Then, in an Instant, Gone…..
I turn on the set. 9:10 Tuesday morning. The screen is grey, scraggly lines. No reception, no channels. Two planes have flown into the World Trade Center. I see people from my third floor window here in Brooklyn, running into the street to see, yelling back to people on their porches. Out my window I see the smoke and people gathering in clusters at the end of Skillman Avenue.
I run down to join them in the street and there is a gaping black hole at the top of the first Tower slicing catty corner. Smoke, black and lots of it, blows out the hole. My knees buckle and I think oh, no not another Oklahoma. I feel sick to my stomach.
We all think, hey it’s not so bad probably just a fluke, an accident. Some idiot crashed his plane. I can still get on the L train and get into Manhattan. Then the second plane hits.
I run inside to get my camera.
For the first time I realize there are no TV stations broadcasting. The reception is gone because the transmitter sits on top of the WTC. I see for the first time a blurry plane curving in on the second Tower full blast with the white typed reverse banner reading ‘moments ago’. The second plane takes dead aim and plunges into Tower II.
I run out into the street with my camera. Neighbors I don’t even know start talking to me telling me they’ve seen the first plane, live fly right in. Then in front of us the first building collapse, pancaking in on itself. Huge plumes of smoke. I think to the horror of the base of the building. In my mind even though we are over a mile away, I know there are 40 thousand people in both towers and that many hundreds of people are dead on each floor.
I don’t have much time to wrap my mind what I’ve just seen when the second building collapses. In an instant in a cloud of fire and smoke they are gone. Poof.
What to do, where to go, what to say. Cell phones are out. TV sets and radios you can now hear loudly broadcasting out of apartment windows. I come back upstairs to watch the reports on TV. The broadcasters are stunned. I’m surprised to note they don’t cry like the news people did in Oklahoma. It all seem so fake.
Then just as fast there is a fire on the Washington Mall and seconds later a third plane crashes into the Pentagon. I think is there more? I think geez one hijacking is bad and a suicide bomber is worse. And people start to leap to their deaths.
I run to the corner of Metropolitan and Lorimar Streets; the main thoroughfare for trucks into the city. There is now only smoke where the towers used to be wafting and gaining and accumulating strength, length and breadth pouring in over Brooklyn. Cars race by and everyone furiously has a cell phone to their ears. People, dazed and confused at their own whereabouts, stream up from the subway. They were left off at Lorimar street as now all subway service has been cut going into the city.
The Brooklyn Bridge is closed for traffic in and out of the city as well as the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. Lincoln Tunnel, Holland Tunnel and George Washington Bridge are closed. Throngs of people stand on the corner, asking the silent blank question ‘now what do we do?’ Everyone just looks at one another for an answer.
I go into the butcher shop, where Nick has the TV on, on top of the freezer and a group of people have congregated. Two big healthy guys come in; shaken, white faced, clammy, sweating and dusty look up at the set. Their ties and jackets are off. It is then I start to get it. “Did you just walk home over the Williamsburg Bridge?” ”Yes” ”From Wall Street?” ”Yes.” They are visibly afraid.
I don’t go into the city. It’s chaos and sooty and I know, I know it, I can sense it: it’s bad. This is really, really bad. More deaths than I can imagine or understand. The death toll from four flights, two into the Twin Towers, one into the Pentagon, and one aborted into the ground in western Pennsylvania already outnumber the total deaths in Oklahoma City. Three hundred, three fifty, four hundred NY City firefighters lost. I fear Captain Pat Brown is among the missing. They are lost; no communication, unaccounted for.
I watch television all day. One channel CBS 2 and then WPIX Channel 11 comes on faintly. There are no flights overhead, no traffic in the street. Only the roar of F-16’s overhead.
Thursday September 13 / Union Square
Today, I am afraid. It is an unsafe feeling. Everyone who wasn’t directly affected tells me they feel guilty for being alive, for wanting to feel happy in the sunshine of a beautiful fall day. Then it is after waking up from a dream or the sensation of remembering there is an eclipse of the sun; don’t look up its dangerous, if you look at it directly at it you’ll be hurt; suddenly you remember there is an unimaginable tragedy unfolding less than 30 blocks from here.
