The following is the story of what happened on a day in September 2001, right before you were born, and on the days following. It is a true story and you were a participant, although you can’t remember it. You are much too young now to understand what took place and what it means. I am writing this so that some day, when you are older, you can read it and witness the historic events through my eyes, which were your eyes while you were within me.
I awoke on 9/11/01 37 weeks pregnant with you, late and moving slowly. I was tired, bloated and achy. Your dad had already left for work, so I had the place to myself. I stepped into the shower the warm water felt great on my sore back. I tried to gear myself up for another day at the office. I was counting down to your birth and my Maternity leave.
Aside form the usual aches and pains of late stage pregnancy I was feeling fit. I still exercised several times a week. I walked a lot and still worked late. I had a lot to accomplish before you were born. I had a staff to organize and a department to maintain while I was away. I was thinking about all these things as I showered and the soothing waters baptized my great belly. As I stood in the shower worrying about my day at the office the world outside changed forever.
I was in the kitchen buttering my toast when I heard Jane Hansen of the NBC local affiliate break into the Today show to say that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I ran to the TV in the living room, and was immediately horrified by the sight of the blazing building just three blocks away from me on my TV screen. It felt so unreal; the scale of the towers was so gigantic that it was impossible to judge the extent of the damage from the TV shot. A beat later I heard the screams of sirens and the blasting sound of horns as fire engines, police cars and ambulances snaked their way through the choked streets towards the disaster. They were driving against the traffic on Church Street outside our window. It sounded like they were stuck, grid locked. They wailed like a frustrated infant, trapped.
Your Aunt Karen called first.
Linda, are you ok? Are watching TV?
I can’t believe it. It must have been a small John Kennedy plane. I can’t image how a pilot could get so confused, it is incredibly clear today.
Your Dad called while I was on the phone; I told him I would call him back. How unconcerned I was! Was I in shock? Denial?
Listen Karen I’m ok and I’m really late. I need to go vote.
You’re voting? Are you sure you should?
Yeah, we have a Primary here and I need to perform my citizenly duty.
All right then citizen. Go vote.
I was still planning on going to vote! Looking back at my reaction, I think I sensed that everything was different now and despite that, I was desperately clinging to the world of ten minutes ago when preparing for Maternity leave was foremost in my mind and I appeared to have control over my life.
I got off the phone and looked at the TV screen once more. The scarred tower was vomiting black smoke into the clear blue sky. As I sat transfixed by the image on the TV, I saw the explosion of the second plane colliding into the South tower. I heard the blast three blocks away and I felt a sonic wave pass through my home and body. I physically experienced the sound of the explosion, it is hard to explain, no blast blew through our southern facing wall but I felt the specter of that blast. If things had gone differently, just slightly, if the plane engine had not hit the roof of the building across the street before it hit our roof, the trajectory could have been such that it would have crashed into our building instead of resting on top of it. The shock wave that I felt pass through me was a premonition of things that could have been, and were not thanks to fate.
I ran into the back of the loft, suddenly afraid of the windows that line the eastern portion of our living room. I called your Dad. I was still in my robe, my hair was wet, I felt utterly unprepared for disaster. I was crying, I tried to speak intelligibly but I felt the panic overtake my body. My heart was racing,
“Get out right now,” he said. “Walk North on Church Street, on the west side of the street, and don’t look back. Don’t look at it, Linda.”
Another call came through. It was Karen again “I can’t talk I have to go. I can’t believe this.”
“You should stay put,” she urged.
I quickly got dressed; I didn’t put on my makeup, although I did brush my teeth. I looked around for our kitty, Otto. I saw him slip into the closet, and grabbed for him, but he dove into the deepest, darkest recess. My huge belly prevented me from getting into the closet. I realized that I would I not be able to carry him very far anyway, so I made the decision to leave him. I had to get out. “After all,” I said to myself, “I will be returning home.”
I walked out the door, clutching a paper towel square. This is a silly thing. Maybe it is just the way I dealt with the horror and loss of security or the fact that I am very superstitious. But I had that paper towel square in my hands, drying my tears the entire way up Church Street. When I saw the subsequent horror I promised myself that I would not loose that stupid paper towel square until I could throw it out in my own garbage can at home on Murray Street.
Once on the landing, I was greeted by our superintendent Adam. He was in emergency mode.
“Get in the Subbasement now Linda.” He said to me. His tone was commanding, something I was not accustomed to from my Super, I saw something wild and panicked in his eyes. He is a man of vague eastern European origin, I surmised then, because of his attitude; he had seen disaster before, perhaps even war. Was he from Bosnia, I wondered?
Sub-basement? Stay put, or walk away? I stood in the entryway for an instant, not knowing what to do. Whose advice should I follow? “Listen to your husband,” I told myself. “Leave.”
I took the stairs down to the ground floor. I was afraid to take the elevator for fear something else would happen and I would be trapped. I rushed out the front door and what I found outside my apartment building. Made me stop dead. A large piece of one of the plane’s engines lay on the street in front of my building. “No fucking way!” I remember saying to myself. I walked over to the largest piece across Church Street, in front of the Burger King. Yup, that was a piece of one of the planes on my street, in front of my home. It had knocked down the Murray Street sign and had broken the street light. The lamp hung precariously from its electrical cord. My heart was racing and I heard a high pitched whine in my ears. As I looked around me at the people standing in the middle of the Street my vision was so clear, the edges of objects seemed sharp enough to cut. There were no more cars on Church street, only pedestrians, looking up to the South I could not stop myself. I looked up at the giants, bloodied and burning. I looked up at the smoke hemorrhaging from them, the flames shooting out of the gashes, and I saw a shower of paper sucked out of the wounds. The paper fluttered in the wind. At that distance, it looked the size of the confetti that rains down on champions when they drive down Broadway after winning a World Series or landing on the Moon. But there were other, more substantial objects descending from the towers. These objects had weight and fluidity. They flailed in their decent. They were people. My stomach turned. I felt like Lott’s wife who, against her husband’s admonition turned to look at Sodom destroyed and then was turned to salt. I felt like salt. In that instant I remembered myself. I was pregnant; I was responsible for a life other than my own. I had to get away and get somewhere safe. I turned north and walked away from the wounded twins. I would never see them again. I would never see how huge they were. How they blocked out the sky and yet were almost invisible at this proximity. I walked on the west side of the street as Alan had instructed me. I kept saying to myself and to you “We are ok, we are ok.” Over and over this mantra was my lifeline, a thin invisible thread that I clung to as I dragged my swollen body uptown toward your dad and safety.
As I walked further away from the devastation I realized that it was a spectacular day. The kind of day that makes you wish you could play hooky from your obligations. A wonderful early fall day, clear and cool. The air was crystalline and invigorating. For any other reason, it would have been bliss to be out walking. The incongruity of the day and the event made the sight more terrible. It was a high visibility day; anyone who had a view of lower Manhattan could lookout and see the horror unobscured.
I walked at a modest pace, given my physical limitations. One foot in front of the other, each step felt unreal. I didn’t feel the weight of my pregnant body. Strangely I felt light, like I was walking on the Moon’s surface with heavy boots to keep me from floating off into the great yawning abyss. As I walked I noticed people standing in the street staring up at the catastrophe, I walked past lines of people waiting for public phones, I walked past people crying, people consoling each other, people trying to get their cell phones to work. I walked to Canal Street in order to catch the C train but the attendant standing at the top of the stairs said the train was not running, no trains were running. I asked about the N or R. Maybe at Prince Street?
I continued to walk. At Canal Street I took West Broadway. I walked through Soho. People emerged from chic shops and bistros to stare at the smoke plume streaking the downtown sky. People were standing in the middle of West Broadway, traffic had stopped and it felt like a movie. One of those disaster films like “Independence Day”. I think I was the only person not facing south. As I walked North I looked into people’s eyes, they did not see me and my pregnant belly, they all looked above my head at the smoking, flaming carnage. I felt invisible. Luca, this is something you will never understand, but as a very pregnant woman in the Summer months I was very noticeable. People would jump up to give me a seat on the Subway or let me take a cab they had just hailed. It felt very strange to be so unnoticed.
I tried repeatedly to call your dad on my cell phone but the signal was “not available.” That sounded ominous!
At Prince Street, I turned off West Broadway, and remember looking back at the towers smoking and in flames before I lost sight of them and thinking “That is going to be hard to fix.” I would never see them standing again. At that moment I had no concept that they would come down. It would have seemed impossible. They were invincible. They were mythic in scale, which endowed them with supernatural characteristics.