1964, 3 A.M, 9/11, American Express, Art Garfunkel, Atlanta Hawks, Blue Lines, California, Chicago Bulls, CNN, CNN Center, EMS, FDNY, Key Yemaya Walker, Michael Jordan, New York, Paul Simon, Philips Arena, September 11th, Simon & Garfunkel, The Sound of Silence, Twin Towers, Washington Wizards, Wednesday Morning, World Trade Center, WTC
I would be remiss if I used the same line that everyone else does to state how the day started as innocently as every other day. How “normal,” the day began.
I was still in my “rookie” year with the Atlanta Hawks organization, headed into my first full season. The evening of September 10th, rumors began to circulate that legendary Chicago Bulls player, and now Washington Wizards General Manager, Michael Jordan, would be making his second return to the NBA. We stayed late in preparation of the next day, making sure we could take on the anticipated work.
The day did not begin as a normal day. Though a crisp, pristine morning, I knew that as I arrived early to our office in CNN Center, the day would be full. I prepared my lunch, in anticipation of not being able to take a break this morning, and was focused and settled to us having a big day.
We knew that at some point we would receive the announcement, which came later in a much more subdued in the subsequent weeks. As I exited the car, and finally sat at my desk, the slight unconfirmed report that a plane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I will be honest, in the Atlanta area, pilot hobbyists have crashed often into houses, buildings and the such, therefore my first innocent thoughts were, “how was someone allowed to fly their personal plane through Manhattan.” Ryan Cameron on Atlanta’s Hot 97 returned to the music. My mind was boggled briefly, as more orders for season ticket began to pile up, and quickly I returned to my job at hand.
2011 was the beginning and “end” of many aspects of my professional and personal life. It brought me fully into my current profession, it “closed” the door on a rekindled relationship (technology), it opened another, and shut the door on a mistake.
Like a machine, I plugged away until I noticed that my lunch getting warm on the corner of my desk. It would be fine to stretch my legs walking around to the break room and finding a pot for it in the refrigerator. As I turned the two corners and walked towards the refrigerator:
9:02 United Flight 175 strikes the South Tower.
“Oh my God,” I yelp cognizant that this is no mistake. Commercial planes do not fly directly into buildings. At this unfurled on live television, I may have known that this was planned, I did not know that this was the second plane. The plane sliced into the building and huge round fireball blasts from the opposite side. At that point, you realize that this was not a stunt, and though it looked like a movie, the loss of life was real.
My outburst was followed by the ignorant comment to me, “I expected better from you.”
I almost dropped my lunch, as I wanted to strike the person. Little did he or anyone know, I had gone through this before. In 1993 my Aunt, an official with American Express, was present as truck bomb went off in the North Tower of the World trade Center. So upon seeing this footage, that CNN replayed, within those early innocent moments, I knew the work day was lost, and that I had to find my family.
I returned to my desk, near tears calling any New York land line I had, but all calls were stopped by busy signals. I instant messaged those I could, and tried another method. I called my best friend, and college ex-girlfriend who coincidently worked for EMS under FDNY, on her cell phone….she answered…signs of life.
Helpless, it’s easy to say or right this now, but there is one part on my character that I hated I could do nothing. I am always moved to action. I remember a fire that I tried to run into as a child, armed with fire extinguisher about half my weight, knowing I could put this all out. Not knowing where my aunt was, I know that I would have run into that building full speed looking for my aunt.
Breath…the first chance for my heart to ease. Within New York, land and cell lines were accessible. She, thank you again, proceeded to call and reach my aunt, whose offices had recently and fortunately moved due to rising rent costs in the World Trade Center, who was making her way, in heels, across the Brooklyn Bridge. Titi (the affectionate name for an aunt in Hispanic culture, a change of the Spanish word for aunt, tia) would later recount that after the first blast, watching the paper flying through the sky, she initially wondered what unannounced tickertape parade was taking place.
Time began to slow, as no one knew what was going on, or what would happen next. I could not leave the phone to watch the events unfold, except for some brief moments, trying to stay close to any calls that may come in with information. Thoughts of Michael Jordan playing in the NBA again slowed to a trickle and then halt as the news began to spread. I banged my hand on my desk, irate, angry, confused, deeply saddened…helpless.
I called my crying mother, and calmed her nerves that her sister was safe. I called Los Angeles and reached another good New York friend, and woke him. “They’ve attacked the World Trade Center,” I alerted as he turned on his tv there and watched the story unfold. I sat on the line with Jamie, as I fielded other calls on the other lines from my friend in New York or my mother. I shot off an e-mail asking for the safety of ONE I had been disconnected from again, and tried to find everyone I could.
9:37 American Airlines Flight 77 reportedly hits the Pentagon.
