gardens on 9/11, and D told me, “That was my neighborhood on 9/11, I lived in Carroll Gardens,” and it sort of all brought it home and made it more real to me than it had been in the entire previous four years. This was debris that had landed in Brooklyn, where my girlfriend was living at the time. To a certain extent, it closed the loop for me, from then to now.

— comment by Derek on September 11th, 2005 at 10:29pm JST (12 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

I can certainly understand your feelings on that day, despite the apparent lack of direct connectivity. In my case, the bulk of my despondent feelings were because it was a big example of how evil humans can be. Whether a story of a rape in the city, genocide in some 3rd world country, or something big like this, I’m always much more deeply saddened by the depth of human evil than by, say, mother nature.

Free will is a very big and dangerous thing for a Creator to give the created, and one of the greatest gifts to be squandered in misuse.

Also, I felt bad for random individuals, for whatever reason. Without question, the one image that I have never been able to get out of my head is this one:

I think about that person a lot. I wish I didn’t.

— comment by Jeffrey Friedl on September 11th, 2005 at 11:14pm JST (12 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

Ouch.

I was in my office on the west side of the 88th floor of tower 2 when a huge gout of flame came from the south side of the other building, about 10 floors up, and spilled past us. A wave of heat permeated through the tall rectangular windows a second or two afterwards.

Three of us, who had our desks next to the window, looked up and saw the dark hole in the side of the building and innumerable papers floating down. It seemed a bit odd at the time, all that fire and yet papers were floating like confetti. The network admin was the first to say “let’s go”. Our boss had fled already. I tried to call my wife, the phone was busy and the senior developer yelled “C’mon, Sam! You can do that downstairs!”. We poked our heads into a few offices, warning who we could as we made our way to the stairs.

We walked down to the 78th floor, where hundreds were in the skylobby, waiting for the express elevators that could take them to the ground. I almost went back and took the stairs, but an elevator opened almost immediately and I was simply lucky enough to be standing within 5 feet of the open door. I was one of the last people inside it. Once inside, I counted 25 people.

We made it to the ground, and although there was an exit immediately to our left there were guides directing us right, through the building, to go out an exit some distance from Tower 1.

On exiting, I lost track of my co-workers on looking out at the wasteland of paper that was strewn across the street. I recall one person noticing an American Airlines life vest, and that was my first realization that it had been a plane. I looked down at an envelope and saw it was mail.

I don’t know how long it was, but surely no more than a few minutes before there was the loud screeching of a diving plane. People screamed and ran. I didn’t look up. I had no idea where the plane was; for all I was aware it could be diving to street level. I realized on hearing it that it was an attack, an intentional act. I ran to a concrete overhang before looking back as there was a huge roar. The ground shook, it seemed like the very air shook, and a long piece of building siding clanged to the street, twisted like tin foil. Too close.

I turned and entered the building providing the overhang. I found a crowd inside, some sobbing, some simply in shock. I wandered there for a minute or two, but quickly became uncomfortable being so close to the scene. I’d just seen two attacks in 20 minutes, and had no wish to see a third. I left through a side exit and made my way south.

After a few blocks, I angled eastward. I saw people coming up out of the subway who clearly had no idea that anything had occurred. I half-walked, half-ran a few more blocks before turning northward. By this time I saw lines forming near pay phones. I had no change, and no desire to spend time on a line. Besides, I had another option.

I walked up to about city hall before turning back west. I was about 8 blocks north of the WTC — not nearly far enough for my liking, but I had little other choice. I went to New York Law School, where I’d been attending classes at night. I’d made law review the prior year, and could thus use the law review’s office, and phone.

It took me maybe half an hour of dialing to get through to my wife. I quickly told her that I was okay, where I was, and that I didn’t know how long it would take me to get back. We were talking when there was another loud roar from outside, and we were cut off.

I went out and held a school administrator who was suffering a breakdown. She calmed a bit, and then I went down to the career services area. I had an interview scheduled for a summer associate position the next year with Cadwalader, Wickersham, & Taft, a prestigious New York law firm. The office was dark. Perhaps if they’d known I’d showed up, they would have hired me. I was probably better prepared for the interview then than later, when they eventually rescheduled it.

I went down to the student area and saw video of the towers falling. I watched in a sort of stunned disbelief. Still not feeling comfortable being in one place for too long, I left the school after a brief attempt to send some emails, heading northwards. After a block I met a police barricade with a crowd of people standing on the other side. I asked the officers if I could pass and threw angry looks at the crowds gaping at the the cloud of ash. I wanted them all to leave, couldn’t believe how stupid they could be for standing around like sacrifices.

After that, my story is much like many other New Yorkers’. I made my way to the long lines for a ferry, and ended up walking through Weehawken and Hoboken to get to Jersey City.

67 of the 172 people based in my office did not live through that day. I have heard, less officially, that only 32 from the company actually escaped the building. The reasons for it are many — my own first impulse was to call my wife, a move that could have killed me. If I’d gotten on even a slightly later elevator, I could easily have been killed. A million other things could have delayed me, or sent me running back to get something, or whatever. For the months afterwards, and even still sometimes, I have bad dreams about what it must have been like — jet-fuel flames coursing down into elevators full of people, people in stairwells as the walls fell in or on higher floors as the floors gave way to a gaping blackness underneath. Horrible things.

We rebuilt the company, and it is now still strong, though I left last year after there were long-running changes in the IT department. I wrote a poem, in Perl , about the event and recovery. For those not familiar with Perl, it’s a unique programming language with enough flexibility to allow the creation of programs that read as poetry, and yet run on a computer.

I haven’t really recovered completely, probably never will. I have managed to board airplanes, and to hear the sounds of jets landing and taking off with only the slightest twinges harping on the edges of my consciousness. I mourn my lost friends, I mourn the KBW that used to exist, and I mourn the Trade Center.

— comment by Sam on January 31st, 2006 at 9:34am JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Sam,
I’m speechless but wanted to let you know that I read your report. I can’t find any words. It’s so important to read it!!!

Jeffrey,
Thanks for your blog + comments!!!!! (BTW I think the same like what you wrote about human evil.)
Anne (last day this year in Kyoto)

— comment by Anne on August 21st, 2012 at 10:51am JST (5 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink
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