Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11, 2001: in moments

a story crafted from the accounts of friends in New York on that day...

(1) I am looking up. No particular reason. I have long ago discarded the conceit that natives don't stare in wonder at our own tall buildings. I'd no more not take every opportunity to see the Trade Towers, the Chrysler, the Empire State, Citicorp, Woolworth, then a Colorado
resident would keep the Rocky Mountains out of his vision.

I'm pretty close to work for this time in the morning. Coffee in hand and drifting down Church Street past the Century 21 Store which must have been a bank when it was built. I'm supposed to be at work in those borrowed offices on the 17th Floor of One Liberty Plaza at 8:00 but obviously I'm not. I'm never there on time. I refer to it as a theoretical eight hour day and because of a lot of things assumed about me by my superiors, good and bad, true and not, this is accepted.

So my vision is vertical, and I hear the plane before I see it, too loud and too unusual and I let my eyes start to expand taking in this enormous blue morning sky. I might be the only one on this block staring into that scene right then, I have no way of knowing. In the way we do when something we see makes no sense at all I just stand, frozen, watching.

And then I run. The coffee I suppose falling, one hand pulling the shield which hangs around my neck out from inside my shirt. A cab comes close to killing me as I step off the curb. A radio car almost gets me too but doesn't and I spin briefly one hand holding up my detective's shield the other pointed skyward but I don't know if they get it.

I feel like the only one moving. Half the people on the street are still in normal patterns, the other half now staring up, and I run among them as if in a video game heading for Tower One.


Before I can pass between the low buildings that frame the plaza screaming sirens are already filling the morning. As I start across I find myself joined by other cops, cops in uniforms, Port Authority cops I guess, all racing from different compass points.

(2) Fifteen minutes later there is orderly evacuation. We have been through this before and the cops who were there that day eight years ago know this is better if only because the lights seem to be staying on. On the plaza level of the lobby we debate coordination though and someone has just actually brought coffee from the little place in the concourse just outside the tower doors. I wander away, not being a commander of any kind, trying to find my boss because I'm not sure we understand what's happening here and that's supposed to be my little group's job. Firemen are flowing through the scene in their heavy black and yellow coats, pushing through the stairwell doors, A, B, C, as everyone else pushes their way out. In this corner there's no one else so I start pointing people out towards the bridge to the World Financial Center.

Then the world shakes again. I do not see plane two. I only almost hear it. But I feel it and turn around and see a snowstorm of debris falling onto a plaza I now see is already covered with papers and dust. I hadn't noticed before.

(3) We are supposed to be gathered into a crime scene unit. Somebody has brought me a radio. I have never heard this many sirens or seen this many firemen. People have been jumping from both towers and no one wants to be looking at the plaza anymore. A Detective-lieutenant looks at the roll of yellow "Police Line" tape he has been holding at least since I first met him a half hour ago and finally says, "I don't think this is long enough." Two World Trade Center makes a strange sound, the top starts to tilt. For the second time today I watch something inconceivable. And then the building simply falls.

(4) On the other side of Building Five, I am back on Church Street. Someone has told me that I'm bleeding and I press a borrowed handkerchief against part of my face but I'm more concerned with whatever it is I'm now coughing up and how my back hurts because I know I got bounced off something from that blast of air. Our gathering has become meaningless except that we have joined those helping people find their way out of the exits from the concourse and subways. "Just go that way," I say two hundred times, pointing toward Broadway. I am saying this to a woman with three kids when I hear one cop say "motherfucker." As I turn around all I can see of Tower One is the TV antenna. I see that it is moving down. For the first time this day my instincts work. I grab two of the kids, the mother grabs the other, I push her in front of me and we run.


© 2004 by Ira Socol__________________________________________

No comments: