Monday, September 11, 2006


“Attention passengers, we are being held momentarily due to an explosion at the World Trade Center. We should be moving shortly.”

A woman gasped.

I was annoyed.

I was up early, after very little sleep. Lucy showered as I made coffee and woke the kids. As I showered, Lucy took over with the kids, putting clothes on Lillie, who clutched her blanket as she drifted in and out of waking.

Jason helped Collie look for his missing shoe.

Lucy drove us to the preschool, and I took Lillie inside. Once she was settled with her teacher, I sat back in the passenger seat and picked up my coffee.

“Wow, it’s nice out,” Lucy said. “Isn’t it nice today, boys?”

“Yeah,” Jason replied, weary.

Collie didn’t answer.

David Gray was on the radio. I turned it up.

We double parked near the boys’ school and took them to the yard for assembly. Parents were chatty as the school year began. We met up with people we hadn’t seen all summer. Yes, the new house is great, I said. No, we won’t always both be here for drop off, Lucy explained. This is just for the first few days; after that, Jefferson would bring in the boys.

We both wanted to be there to reassure Collie.

Jason was already in the third grade, and an old hand at the routines of his school. He was looking out for his brother, who was just starting kindergarten.

The year had got off to a bumpy start. Collie first days ended after lunch, as the five year olds were transitioned into their classes. For the first day, his dad had stayed with him. The second day, he was left alone with his class. The third day, he didn’t feel well, and so he stayed home with his dad.

It seemed like “school” was not one thing, but a whole bunch of different things. Collie tried not to be confused.

His mom and dad smiled and waved goodbye as he held hands in line with some kid he didn’t know. He couldn’t see Jason anywhere.

Lucy’s eyes were wet.

“Aw, honey, he’s fine, mama,” I kissed her cheek.

“I know, I know.” She wiped her lashes, and noticed another mother doing the same. She caught her eye and laughed. “Crazy, right?”

“I can’t weep every day,” the mother replied. “I’ll get dehydrated.”

I walked Lucy to the car and kissed her goodbye. I walked quickly to the subway. I had missed one day this week, and I had a shitload to do. I was eager to get to work.

Then I found myself stuck in a subway tunnel. Great. My luck.

The train lurched forward. I was two stations from my stop. I was also starving.

I climbed the stairs to the street, and waited for the light to change. I crossed the avenue and went into a bakery that was usually packed. It was empty. My luck!

I bought a blueberry muffin. I began to tear nibbles from it as I carried the bag.

As I reached the next avenue, I could see the sidewalks packed with pedestrians, shielding their eyes and looking south. At the corner I turned to look, expecting to see, I don’t know, a jumper on a ledge or something.

“Oh my God,” I said. I turned to a woman. “What happened?”

“A plane flew into it, just a few minutes ago.” She was pushing a stroller. “I was just taking Ethan to his playdate when it happened.”

I looked down at the toddler, whose head was turned to avoid the sun. I looked back up.

It looked as though the skin had been torn from the side of the tower, far up. There was no sign of a plane, no smoke, nothing.

I watched for a moment, then decided to head to my office. As I walked the next block, I stuffed bite after bite of muffin into my mouth.

Adrenaline was kicking in as I thought, okay, people are going to freak out, because people freak out. This is just like the time that airplane crashed into the Empire State Building, back in the forties, but no one will remember that.

What do we need to do?

At the next avenue, I joined another crowd looking south.


People were shouting and crying. It had just happened.

The second plane.

Now, black smoke drifted above the towers.


I walked the next block to my office. I found my colleague, a close friend, already at his desk. Our desks looked out over the avenue

“You know?”

“I know,” he said. “I’m trying to get the radio to work.” He fiddled with the CD player.

. . . reports are now coming in of planes crashing into the Mall in Washington, DC, mere miles from the White House . . .

“Holy fuck!” I said.

He shook his head. “Incredible.”

“I was thinking of that plane that crashed into the Empire State Building.”

“No,” he shook his head. “This is like Pearl Harbor.”

He was an historian. His brain made those connections faster than mine.

We listened to the radio. We went back outside.

We ran into our employer, a man given to hysteria in the best of circumstances.

“This is it,” he gesticulated, pointing south. “We’re attacked. This is it.” He ran off to share his insight with others.

My friend and I just watched the towers smolder.

“Were they fighter planes?” I asked.

