I descended into the subway. I waited for a long time; at least at the time I thought it was a long time. I now realize it was a wonder that I got a train at all. As I waited, I spoke with some young women who worked in an office building in the financial district. They were young, early 20s and very distraught. How could this happen? The young women didn’t know what was going on either. A deranged looking large man with headphones was screaming that “they” had attacked the White House. The young ladies were concerned. I didn’t believe the crazy man. He said he was listening to the radio news, but we were underground in the subway, where was he getting his signal?. “He’s crazy” I told the young ladies. My need for normalcy was so strong I couldn’t believe the obvious was true, that this had not been a series of accidents but we were under attack. I don’t know if it was the hormones or if it was my self-preservation technique, either way I did not believe. After 20 minutes or so a train came, and we boarded gratefully. At last I was on my way to see your Dad.
The subway car was not as crowded as you would expect. Not at all like the last helicopter out of Saigon. We all sat in stunned silence. Not the self-involved quiet that one finds on an early morning subway, where everyone is too sleepy to make noise. This was a mournful silence, full of meaning. We all knew what we were thinking about. The ride was slow. Eventually we came to Union Square. I got off the train because the subway car operator informed us that the trains had stopped running. It had always been my experience, up until that moment, that when the loud speakers say the trains are not running, if you wait a while, they start running again. So I walked over to the 4 train that stops in that station to see if it was running. The landing was a mob scene. I became apprehensive about my pregnant belly. I was afraid of being crushed or jostled roughly. I saw a woman with a baby in a stroller try to get down the stairs and felt panic for her. After a few moments, I decided to give up my wait for the 4 train. I came up into the station and found yellow police tape everywhere and officers telling people to get out, they were shutting down the station. I went to a pay phone to call Alan and tell him where I was. But it was not working. I went to another payphone, and still no dial tone. They had shut off the phones! I began to panic. What was happening? I remembered that there was a police station in the subway station, and I went there. “Officer, I am nine months pregnant, I haven’t spoken to my husband in over an hour and I need to call him.”
I walked into the precinct, bright fluorescent light and Formica counters. Full of nervous activity. The TV was on and I could see the towers smoking, Wait. There was only one tower.
“Did one of the towers fall?!” As I cried out, the second tower fell. As the floors compacted on one another like the withdrawing of a vertical tide I saw the end of civilization, I saw the murder of thousands, I saw the demolition of my home, the death of my cat, Oh God what was happening. I screamed. The police looked nervous,
“Lady you got to calm down. Get her a chair.”
They probably thought I was going to deliver the baby right then and there. They brought me a chair and a glass of water, and then phoned your Dad.
My poor husband, who had not heard from me since he told me to leave the apartment more than an hour earlier, was calling hospitals. He did not know if I had left, if I had gotten out, or what condition I was in. To say he sounded relieved to hear from me is an understatement.
“Tell me where to meet you”
“In front of the Barnes and Noble”
“I’ll be there right away.”
The officers took the phone and tried to calm me down.
“Your husband’s coming for you?”
They looked relieved. I was so caught up in my own troubles that it didn’t occur to me then that they had lost comrades in the collapse. They were stunned by the horror and overcome by grief, but kept it together. They were “on the job”. A police officer escorted me out of the now deserted and silent station. He had the token booth attendant unlock the gate and we ascended the subway stairs into the bright light of Union Square.
“Your Husband is going to meet you here, right?” The officer asked.
“Yes. I’ll be ok. Thank you officer.” I replied. He turned and walked down the stairs into
the darkened Subway station, I walked across the square to 18th Street.
The city seemed as if someone had turned down the volume. People were walking more slowly and there was fuzziness about everything. The only loud sounds were emanating from the occasional car or van parked with the radio blasting the news. There were groups gathered around these information centers listening in rapt silence to the reports. There was a van parked in front of the Barnes and Noble. A group of five stood listening, quietly exchanging their views. I tried to find somewhere to sit. Alan worked on 45th Street it would take him quite a while to get to 18th. There was nowhere comfortable to sit so I slid down to the sidewalk as gracefully as I could with my enormous belly. I sat in the bright sun, wishing I had a bottle of water, but not wanting to get up (I knew that effort would take more than just me). I must have looked pathetic. A woman asked me if I was OK and didn’t seem to believe me when I said I was. She looked very relieved when I told her I was waiting for my husband. I felt so lucky to be able to say that: I am waiting for my husband. Your Dad was safe and alive. I knew there were so many who couldn’t say the same.
I looked across the square into the downtown sky, A huge cloud of smoke and debris filled the area where the towers had just stood. I began playing a game with myself that I still play to this day, “Could you see them from here?” I ask myself continually. Would I be able to see the Towers from this perspective? Their absence is impossible to observe. Their loss is invisible. They were obliterated so completely, so efficiently, so finally. I feel like I didn’t have a chance to memorize their place in the skyline, even though I had seen them there for most of my life.
