Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never Forget

The phone rang a few minutes before 9 a.m. 10 years ago this morning. As usual at such an early (for me) hour, I slept through the first few rings, and by the time I answered the phone the caller had already hung up. I looked at the caller ID and was a bit bemused why my college roommate John was calling me at this unusual time of day.

I was going to roll over and go back to sleep but I had to be up shortly to meet a freelance client, so I figured I’d call Tom and make sure we were still on schedule. He answered, I said hello.

“Are you watching TV?” he asked.

That was the first hint something was not right. I put on the TV, saw the Twin Towers with gaping, fiery holes and realized why John was calling: Our friend Greg worked in one of the Twin Towers.

I called John, whose voice was filled with an urgency and a worry I’d never heard before. He was trying to get in touch with anyone who might have spoken to Greg so that John could call back Greg’s Mom and let her know he was safe.

The next hour or so was spent fielding and making phone calls. Another friend John needed me to call his parents in California to let them know he was OK—he worked in a government building in Brooklyn—and that he was heading home as soon as possible. At some point I called my Dad, because at that point I felt like I was 27 going on seven and I needed to know everything was going to be OK, even though I knew our definition of OK had just changed forever.

My Dad provided some measure comfort, at least until the plane crashed into the Pentagon and his demeanor grew far more somber. “Well shit,” he said. “I guess I should go watch this.”

Another good friend from college, Rob, worked in the Pentagon (I later found out he only had Pentagon access, that he didn’t work full-time there). At some point I raced for the bathroom, unsure which end of my body was going to release itself first.

Tom and I, each in a complete daze, eventually agreed to meet at a gas station by my house so that I could give him my suddenly meaningless assignment. We gazed at the cruelly blue sky as we stood next to each other on an unusually warm September day.

“This is our Pearl Harbor,” he said.

On the way home I heard the second of the Twin Towers fall on the radio. “The Twin Towers…ARE GONE,” said WPLJ’s Todd Pettengill.

Shortly after I got home I found out Greg was fine, that he was walking to work at 7 World Trade Center when the attacks happened and that he ended up at a friend’s apartment in the city. I drove to the office of the weekly newspaper I was working at in Suffolk—I’d just taken a job as the sports editor—and ended up talking to Greg for one of the stories in our Thursday edition. There was no sports section Thursday.

Around mid-afternoon, I was overcome with an exhaustion I’d never felt before or since. I could barely keep my eyes open. It would be weeks before I could sleep normally again, and months before I didn’t wake up with a sense of dread every Tuesday morning.

I drove home around sunset and passed by a group of little kids riding their bikes in the street. I wished I was that young again, and was glad I wasn’t, because I knew those kids would never have the childhood I had. How old are they now? Seventeen, eighteen? They don’t know of a world in which every little hiccup—a power outage or the sound of far-off sirens or a breaking news bulletin—doesn’t automatically conjure up images of terrorism. All they know is a world in which no horror is unimaginable.

It’s hard to believe it’s 10 years today, and how much more recent Sept. 11, 2001 feels than Sept. 10, 2001.

Somehow, miraculously, nobody I knew died in the terrorist attacks. Never forget the 2,977 who did, including the 13 Hofstra graduates who perished at the World Trade Center: Lt. Glenn Wilkinson, Frederick Varrachi, Neil Levin, Alisha Levin, Edward Mardovich, Andrew Stern, Courtney Walcott, Alok Menta, Jeffrey Dingle, Richard Fitzsimmons, Noell Maerz, Glenn Winuk and Julie Lynne Zipper.

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