“I don’t know, I didn’t see them.”

We watched

“I don’t get it. Did they bomb them, or was it kamikaze?”

“I don’t know.”

We watched.

“How many people do you think . . . ?”

“Thousands. At the beginning of a weekday? Tens of thousands.”

A tower fell.

People around us screamed.

I was stunned.

If you had asked me if a tower would fall, I would have said no.

At that moment, if you had asked me if a second tower would fall, I would have said no.

Then the second tower fell.

It was over. People just stood there. That was it.

A man with a European accent turned to me. “I didn’t go there today.”

A fighter jet boomed overhead. I ducked, instinctively.

We went to our office.

I tried calling Lucy. I tried calling the school. Nothing went through.

The radio kept repeating the same words. Nothing about the schools. Nothing about the subways.

The phone rang.

“Jefferson, you heard?”

“I saw it. Where are you?”

“I’m leaving my office. They are closing the schools. The subways aren’t running.”


“I’m getting the boys. Can you meet us at the school?”

“If I’m walking, I won’t be there for a long time. You’ve got the car. We should meet someplace.”

We agreed to meet at her father’s apartment. He was gone, but she had a key.

“Come with me,” I said to my friend. “Maybe we can get you someplace. There’s no subway.” I picked up my briefcase. I threw out my muffin.

We ran into my employer on the sidewalk. He was telling someone what he had seen.

He noticed us. “Are you guys leaving?”

“Yes, I need to get my kids.”

“Okay,” he hesitated. “Yeah, I guess no one’s going to get much done today, so, yeah, you can go. See you tomorrow, okay? Early.”


At the end of the block, my friend turned to me.

“He’s an idiot.”

I nodded, looking south at the smoke. “Yep.”

We walked north. Office workers were also walking. People spilled into the streets as vehicles dwindled.

Some people stood impatiently looking for cabs.

A man came up from a subway station, covered in white dust.

We passed an electronics store. People looked in the windows. There I saw the first images of what I had witnessed.

We passed a clock. It wasn’t yet noon.

I heard a woman laugh. It felt good, walking in this cool sunny day, when the city was still.

I found my family watching television. The same images. Collie burst into tears when he saw me. He ran to me.

I picked him up. My friend began to cry.

I carried Collie to hug Lucy and Jason.

We wanted to get out of the city fast, if we could, before the roads were closed. We offered the apartment to my friend.

We drove home on empty streets. National Guard vehicles rumbled in the other direction.

For the next few days, I answered emails assuring people that we were fine. I was not dead. No one we knew was dead.

That night, Lucy got high and I got drunk, watching those same images.

For days afterward, Collie was very upset. He kept talking about what had happened. He had learned about it when the assistant principal assembled the students in the auditorium. She told the three hundred students, ages five to eleven, that school would be short today and everyone would wait in the auditorium for pickup. Some bad people had blown up the World Trade Center.

A kid near Collie said, “That’s where my mommy works.”

Collie realized he wasn’t sure he knew where his daddy worked.

At age five, Collie was already very much someone who liked things to make sense. He liked rules. He liked knowing the rules, and he liked it when everyone played by them. When the kids played ball, he wanted to be referee.

This didn’t make sense. He couldn’t make it make sense.

Too many things didn’t make sense.

He had lived in the city, and now he lived in a house.

He had a nanny, and then he didn’t have a nanny.

He went to kindergarten, and things were blown up.

Collie stopped going to the bathroom. He refused to eat. He had accidents and cried.

We found a therapist. His teacher helped. He got better.

This morning, as we waited for the bus. Collie looked at a newspaper box at the cover of USA Today. Under a headline about the anniversary was a photograph of President and Mrs. Bush laying a wreath at Ground Zero.

“Hey Dad, can I have seventy-five cents?”

“Why, baby?”

“Because the Colts beat the Giants. Peyton Manning beat Eli Manning.”

“Well, that’s interesting.” I put a hand on his shoulder. “You know, it’s also the fifth anniversary of nine eleven. You okay?”

“Yeah, Dad. That was when I was five. So can I have seventy-five cents?”

“Here comes the bus. Let’s get you to school, baby. You can read the paper tonight.”


Avah said...

I was a sophomore in high school and was sitting in 2nd period history class and it was the very end and we were all just waiting for the bell to ring when another history teacher came into the room to turn the TV on and was saying how planes flew into the world trade center.