Luckily I didn’t have much time to obsess because your Father showed up in just 15 minutes! He was riding a bicycle. He could not have appeared nobler to me if he had arrived on a black steed. He was my hero, my knight in shining armor. He helped me up and we hugged a delicious warm loving hug. Nothing else seemed to matter for that moment, not the world in chaos, our home destroyed, our city scarred, the future unknown and scary, we were together and safe and everything else was expendable. I know it was selfish but it is how I felt. I felt so lucky. I had brushed death and destruction and my family had emerged unscathed.
“You got here so quickly.”
He had commandeered a bicycle from a delivery guy at a deli in midtown.
“This is your chance to be a hero” he told the man. He gave him his driver’s license as collateral and the man let him take his bike. He had started off on foot leaving his office on 45th Street. Running against the tide of people headed North. He ran in the middle of the street to avoid the fleeing masses. After 12 blocks he realized this was going to take forever, that’s when he thought to borrow a bike.
Now that we were reunited and relieved to be together we were reminded that we had nowhere to go. We certainly couldn’t go home. I needed somewhere to rest, I felt lightheaded and as if my body were made of lead, an interesting combination. I felt disassociated from myself, I was observing myself. “What will she do next?” we were refugees.
We thought of friends who lived in the neighborhood. We decided to call and ask if we could come over. Alan went to a payphone with a line of 5 people. I tried the cell phone. I had no reason to believe it would work because it hadn’t all morning but it did. Our friend Kurt lives in Chelsea he told us to come over right away as soon as he heard my voice. Alan and I walked over to their loft, Alan rolling the bicycle beside him.
Kurt and Cassandra are very social people and they always seem to have a house full of friends. Today was no exception; their home became a safe harbor for many of their friends who lived outside Manhattan. All access in and out of the city was closed so many people were trapped. Cass’ brother was in town on business from Alabama. We all sat in front of the TV transfixed watching the collapses over and over; the whole thing was too absurd. I could not believe that the towers were gone. Thousands were dead. The Pentagon had been hit. Planes were being brought down. We knew that we could not go home, did we even have a home? Alan wanted to ride the borrowed bike down to our neighborhood and see what the situation was. Although I wanted him with me I too was eager to know if our home was destroyed, what had happened to our neighbors in the basement? And Otto? Alan took the bike and rode downtown toward the smoke and destruction, he promised not to take any risks.
I tried to call family and friends but it was impossible to make calls out of state. I had several messages on my voicemail at work from family worried and asking me to call them. I changed my outgoing message to say that I was all right and where I could be reached. I spoke to coworkers who were in the office. They were relieved to hear from me, they had been very concerned by my absence, they all knew how close to the WTC our apartment was. I spent much of the day watching the news coverage on TV and trying to call my brother.
Alan returned, he had gotten as far as Reade St before he was turned back by the police. From that vantage point he could see that our building was still standing and the windows even seemed in tact. That was amazing news. Otto must ok, our neighbors were alive, and we had emerged from this tragedy remarkably well. I was so grateful to be alive, that Alan was safe and our home seemed ok.
As the day wore into night people began discussing the repercussions of the event and what had led to it. A friend of ours said that he had heard that the planes were carrying Anthrax. I panicked. What was Anthrax? How did it kill? Was it contagious? Could I have been infected by it while I stood outside looking at the buildings? Was I infecting all my friends? When had I last felt the baby move? I was panicking. I had to lie down. I didn’t feel you move. Oh my God when had I last felt the baby move? Was Anthrax infecting my body right now? Had it killed the baby already? I needed to calm down. I asked Alan to get me some juice. All I could remember was that in the many pregnancy books I had (at home) I had read that if you haven’t felt the baby move for a while to drink some juice and lie on your left side. I did and waited, and waited. People kept coming by to see how I was. I didn’t want to be overly dramatic so I told them I was tired and trying to take a little nap. My attention had been so focused on the events that I hadn’t noticed your movements for hours. It seemed like forever but finally I felt a little kick and then a series of hiccups. Thank God, you were ok. I wasn’t going to worry about Anthrax anymore (at least not that day).
I was stunned, I felt unconnected and vague. I knew I had lived through something terrible and that our lives would be disrupted for quite a while. I knew the nation had been dealt an awful blow and that our lives as Americans would be profoundly effected. The day to day implications were foremost in my mind. I kept reminding myself of how lucky we were but I also remember thinking: this sucks, I’m about to have a baby, when am I going to be allowed to return to my home? I was walking wounded.
When I finally lay down to sleep late that night my body felt heavy with exhaustion, it sank into the air mattress on the floor in Kurt and Cass’ loft and found little comfort. I closed my eyes hoping to welcome sleep and I saw in my mind’s eye, like film being projected inside my eyelids the bodies falling from the towers. Falling and falling. The film in my head would rewind and they would fall again. Flailing and falling. I opened my eyes to clean the sight out of my mind, but when I closed my eyes there they would be again. How I fell asleep I don’t know but eventually I did. I had that much more to be grateful for.