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I heard a woman's voice yell out, *The Twin Towers are on fire!* My eyes were still on a page in the middle of the book when the voice in my head said, *No, that can't be. Not both towers. That can't be. The book closed. My head turned. And there out the window were both towers with huge smoke clouds billowing up into the sky. The train stopped again, and if the train windows had been open, we would have smelled the smoke. The Twin Towers were so close, you could see the flames inside the buildings' windows. Only a narrow ribbon of the East River and a few blocks of lower Manhattan streets separated us from them. Like everyone else, I rushed to the train windows closest to the Twin Towers, pressing my hands against the glass. I felt like I could almost touch them, almost reach right in and touch one of the people in the World Trade Center offices.

 

One of those people was Charlie. He worked in the World Trade Center.

 

My hands were shaking so badly, I had trouble getting my purse open to get my cell phone out. And then I had to look his work phone number up on my Palm Pilot. I couldn't find it. Was it not there? Had I never entered it? Of course, it was there but in the chaos of the moment, I couldn't see it on the small screen. Then I found it. I pressed the numbers into my cell. I got a busy signal. *My husband's in the World Trade Center ,* I told the woman next to me. *Can I use your cell?* But I only got a busy signal on her phone too. I borrowed someone else, then someone else's, then someone else's. None of the cell phones in the train car worked. All I got was busy signals on all the phones I tried.

 

*What floor is he on?* someone asked me. I couldn't remember. *High,* I said. *He's high up.*

 

*The Pentagon's been hit. I just heard it on my radio,* someone else said. *We're under attack.*

 

*No, it must be an accident,* someone answered.

 

And then we all went silent. There was a slight buzz from the radio, nothing else. We all watched the World Trade Center burn, looking like two giant smoking matchsticks over lower Manhattan.

 

The intercom was silent. The train conductor had stopped talking about why the train was delayed. *Due to an incident at the World Trade Center *was a phrase that I would repeat many times that day. But at that particular moment, everyone on the train took a mental step sideways. It wasn't happening. It couldn't be what it looked like. Our senses were deceiving us. As the train started moving again, we were all just on our way to work again, dazed but still stuck in our familiar routines.

 

Inside my own head, I decided all the people who had been in the World Trade Center must have gotten out somehow. There had been some warning. They knew something was happening, so they had all been evacuated. That's what I thought. That's what I decided.

 

As we approached Canal Street, I considered getting off and going to see what I could find out about Charlie. If I had, I would have been caught in the collapse that was only a few minutes away.

 

But as the train doors opened, I didn't get off the train. Some weird voice in my head told me that I was already very late for work and I had to get to the office. It was a work day. It wasn't a normal day, but it was a work day. I had to go to work.

 

The doors closed. The train pulled out of the station. But as we left Canal, I knew I couldn't just go to the office as if nothing had happened. I had to get to Charlie. I had to have a plan.

 

I started planning my strategy. I knew there was a pay phone at Union Square that worked. It was right by Petco. I had seen people use it. That's where I would go. I would get off at the Union Square stop, use the Petco bathroom (I suddenly had to pee really badly) and then use the pay phone that was just outside the Petco door.

 

And that's what I did. While I was in the Petco bathroom, I finished planning my strategy. I would phone Charlie, and I would phone my office to tell them to sit by the phone in case Charlie called. Then I would walk down to the World Trade Center and stop an ambulance worker to ask where they were taking survivors. Then I would go to whatever hospital that was and find Charlie. That was my plan. I reviewed it again as I walked through the totally empty pet store. The pet store was strange. All the animals were quiet and scared but all the employees were gone, who knows where. Out in the street probably. But despite all the strangeness, I felt I had a good plan.

 

I left Petco and, standing just outside its door, I looked down the street at the World Trade Center. Yes, it was quite close. I thought I could walk there in about 10 or 15 minutes, maybe less if I walked fast. I went over to the pay phone, found a quarter, and dialed my own home number, thinking maybe Charlie was already back home. I got the machine. I left a message, telling him to call me at the office. Then I got another quarter, dialed my office, got my assistant and asked her to please sit by my phone and do nothing but wait for Charlie to call. Then I dialed Charlie's number at work, and listened to the ring. I don't know quite what I was expecting. Did I think he was going to answer his phone? Fortunately, he didn't. I got his voicemail. I left a message. It was a pretty lame message. *Charlie, your building is on fire. If you're still up there, please leave. Get out. Go home. Call me at the office.* I hung up.

 

I had just hung up and my hand was still on the receiver when I looked down the street at the World Trade Center again and saw Charlie's building collapse.