That was all the information I had for the whole day as my school chose to not let us watch the news because they wanted us to watch it at home with our families.

At the end of a day, a classmate had come into the student council office to get some books since she had been absent and said something like how she couldn't believe the towers were gone. I just shook my head, not realizing they were actually gone.

Christina said...

Thank you for sharing that experience with me and all your other readers. It will be a day that none of us will ever forget.

Nichole Sidhe said...

That was a pretty great post, Jefferson. It gave me a little insight into what it was like for someone who lived there.

Annalis said...

Well, first let me say I really enjoy your blog. I stumbled across a few days ago and have been reading it ever since.

This was an excellent post. Being so close to what happened on 9/11 must have been terrifying. Living on the West Coast I could only watch and listen and grieve from a far. Thank you for sharing your experience.

I also appreciate reading about your life after divorce. Gives me some hope that I can release this inner slut of mine that's dying to get out...

Viggy la Q said...

9/11 somehow distorted time. Because it feels as if it were only yesterday, such were the emotions that terrible day drew up in me.....

Watching the memorial events today; seeing that the Lionheart that is New York City hush for a time to remember; and feeling the same heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach as when I walked through the door and turned on the TV five years ago: it was as if it had have happened today.

I never forget: to remember my neighbours across the pond; to be thankful for all the things I am fortunate to have in my life; and to adore the people and place that is NYC.


Mitzi said...

I'll never forgive myself for not being in town that day. I dunno what I could have done. But I've always felt so wrong for not being here.

Cdk said...

I remember the day after sending off the "Are you okay?" emails to my friends in New York. It struck me as amazing how connected we all are nowadays.
A month later one of the PC magazines had a cover of a green and white email screen with the 9/11 date and the words "Are you okay?" in the message window. That was the entire cover artwork. I still have that magazine packed away somewhere...

Zora said...

I've put myself in close to a media blackout for the past few days, torn between the personal and international, the private and the universal.

I wasn't sure whether or not to read this post, even. But I'm glad I did.

dln said...

That's funny ... I was thinking of you today too.

Marie said...

I thought of you this morning as the news shows all talked about that day...I cannot imagine what it must have been like. Here on the west coast all I wanted to do was find my babies and hold them close...

Thank you for sharing this.

Paul (NY) said...

An incredible post. You're a father first, and a pervert second. I admire you for that.

Alice said...

Oh Collie. He sounds like such a love.

Bianca said...

I still remember where I was. I had walked into my grade twelve media class. It was kind of a casual setting and the teacher would let us listen to the radio. When we walking into class and started talking she told us to be quiet, she was trying to listen to something important that had just happened.

I still can't watch any of the anniversary stuff. It's just too much.

Viviane said...

That day, I was stuck in the subway tunnels for several hours, until they walked us out through the stalled trains ("only 40 more to go"!) and I came above ground at the Brooklyn Bridge. I walked north, turned back to look at the smoke, feeling like Lot's wife.

Today I held it together pretty well, until I was sitting in St. Patrick's, listening to a chorus of 200 sing "Amazing Grace." Then I lost it.

Minx said...

I was thinking of you, and every other American today. It's taking me some time getting around to you all.

Living where i do, I can truly empathize with the utter horror that was 9/11. My heart goes out to everyone reliving the shock and torment caused only five short years ago.

(When did five years stop being a long time? Did i grow up and not notice?)

Your piece was, as ever, exquisitely written, and you brought tears to my not-long-dry eyes.

Warmest --

Anonymous said...

I used to work 1.5 blocks away from the trade ctr. I'd take the PATH train and arrive each day at 8:45 AM, as my train almost always put me in Hoboken at the same time. I think the first plane hit at 8:50. I'd have normally been in line at the bagel place in the lower-level shopping mall then...But I was on vacation and supposed to fly back that day. The intersection I usually crossed to get to work, from what a friend told me, had a jet engine smash down into it.

When I flew back, 5 days later, on the first day the airports reopened, my flight actually took us 10,000 over the WTC as we decended in to McCarthur out on Long Island. I could not believe what I saw.

It really sank in when I came back to work on Monday (relocated). The "missing person" boards that were tacked-up in the train station and subway stations. HUNDREDS of flyers. The desperate cries of their relatives just hanging on to some hope.

Thanks for sharing.