I remember visiting the World Trade Center not long after it first opened in 1974, (I was 11), and seeing the world from 110 stories high, the wind brisk and chilling, but the sight was beautiful. During my years living in NYC, I ate in the restaurants of the lower concourses of that complex, and rode the subway to the train stations of those buildings, and enjoyed the being on the streets teeming with the people that embody the energy of the Big Apple. Those same people that had to flee for their lives, fear for loved ones, and witness unspeakable horrors. In 2001, I attended my 20th reunion of Stuyvesant’s class of 1981 on October 13, 2011; the site was still on fire and cordoned off for blocks; the pilot of my incoming flight dipped the wing of the plane so that I, along with the other passengers passengers could see the horrifying, gaping flaming hole of Ground Zero. Some of my classmates participated as first-responders.
On September 11, 2001, I was at my desk working (at Duke University Press in Durham, NC, in my current position), and someone in the hall yelled that the World Trade Center had been hit (or there had been an explosion; it wasn’t clear at the time). My first reaction was to find a web site. CNN.com was down because of high traffic. I managed to get the front page of MSNBC.com to load, but it froze on the full page shot capturing a plane going into one of the towers. No text would load.
The sense of helplessness, knowing I had a lot of family in NYC was overpowering. So much so that I actually picked up the phone and started punching in the Brooklyn phone number of my mom. I needed to speak to her. [cont’d.]
I stopped dialing…my mother died on May 4, 1997 in Durham, NC.
She hadn’t lived in NYC for years. I wanted to speak to her in this moment, just to hear her voice in this time of desperation, need to connect — to know she was ok. I hung up the phone, and just sat and my eyes welled up with tears. My overly-rational mind was trying to grasp for a reason to understand what I had just done.
So I called my brother Tim in Delaware. We were on the line for a short while; honestly it was a lot of silent moments interspersed with updates from on his end. I told him about nearly dialing Mom and he said he had the same overwhelming urge to hear her voice as well. We hung up, knowing the lines needed to be clear for emergency calls, but we were both painfully aware that this national tragedy was personal in more ways in one.
I later learned family and friends working in NYC had to make that long trek on foot away from lower Manhattan, across the Brooklyn Bridge (and for some an incredible walk all the way to Bed-Stuy, all covered in the toxic dust in the wake of the buildings’ collapse.