I was on the other side

1

I was on the other side of the country when the planes hit. My husband and I were still childless and living in our apartment in downtown Palo Alto, those days when the dot.com boom was in its last gasps, no vacant office spaces anywhere (although that would soon change) and never any legal places to park. (You gritted your teeth and accepted your week’s collection of tickets as part of the high price of living there.) We got the early-morning call from a friend of ours who was living in Battery Park. I woke up to the voice of a very animated husband yelling into his cell phone, “No shit. You’re kidding me. You’re fucking kidding me.” He kept repeating this, and as I groggily surfaced to consciousness I had no idea what he was talking about. E’s footsteps went trooping down the hall to the study, where he looked at the news on the Internet, and next thing he was yelling at me from our bedroom doorway.

“Wake up. You have to wake up. The World Trade Tower’s on fire. It’s on fire.”

When the first one fell, part of it landed on our friend’s apartment building in Battery Park. E’s brother and sister-in-law (they’re our age, were also childless at the time) were living in a sleek loft in Tribeca. They called E’s mother, who lives above 22nd St., and told her they were coming to her and would see her in fifteen or twenty minutes. It took them much longer than that, and by the time they showed up at her door she was wondering if they were dead. They had nothing on them — no change of clothes, and in one case not even ID — because they had no idea they would be banned from their own neighborhood for the next two weeks. (Later, they went shopping at Ross Dress for Less.)

I remember walking down the block to Starbucks. The street was empty. I passed exactly one couple; she had her head on his shoulder and she was crying. I was okay until I actually opened my mouth to order several lattes. The guy behind the counter gently waited for me to collect myself, and then nodded and gathered the coffee drinks. The Starbucks was empty. The sidewalk was empty. I went back to doing what everybody else was doing: watching and watching and watching on CNN. E was there and our friend Marta. The word ‘evil’ got mentioned, and I went on some stupid silly rant about the difficulties of defining ‘evil’, just because it made me feel better to talk that way, no matter how much it was clearly annoying the other two.

“There’s going to be war,” E said. “A lot more people are going to die from this, a lot more people than were in those Towers.”

2

We decided to still do our Miami trip a week later — my birthday had just come and gone and I wanted to visit some friends in South Beach. Guards with rifles stood around the San Francisco airport. The airport was nearly empty. The plane was nearly empty. Strict instructions not to get out of your seat or you would be arrested . As we landed, the pilot gave a short speech over the intercom, something about the importance of moving forward, how day by day we’d get through this. His voice kept cracking and we thought he might break down right then and there.

That weekend we went out to clubs, because that’s pretty much what you do at South Beach (you’re not exactly there for the intellectual activities). I don’t remember anything about anywhere we went except for the Crobar, a massive techno club decked out that night with red, blue and white streamers and cut-outs of the Statue of Liberty. Sirens wailed through the dance music. The place was as packed as I’ve ever seen it, people thumping the floors with their fists in the air. Every now and then E would check his email or the news on his Treo and yell in my ear, over the music, the latest about Afghanistan.

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