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blue skies and falling buildings - agent double oh trouble
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darkadaptedeye
darkadaptedeye
blue skies and falling buildings
It was a beautiful Tuesday morning and I would have gladly skipped work given any reasonable excuse. Sometime over the night, I had turned off the air conditioning and opened my bedroom windows to allow the breeze to gently drift inside. 

When the first plane hit, I was still curled up in bed, drifting in and out of dreams. I knew I'd have to get up and get dressed soon, but my ex-girlfriend was already up and watching the news in my living room. One of our differences was that she was very much a morning person while I was a night person. We had broken up over the summer, but we still had an easy chemistry, and the night before we had met up and she came home with me. 

She called out to me as soon as it was announced on the news. I rolled over, looked out my bedroom window, and saw the smoke pouring out the side of one of the towers. It was unusual, but still possibly an accident. My initial thought was that it was the guy who got his paraglider caught up on the arm of the Statue of Liberty the week before, with the intention of bungee jumping off a monument. Great, some rich douchebag had stuffed his Gulfstream into the side of a building, possibly trying to fly between them. 

I stretched out for a bit longer, thought about what I was going to wear to work over in SoHo, and whether or not there was any conceivable way to take the day off. I had gotten up and was looking out my window when I saw the burst of flames from the second impact. 

My ex immediately echoed the update from the tv. I walked into the living room and watched the looping replays. We switched between stations to see the alternate views from different cameras. 

As soon as it happened, I dryly commented "Oh, yeah, that's the beginning of a terrorist attack". She was in disbelief, but I'd grown up in DC - around people involved in national security, and I had done several years in the military. She asked what we should do, I said to stay calm and mentioned that if anyone could coordinate planes flying into buildings, the next most likely targets were the bridges and subways out of the city, as well as any major traffic routes. 

I tried calling my office, but the phone lines were already jammed. She emailed her company to tell them she wouldn't be working that day. 

I went downstairs to the bodega across the street to pick up coffee and some pastries. I ran into a good friend. He and I decided to go to my rooftop to watch the fires. I briefly stopped in to see my ex, but she didn't want to leave the television. I think she felt safer with the detachment of watching it all on a screen. 

I thought about grabbing my digital camera, but decided I didn't want to feel like a tourist during a disaster in my own city. My friend and I continued on to the roof and stood drinking our coffee as first one tower fell, and then the other. Unless you lived here, it's hard to grasp how actually big those buildings really were. They were vastly larger than what passes for high-rises in other cities, and acted as a guide post for most New Yorkers to find their bearings as we got out of the subway. 

I remember watching the smoke and seeing the latent image in my mind of where the towers used to be. To my eyes, it was like there were two dark holes in the skyline. 

I pulled out my phone and tried calling friends and coworkers who worked downtown, but the phone system was completely overloaded. My friend and I wondered aloud if there would be an exodus from the city, and decided that we'd stay and dig in if necessary, since we had nowhere else to go. I knew the country was going to war, even if we still were still unsure of the enemy as of that morning. 

I still had my EMT certification, and we discussed walking downtown to see if we could help. I remembered that those buildings were supposed to be able to hold fifty-thousand workers. There was no telling how many people had died or been injured. I went back to my apartment to check on my ex, but she didn't want me to leave her by herself. 

I then walked my friend downstairs to the street, on his way toward downtown on foot. We shook hands, I wished him well and told him to catch up with me later. 

I picked up some orange juice and random food items from the bodega. By now, people covered in white ash were starting to pass through my neighborhood. I don't think I'll ever forget the look of their eyes as they somberly walked past in their business clothes, briefcases and purses in hand. Some local hipster, fresh out of bed, asked what was up with all the "suits" and dust. I told him planes had been hijacked and flown into buildings and that the World Trade Centers had collapsed. He said "no way" and acted like I was kidding. I told him to walk a couple blocks to where there was a better view. 