Similarly, the same story began to unfold for my girlfriend. Coming from a family with civilian involvement in the government and military, her uncle worked at the Pentagon. When news began to break, phones had already reached the point where there was no access, during the New York attacks. Learning what I had, I let her know she could call her family through their cell lines. She was calmed, knowing that her uncle had been called from the Pentagon, and had left that morning before the attack.
After that point, things got crazy, as unsubstantiated reports had planes reported to be above New York, Washington D.C., and strangely locally and nationally reported over Atlanta. Granted, common sense had me question the report that the news media was targeted next, but with our offices housed with our parent company’s world headquarters, CNN Center, a rising fear began to take the entire office and building.
The scariest thing about the totality of these events is that we were the fear of siege and attack. It was unimaginable that we were watching the script of movies unfolding before our eyes. And our heads were ducked, not knowing where the next part was coming from. In all honesty, politics and truths aside, there is a certain blind “this could never happen to us,” feeling that was shattered and destroyed on that day.
Jamie, and I were on the phone again as he stated, and I left and went to the break room and saw:
9:37 South Tower collapses
I was taken aback as the second tower attacked, collapses first. I call my mother, who is crying on the line, calling me by my nickname, and it hearkens the heartbreaking moment that she called me, her college age son, and asked why God had taken her father. New Yorkers truly do hold their city in such a regard that matches no other city, state, or even this country. For this landmark, icon, symbol to be destroyed, it may have hurt them in ways that others in this country would not understand.
Though hard, to try to put my feelings in words, I do not even know how to return to that thought or feeling that I had as I watched this collapse. What I initially realized was that, even less so than the first tower attacked, the North Tower, there was no way that the people could have could have evacuated the building.
My mind slowly stepped back to the year 2000. It was my last full day in New York, I had gone, invited to get away (Blue Lines Blog – Reciprocity). Slowly walking through New York, we grabbed a slice, and I stopped with my disposable camera, and snapped away at the World Trade Center towers. New York was still this afternoon. The streets were not too crowded, and it was one of those understanding days filled with great conversation, but the melancholy of knowing that my trip was over. Jeans still baggy, clothing trendy enough, while walking through New York in my Jordan’s trying not to get them dirty. I took these pictures not knowing that would be the last time I saw these building. I still have to find the film to develop. I hated New York at that time, just having the ability to mourn my grandfather, and the girl I subsequently had fallen in love with as a result, and the book I had written. New York would somehow bring me back, this was just not the time. SHIT all my family is there.
Loss of life…the South Tower collapsed into itself, almost with perfect precision as the only picture etched in my mind were those FDNY Firefighters running into the towers. Floor by floor, peoples families were changed forever, lives were permanently changed, and those like myself, directly tied to these events, and those who had no direct link, were forever affected and changed in some way.
Also as affecting was the fashion in which the detritus covered and filled the streets of New York. Large billowing clouds that unrealistically eclipsed the sunlight and snaked around the buildings like a Hollywood monster movie, filling the city with an apocalyptic smoke.
My heart was breaking as you looked back how it, as with anything, is so hard to fix something that is broken. How do you clean up the human stain of this action? I was 25, still naïve, still very young to this world, still holding to old hopes, and new futures…I could not understand a Pearl Harbor. But, when do you look at a situation that breeds such desperation that you jump to your eminent death? When do you feel the fear that you have lost your family because of someone else’s grand plans? When do you realize who and how you love? When do you become numb?
10:20 North Tower collapses
In an anti-climactic continuation of events, you must understand, as Jamie and I continued to speak and watch, and I plotted my exodus home, we watched the towers falls, as we wondered aloud how do you fix (while they still stood) these building. As the South Tower went down, we regrettable expected the North Tower. The iconic Twin Towers were now gone. The loss of life was immense, and sadly communication was so scrambled that more life could not be saved.
Still a dark time for me to think of, much has occurred in those 520 Sundays since that date. It began as a beautiful day. The sky was blue, the air was crisp, my heart was different, dreams were different, and life was different.
What Have I Learned:
-You don’t give up.
-You have to learn from your mistakes, or you will repeat them.
-Don’t regret decisions. Don’t regret those that may have failed, borne out of nobility.
-Unless you love yourself, you can’t love anyone else.
-Follow your dreams, the may adjust, but don’t give up on them.
-I will never quit.
-Know to step back.
-I’ve learned so much since that time, done so much, since that time, and will continue.
The manuscript Blue Lines is the fictional coming of age narrative of a young California woman Key Yemaya Walker, and her 2 year growing journey through school, love, and life period piece, written by Kenneth Suffern, Jr., taking place at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill between the years of 1997 – 1998. Loosely based on true events, and experiences during that time, told through the eyes and voice of the main female protagonist, a freshman first attending the school.