Tuesday afternoon the mail was delivered on schedule. Everyone who could make it, made their way home. Some just fled north on foot, others stayed with friends in the city. I hear of one guy who walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, walks into a bicycle shop buys a bike and rides home to Eastern Long Island. There are pictures of thousands of stranded commuters walking over the bridges. It looks like the New York City Marathon. Ferries are taking people to Jersey and ferries are carting dead bodies to Staten Island.
Ground Zero is the new term. ‘Nothing like I’ve ever seen before and I’ve been to Vietnam’, a volunteer fireman tells me. ”It looks like Beirut, Armageddon.’ ‘Let’s bomb the hell out of them of them all’, are all the same phrases I heard in Oklahoma.
At night I can’t take being alone any more so I join my neighbors who are outside talking on the stoop. Sal and Luciano; the Manzollilo brothers are out talking about how they were there and both made it out. Sal is smoking and drinking espresso from his father’s pizzeria. Nora, his wife hovers close with a relieved look on her face. “I was on the 9 floor. It felt like an earthquake and we all got out.” Luciano has his own story to tell. “I drove right up to the building and then backed up a one way street to get out.”
Sal interrupts to say he saw all the people jumping out of the windows. ‘Why would they jump so soon?’someone else asks. ‘Maybe they looked back and there was no floor no where else to go. Maybe this was their best option.’ he responds.
I feel nervous, jittery just listening to them recounting their day. “We don’t have an evacuation plan once the people hit the street,” one newspaper reported as saying. I can imagine all those employees coming down the stairwells. It is also reported that one person leaps to his death and the impact of his body kills a fireman standing on the sidewalk. Two people die leaping while holding hands. Others call their loved ones from cell phones to say goodbye.
Luciano and Sal both joined the exodus who walked home. What everyone on the street wants to know is how in the world did they bomb our Pentagon. Wasn’t anyone aware that there were 4 planes at once hijacked and flying in our airspace?
Today (Thursday) we learn that the terrorist pilots were trained in Florida. They knew how to turn the transmitters off and knew to fly low enough to not be tracked by radar.
I feel relatively safe living in Brooklyn. Getting on the subway for the first time after the attack was another story. There are policemen stationed right at the L train Subway entrance as I come above ground. If I want to walk below 14th street they’ll need to check my I.D.
Below 14th Street is closed. The cops assure me that the subway are bunkers ; built into bedrock, safe as can be. I ate ice cream for dinner last night again. I am tired, weary; the city feels tired too, like all it’s energy, moxy has been knocked out of it. And we all intuitively know, though everyone stills hope there are survivors in the rubble, it’s a morgue at the end of the island.
The G train came yesterday. That the subways are running at all is a miracle to me. Everything seems mundane and trivial now. Petty grievances don’t seem to matter. Nothing matters. There are no cars in the street, no rampant pervasive traffic background noise.
I finally walked downtown. I did it more to not be afraid than for any other reason. Pat is gone. The rain cleared away a lot of the soot so you don’t see as many gas masks as you did the first three days after the attack. The rain came in so dramatic and loud and booming it woke me up out of a sound sleep. I thought they were bombing us again. Today they found the remains of people strapped into their airline seats and also an airline attendant dead with her hands bound.
I hear and start to comprehend that Pat, Captain Pat Brown was killed. Friends hear reports he was killed instantly in the fireball blasting out of the elevators. I ask can you be totally sure ? The answer; ‘who can totally be sure of anything these days.’ Just last week he kissed my cheek and his eyes blazing blue with spirit and pluck and hello and really it was goodbye. Just like that. Tom another friend tells me Pat Brown was the most decorated firefighter in the history of the New York City fire department. ‘Gallant Capt. Pat Brown’ the Daily News calls him. ‘If ever there was someone to pattern your life after it would be Pat,’ Tom concludes. I don’t feel solace in this.
I felt fear this week for the first time since Oklahoma; that free floating anxiety that things aren’t all right. This a.m. a new resolve took hold of me, no more lying around cautious behavior. Either live now or else.
Today (Saturday) I woke up pissed. Leapt out of bed. That’s it, I thought either wholly jump into it make pictures and chronicle what has happened in words and pictures or not. None of this half-assed crap any more. Be a hero, a wonder woman in my own right. Just get up and do it.