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.
of those people was Charlie. He worked in the World Trade Center.
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.
floor is he on?* someone asked me. I couldn't remember. *High,*
I said. *He's high up.*
Pentagon's been hit. I just heard it on my radio,* someone else
said. *We're under attack.*
it must be an accident,* someone answered.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.