Thursday, September 11, 2003

I'm not going to practice tonight. Since I haven't been playing, I don't think it's going to matter much. Part of it is, I'm working late. By the time I get home, practice will alread have started and would be half over by the time I get out there.

But there is another reason. In the previous post, I mention Mark Bingham. He was one of the men on Flight 93 who was credited with helping to bring down the plane in Pennsylvania instead of in the Capitol Building or the White House. He was also the co-founder, of sorts, of my rugby club. I say "of sorts" because he died before the team started. He was talking with gay rugby players in the city about starting a team, but it hadn't gotten much further than that. One of our coaches/players/co-founders, Scott, made sure that the team became a reality. In memory of Mark.

The reason I'm glad I didn't go to practice is that Scott will very likely talk about all of this. And we'll likely have a moment of silence. All good things.

But things I can't handle now.

I've spent the day blinking tears out of my eyes. Remembering everything that happened that day. Being bemused at hearing about a plane hitting the tower; trying to figure out how that could happen. Thinking that it must have been some poor pilot who had a heart attack or stroke and lost control of his plane. Never dreaming that it could have been an airliner full of people.

Going to vote; it was a primary day. Coming home, taking a shower and coming back into my room to hear my mom leaving a very frantic message - her third during the 20 minutes or so I was showering - trying to make sure I wasn't downtown. She was the one who told me about the second plane. I turned on the TV to see the footage of the second plane hitting the tower. That footage burned itself into my mind like the Challenger explosion when I was in high school. A raw primal violence well beyond anything Hollywood has ever given us.

Mom knew I was sometimes downtown for my job. Receptions, meeting with clients, things like that. Luckily I wasn't. I was supposed to go down there that evening though. Cocktail party and awards reception.

The subway was still running to Times Square so I made it to work. The footage from the Pentagon was on all the screens in Times Square. I stopped for a moment to watch. It was so quiet. Everybody was just staring at the terrible images. When I reached the office, the first tower had just collapsed. By that point, the Internet was down. Most of the phones were, too. I called my dad to let him know I was okay; couldn't get through. Couldn't reach my mom. Or friends who were only a few streets away. I reached a friend of the family and asked her to call my mom. I'm sure she knew I was okay, but the news was full of stories about more planes that were unaccounted for. Times Square, Grand Central, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building. All potential targets and all nearby.

Then the second tower fell. I realized at that point that I didn't know where two of my roommates worked. One was in finance. The other a temp. The last two were students and I knew they would have been at home or Columbia. But I was afraid for the two who I couldn't account for. And what about my other friends?

The office started to empty. No trains. The city was locked up. Where was everyone going? I stayed at the office. Would I be any safer on the streets? Friends at the office wondered if they should try to get to their apartments in Battery Park City. They set off walking. I don't think any of them made it lower than Houston before hitting roadblocks.

I lived uptown. No worry about getting there. I stayed at the office listening to the news. More planes missing. One shot down in Pennsylvania. Another shot down over DC. Planes diverted to Canada. Maybe a hijacked plane coming from Canada. Rumors, stupid of them to broadcast, but they had to do something. Maybe 10,000 people in the towers.

I finally reached my dad later in the day. He sounded okay. I asked him to call mom since I still couldn't get through. I found out later he had been trying to get through to me all morning. He knew that I was nowhere near the WTC, but he too knew I used to be down there from time to time.

I even reached one of my roommates who told me everyone was okay.

By the afternoon, my train was working so I went home. I just sat at home and watched the footage. Trying to absorb it. By the end of the evening, I could smell the burning plastic smell that was to hang over the city for weeks. I was nowhere near the buildings, way up on the Upper West Side, but I could still smell it.

And I saw the footage of the jumpers. If I could remove any image from my brain, it would be those. Most of the networks weren't showing it, thank God. But I flipped past Telemundo and there it was. They showed one person after the next, just jumping out into space.

I cried off and on for months. It was weird. Most of the time, it had a trigger. I would read one of the profiles of the victims in the NYTimes. Or would walk past a missing person flier. People were so hopeful that somone would be pulled from the wreckage. Or when I was working at one of the disaster relief locations a couple of months later and walked past the stuffed animals that the people of Oklahoma City donated to the children who'd lost parents in the attacks. Wept like a baby at that one, I did. It didn't help that I'd spent the morning working with people who had lost their jobs or spouses or both and were applying for emergency loans from the government and various charities.

But other times, it would just hit me. No warning. Just tears.

And I certainly couldn't talk about it. My throat would close up and the tears would start. And I was one of the really lucky ones. I didn't know anyone in the towers. Coworkers lost spouses, in-laws, siblings. Friends lost family or other friends. My office lost clients, whole businesses that just disappeared. But I didn't lose anyone. So why the hell did it feel like I did?

But bound up with all these bad feelings are the good things that I remember coming out of it. Lines of people at the blood banks. Hundreds of lawyers going to the Bar Association to volunteer in the way they best could. Moments of silence all over the world. E-mails and calls from friends that I hadn't spoken with in years, just to make sure I was okay. Moments of true selfless humanity.

And all of these feeling, good and bad, are lurking right below the surface today. And it would take so little to trigger a flood. Hell, I've been wiping away tears the entire time I've been typing.

And I'm okay with crying right now, by myself. I just don't want to do it in front of my friends. I want this to be mine. Maybe not the healthiest thing in the world, but there we have it.

Jesus. I intended this to be a little post. Guess I blew that. Sometimes when things get started, it gets a little tough to reign it back in.

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