This morning, while driving to work, I listened to a live broadcast of the remembrance ceremony from Ground Zero. I cried. I sobbed like a child. A pall fell over the world it seemed, and I had to change the channel. I can remember without someone telling me to. In fact, I will never, ever forget.
Exactly 5 years ago today at 8:45 AM in the morning, I was sitting in class at UVA Law. I was three months pregnant, and crocheting a blanket (it was my last year of law school so I wasn't paying as close attention to the prof as maybe I should have been). Kit, who sat next to me, was checking out the news on her laptop -- since I had chosen to forgo the wireless internet hook-up on my laptop, I was checking out Kit's. She clicked on MSNBC, or something, and there was a picture of a plane hitting one of the towers. My heart froze. I wasn't afraid it was a terrorist, but I was definitely afraid. All I could think was Oh my god, please don't let that be my brother's building. My younger brother worked on the 90th floor or something in one of the towers. I'd been to his office, but I couldn't remember which building it was. I had to leave. I had to get home to my husband. I had to call my mom. I had to go. I had to find out if that was my brother's building. There was only a minute or two of class left, but I didn't wait. I told Kit, I think my brother might be in that building. I have to leave. I have to leave right now. I vaguely remember leaving the building, and I must have sped home because I was in my apartment watching TV by the time the second plane hit less than 20 minutes after the first one. Now I really started to freak out. I woke up my husband. I didn't know if I should call my mom or not -- she was teaching class, so I knew she wouldn't have found out yet. I called. I called my brother's wife (now his ex), but couldn't get through. I tried calling everyone I knew, and couldn't get through. I felt helpless, and frightened, and worried beyond anything I've ever experienced before that I would never see my brother again. And now, I knew this wasn't a freak accident -- someone did this on purpose. And it didn't matter which building was my brother's because both had flames shooting out of them. I became glued to the television. I couldn't stop watching -- waiting for news of my brother; continually trying to get through to my friends and family in NY & NJ. Then, the south tower fell. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. And I probably did have a panic attack. After I left school, a good part of the day passed in a blur of frightening television images, and unconnected cell phone calls. At some point, I got in touch with my mom. And my other brother and sister, who also lived in VA. They all left their jobs once they realized our brother was in one of the buildings and we all went to my mom's huddling together, watching the horror, waiting for news of our brother. Not eating, or drinking, or even really talking, just waiting. And then the north tower fell. We still hadn't heard anything. Not from my brother; not from his wife. Not from any of our friends or family. All we could do was wait. And hope. And pray. Sometime in the mid-morning, or maybe early afternoon, my sister-in-law was finally able to get a call down to us. All she could tell us was that my brother had made it out of the building before it fell (he was in the south tower), but she didn't know if he had gotten far enough away from the building to avoid the collapse. And she didn't know where he was. Several hours later, we get another call. He's in midtown now, and trying desperately to get out of the city. On the news there were pictures of thousands of people waiting to escape Manhattan. No one knew if the worst was over, or if things were just getting started. So even though we knew our brother had made it out of the trade center and out of downtown alive, we had no idea if he would ever actually make it home. And so we sat, still waiting for news. Another couple of hours later, we finally find out that my brother was home. He was safe, and physically unharmed. He experienced the best and worst of people, and made it home to his family.
We found out later that he ran down the 90 flights of stairs, or however many it was, as soon as the first plane hit the north tower. He told us the south tower shook, and they could see papers fluttering in the air outside their windows. He told us that while he was in the stairwell, there were announcements telling everyone to return to their workstations. Luckily my brother has never been real big on listening to authority, because he ignored that announcement and it saved his life. He ran down the stairs as fast as his legs would take him while others listened and did as they were told and began climbing back up the stairs. Yes, people actually were climbing up the stairs. I cried when he told me that and couldn't help but wonder how many more might have been saved if only they hadn't listened, or if only the powers-that-be hadn't made such a fucking idiotic announcement. But at least my brother, a long-time believer in the fuck-authority principle, made it out. And, he was able to get a call through to his wife long enough to let her know he'd gotten out, before the call was cut off. Once on the street, he ran for his life; just trying to get as far away from the building as he could. He doesn't talk about the details of what he saw that day -- except maybe to his therapist -- but he tried to explain the horror without being graphic. I'm grateful I never heard too many details. What little I knew gave me nightmares. I can only imagine how my brother feels. Or how he was able to focus on that day. Amid the chaos, he ran away from the Trade Center, towards the water, trying to find a way home. He got to the Hudson, and headed uptown. At the ferry landing, the lines were hours long. He couldn't wait. He needed to get home. He was able to get another call in to his wife to say he'd made it out of downtown. Realizing he'd never get on a ferry, he kept heading north, to the Marina, where he found a fellow willing to ride people across the river in his personal boat. And all he wanted was, $500 PER PERSON! Believe it or not, that piece-of-shit mother fucker was charging $500 to bring people to safety. What kind of worthless dick does that I ask? To take advantage of your fellow human beings in a time of crises is the lowest of the low. But my brother paid the $500, and across the river he went. Once on the other side, he realized he was stranded about 20 miles from home. There was no public transportation running. He'd gone broke just getting out of the city. And he realized he'd probably have to huff it the 20 miles home. He said something to this effect to the guy he'd ridden across the water with (another ripped off passenger, not the boat owner), and started walking towards home. Then, this other guy turns to my brother and says something like I live only a few blocks away; come with me to my house and I’ll lend you my car. My brother, thinking he's about to get reipped off again, says he doesn't have any more money; but the guy didn't want money. He told my brother to take the car and to go home to his kids and they could work out the return of the car later. This total stranger who didn't know my borther from Adam, gives his car to my brother, expecting nothing in return. It was beautiful. They exchanged numbers. My brother drove home. And, as far as I know, he still talks to the guy who gave a stranger his car.
I hope I never have to experience anything like that day ever again. The waiting, and the not knowing, that was the hardest. There was such relief when we finally heard my brother was home safe and sound, that I broke down for the umpteenth time that day. Just like I did this morning hearing the names of the victims, wondering if any of the people being named had passed my brother in the stairwell. Wondering how different my life would be if my brother hadn’t made it out. But despite all that, I can tell you this…I am not afraid. Yes, terrorism is scary; yes, that day was scary. But not so scary that I am willing to give up my personal freedom. Maybe there will be another attack some day; maybe there won’t. But one thing is sure, if we continue to allow the politicians (i.e. Bush & his cronies) to cart out September 11 whenever necessary for their fucking agenda and fear-mongering, and if we continue to allow them to keep chipping away at the freedoms that make this a wonderful country, then not only are we allowing the sanctity of all those lives to be tarnished, we are giving the terrorists what they want. If no one ever mentions it again, I won’t forget September 11. I doubt anyone will. Do you remember?