If you read this yesterday, you saw this, if not… read on. I published this on my old blog, in 3 parts leading up to 9/11/2007. I have decided to republish them here. A few words on this… One, like much of my writing, this was an act of healing and catharsis. It is selfish. If you think that it is long, boring, self-focused, you may be correct. I wrote it for myself and put it out here. If you wish to read it, fine. If not, fine. Also, I wrote it at a different – very different – time of my life. Please factor that in when you read some of it and hear a certain tone. Your comments, as always, are welcome.
Again, it is hard to recall with exactitude the order of things. At some point someone figures out that there is a TV in our CEO’s office and even though she is not in, a bunch of us find our way into her office.
The size of the group enlarges so that many of us are crowded into this rather large space. We are transfixed by what we see. It is clear that Matt and Katie, whom we have been taught to believe are there to entertain us, are upset and have no real clue what is going on. The only certainty is this- planes were deliberately flown into the Twin Towers. They keep replaying the video of the second plane over and over again.
There are helicopter video views being shown as well. It’s hazy and smoky and the video is all jerky. This can’t be easy to shoot no matter how you slice it- practically or emotionally.
Suddenly the “Special Report” is broken into with a new “Special Report”… The Pentagon has been hit. WTF? Am I screaming out loud now… or just in my head? This is completely totally f**ked-bad, my stomach lurches and heaves, I begin to sob and almost in slow motion I notice that almost everyone in the room is crying. A room filled with men and women, many of them seemingly stoic senior management types; all in tears and anguish. And fear.
This may seem oddly distant to you, but please keep in mind, while not in the thick of it, it was a scant 5 miles away, with black smoke clearly visible in the sky.
Now I am truly, deeply afraid. It’s primal now. Yet somewhere, somehow there is a bizarre calm in the center of me. You can mock my spirituality (NB: I had not fully outed myself as a religious writer when this was first published, nor was it for a very churchy crowd at the time) if you wish, but I know it held me afloat that day. Call it magical thinking if that pleases you; it provided me with the sanity that kept me on course and kept me from tearing my hair out and collapsing.
These moments have a heightened clarity to them. I leave the CEO’s office and go talk to X, my co-worker and the supervisor for the area I manage. She has a sister-in-law down there in the Towers, but remains calm. I know her husband is a NYC detective and that if he’s not in the thick of disaster yet, he will be running towards the event, not away from it. She is like a rock. That is her hallmark, this one… cool, calm and collected at all times. We are co-workers but mostly friends through the ages. She is unflinching. She is staying.
I on the other hand, am intent on leaving. There seems to be no place to go, but I have a clear goal…I want to be with someone I love. There is a reason for this; I am fairly certain in a very calm, quiet way that I might die on that day.
Of all the memories that I possess of this strange and horrifying day, that particular one stands out the most. I was certain I would die and I did not feel in the least panicked about it. Oh trust me, I felt horribly sad that life should end like this. It occurred to me as well that lots of people would die this day and what would that be like in the Kingdom? I had a darkly comedic image (even at that moment! my humor works overtime!) of long entry lines at the pearly gates. It wasn’t even all that spiritual. It just was a real thought.
Mostly I decided that if I were going to die, I would do so with reverence and awareness. Somehow I got through on the phone to a close friend. Close friend? At that time this man and his partner were the two closest people in my life, bar none. (Yes you have noticed a theme- my friend and his partner, my friend in LA and his partner. There is a long and beautiful history of gay men in my life.)
My friend was a teacher at a Catholic high school in Harlem. He suggested I walk up there and we would figure out what to do. The only way to leave Manhattan was on foot and since we lived in the same town, 25 miles north, we weren’t going to try that route just yet. We would be in Manhattan, but we’d be together. I liked that.
It was a comfort to know I would go to be with someone I loved. While I was so grateful to be headed to be with A, I was so saddened that we were separated from B, his partner, who was teaching at another school in Westchester. All I wanted to be was with my closest ones, my dearest companions, that is all.
