This is from my recently published novel, “Doing Time on Planet Earth”, which was written in 2005 and takes place in late 2004. In 2005, I was working for Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, which had lost over a hundred people in 9/11. They had a huge plaque in the office building memorializing the names of the victims. Everyone had a story. Some worse than others. My boss and my co-workers had barely escaped the second tower with their lives. And had spent months recapturing lost records. And of course I had my own story. The below is fiction, but conveys to a degree how we felt years later.
It was hard not to think about the robbery on her way to Essex Temporaries on Friday morning. The weather didn’t aid her mood, brisk and beautiful with a hint of dried leaves – it felt like nine-eleven weather, even though it was late October. Her skin prickled with it, reminding her of how she’d felt after nine-eleven, a number that still held the taint of the lives lost that day. But it was more than just lives, although that in and of itself was pretty major, she thought, just as the robbery was more than just a laptop. It was her sense of security, a shift in perspective, having what she believed to be secure, to be true, be messed with, and to an extent, unraveled. Everyone, she thought, went a little bit numb after nine-eleven. It was either that or become consumed by fear and rage; in some cases, she supposed, numbness was better.
On nine-eleven the earth, or rather Americans’ perception of it, shifted to the right. She wondered if that was how her grandparents and parents felt when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1942. That sudden shift in perspective. That innate sense that all was not right with the world no matter where you were or who, that there was no place that felt safe — and you’d give anything to change that. Fear ruled you whether or not you wished it to. Everyone had a story about where they were during nine-eleven and what they lost. At first it seemed as if everyone had lost a cousin or a friend of a cousin, or a cousin’s cousins’ friend. Six degrees of separation was the term like that old nineties film of the same name with Will Smith and Stockard Channing that her mother took her to years ago. No matter who you were or what nationality, the events of nine-eleven affected you – to the extent that the number itself entered the international lexicon as shorthand for the events of that day. You didn’t have to elaborate further. Everyone knew. 9/11. Nine-Eleven. Just that week a local business man who’d rung her up on his register had gotten the amount $9.11 and it jolted them both – like a spark of static electricity. He erased the amount and made it eight dollars even. He’d rather lose the dollar and eleven cents than keep that number in his records.
After nine-eleven she became obsessed with shows like Spywitch. She watched it every day, joined internet fan forums on it. Sans laptop she couldn’t do that now. She couldn’t escape to that other world any longer, a world made up of letters printed on a screen and where the bullies, albeit nameless, could be avoided. She’d felt secure in that bubble. And wondered if today was the day Fiske would give her that loaner laptop he kept promising. If she hurried through the interview she might have time, after their lunch with Hope, to jog back to his office and play on the computer there. Fiske had told her to call him after the interview. So had Hope. This was the day for their ambush. Everything scheduled for Monday morning had merely been pushed to Friday. Fitting, Caddy thought, the days bookending each other as they did.
She looked up at the sky one last time before entering the building. It was one of those days… beautiful, shiny, yet Caddy felt as if storm clouds were hovering above her head. Nine-eleven weather with a scent of dead leaves drifting in the air.
It’s funny, now, fourteen years later, I find myself looking back on different things. Remembering how folks came together on that day to help one another. A co-worker took me home with her, we had lunch at her place, and she allowed me to call family members to inform them that I was okay. One of my aunts had called me at work that day to ensure that I was okay, and not anywhere near the towers. We huddled together on the subway, comforting each other as it came to a complete halt under the east river, shivering in fear and uncertainty. I remember getting off two stops later and watching the papers fall like snow from a a sky the color of red dust. It had been a crystal blue sky that morning. The dust was man-made.
I remember the firemen and police officers, many who sacrificed their lives, climbing the steps of the skyscrapers to save lives. Or the various volunteers hunting through the wreckage for survivors or the dead. The out-pouring of support and love from various countries.
The man responsible for it is long gone. Dead and buried, along with most of his organization. Not that it matters, since other similar organizations have sprouted up in his place. The US entered into two wars after 9/11, and more people were killed in those wars than were killed on that day. I wonder sometimes what the world would be like if we’d made different choices? Ironically, the men responsible for 9/11 were not in either country that the US entered into WAR with, but rather hiding out in Pakistan. And the wars just created more terrorists and more hate. There’s a lesson hidden somewhere in there, I think.
When I think of 9/11, I remember being happy that morning, the sky a pristine blue. I’d planned on getting tickets to a Peter Gaberial Concert – which was to occur near the Twin Towers. They were having a big festival down there in two weeks. I’d planned on doing it that morning just before work, but for some reason or other, had chosen to do it later – after work. Then the world shifted, and nothing was the same. For years after, a bright sunny fall morning would send a shiver up my spine. 9/11 weather, I’d think. Not so much anymore though. Now, I find I can let go of it. The fear and anger are long gone, leaving behind them wistful memories and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for those who sacrificed their lives on that day to save mine.