Ultimately my co-worker and I called our team together; some folks wanted to stay and they would stay with her. Others, like me wanted to go. We left.
Before I left I made sure that I went to my one friend – Z, with whom I had a long friendship. We are not the types to have this kind of conversation, but I was compelled and followed my heart. I walked into this office and he was upset – upset and deep into his “blast all the foreign bastards!” mode and I was appearing as calm.
So all I said was “Z, I must tell you this. I don’t know if I will ever see you again.” This really got him more agitated but I pressed on, “Z, you must know this. I am going to say something that if it doesn’t happen will make me feel like a complete asshole, but we can then laugh about it for the rest of our days. If it does, then I won’t be sorry… Z, you are a great friend to me and I love you very, very much.”
This elicits a torrent of tears from me and from him as well followed by a hug that we didn’t want to end. Let me tell you, we have both laughed and cried about this event numerous times since then. I will never regret having blurted that out either!
Down the elevator I go and into the street. Park Avenue is a river of people flowing north. The day remains gloriously clear and bright. The sky is so blue; a blue that denotes only calm and peace. However a slight glance to the south brings a view of thick, black clouds of smoke.
I enter the stream of northward voyagers. It’s a long walk from 48th Street and Park to Harlem. This whole new shoes thing isn’t working out so well for me. Then I am struck with the thought – you are alive and headed somewhere, be grateful.
There is a deli, I enter it and buy 3 bottles of water; trained from 2 years of living in Los Angeles with earthquake mentality… Fresh water is a must. There are black car service cars (does this term make sense to anyone outside of NYC? The cars are what is black, ok? Town cars that take you to the airport, etc) drivers parked along Park Avenue, all with their radios tuned to the all news 880 WCBS or to1010WINS. People stop and listen. There is no traffic. No cars can go anywhere.
Hundreds of people file their way quietly and calmly up Park Avenue. I snake my way over to Madison, then Fifth. It is the same on those streets. It’s rather like a parade, albeit a dark and onerous one. No clowns, no poop, no floats. Just people, lots and lots of people.
People are just very quiet and very intent on getting somewhere. As I move up through the 50’s, then the Central Park area, the crowd begins to thin. The 60’s seem to siphon off most of my fellow journey-people, then the 70’s swallows a bit more. A few hearty souls are with me in the 80’s and even less in the low 90’s.
Next thing I know I am at 98th Street and Fifth and nary another human in sight. It was weird and I felt as if I was in some old 1970’s era TV movie of the week, disaster genre of course. Great – the world has ended and I am the only one left! That fed more than a few abandonment issue fantasies for me. More tears. At this point I know that insanity is hovering and hovering close.
Oh and then the sounds… the sounds- how could I forget to tell you about the pervasive sounds? While the flood of humans moved silently, there were so many other sounds. And the sounds were not good to my ears. In addition to still hearing sirens, I heard something that was worse. What I heard was the sound of F-16 fighter jets swooping around the sky over my head.
It was entirely disconcerting. They were there ostensibly to protect me – but to me they emitted sounds of terror, of war, of death. And you couldn’t see them… Just the ever-present sound. It was awful for me. Even now I write this and I can feel the physical discomfort in my stomach that I felt on that day.
As I progress into the lower 100’s and am in Harlem, people start to reappear. This was slightly before the most recent Harlem gentrification, so the sight of a white woman in a business suit, and those blasted new shoes, carrying her briefcase on this strangest of days, was probably a bit of a sight. I pressed on. Having been a frequent visitor to Harlem for many years, the place never scared me.
To my recollection the walk was about 5 miles and took me about 2 hours, but I can’t be certain. It was strangely pleasant- noise not withstanding. I had some interesting conversations with myself and even more interesting ones with God.
The further I walked, the more I calmed down; it was entirely cathartic as I got closer to the school. The certainty of death that was locked in my heart a few hours before seemed slightly less likely. Although the way the sounds of the F-16’s punctuated the clear day swayed me a bit. Insanity is like that- abandonment issues one moment and an eerie calm the next.