As I passed my mailbox, I realized that I still hadn't gotten my final discharge papers from the Army. I had already done time as an infantryman, a paratrooper, and had even cross-trained as a medic. I checked my military ID card and saw that the expiration date was September 8. I had no idea what type of letter I'd be getting in the mail, but either option filled me with a different form of dread. My city had been attacked, and I still felt a sense of duty, but returning to one of my old jobs would mean giving up the life and career I had just started building for myself here. 

There are moments in our life when we have to choose how we are going to react to the world around us. 

It was a beautiful day outside. The world seemed like it could be well on the way to collapse. We had no idea if more were attacks coming. All means of escape from the city were undoubtedly already a mess. I sent a quick email to friends, family, and coworkers to make sure that everyone else was ok, and to find out who was missing. 

As my ex sat close to me, I remember the smell of her skin as we sat there with our laptops. We kissed and pulled each other's clothes off. There was this quiet need to just be close. As we headed to the bedroom, I glanced out the window and was peripherally aware of the destruction and twisted metal only a mile or two away. Somewhere in a farther corner of my mind were memories of burnt metal and flesh out in the Iraqi desert, with the oil fields of Kuwait burning in the distance. I took a deep breath and pushed all those thoughts out into the darkness. In that moment, all my awareness was focused on the smell and feel of her soft pale skin. I just wanted to be lost in that connection, and I wanted a mental break from anything outside of that room. 

Later, as we left the apartment, she asked if we should be worried. I remember telling her: "There's never a good time to panic. We may as well try to enjoy things as much as we can since we never know when it will all come to an end."

Walking through our neighborhood, we watched big billowing clouds of smoke rise from downtown. Jet fighters circled overhead through a rich blue sky. 

It was a beautiful day on our block, while not too far away the world was falling apart.


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Comments
kellibunny From: kellibunny Date: September 11th, 2006 06:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
i was certainly anticipating your post today... thank you.
darkadaptedeye From: darkadaptedeye Date: September 11th, 2006 06:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
thanks.

actually... i was originally going to write about my weekend. but, somehow that felt a little hollow. because i technically now work within a wall street firm, i was struck by the sense of how many people within my office and industry were so heavily impacted by those events. pinned up to the wall by my computer screens are maps and emergency plans as well as the location of our back-up offices.

i started this journal in february 2002, yet it seems i never actually wrote specifically about that day. so... finally, there it is.
libertina From: libertina Date: September 11th, 2006 06:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I really enjoy your writing. Today is no exception. Thank you.
darkadaptedeye From: darkadaptedeye Date: September 11th, 2006 06:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
thanks.

i'd never actually written about it before. i always worried that there was something trite about it. but today with the sun and the sky, it somehow came to mind.
marty_the_party From: marty_the_party Date: September 11th, 2006 08:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've never written either but I think I will do so too later tonite. My mom told me to write things down when it happened but I never did. I still have disposable cameras filled with pics of that week I've never developed.

Hey Christopher I'll prolly check out Union Square tonite and grab a drink if you're interested.
darkadaptedeye From: darkadaptedeye Date: September 11th, 2006 08:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
i think with some things we need distance. sometimes we have so many different thoughts on a topic, it's hard to bring focus to it. or we were too busy trying to overcome and move past something.

i'm not yet sure what i'm up to tonight, but i was thinking about stopping through the double down since i've been in and out of the city so much over the past few weekends.
u_505 From: u_505 Date: September 11th, 2006 06:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
As you know, I do so enjoy your writing. On another note, here's an update about an old acquaintance. http://www.ndu.edu/nesa/facultystaffbios/BarnoD.pdf
It's a shame that he's retired. Here's a journal article he wrote: http://www.carlisle.army.mil/usawc/Parameters/06summer/barno.pdf

Take care of yourself, old son.
darkadaptedeye From: darkadaptedeye Date: September 11th, 2006 07:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
it's an interesting article. and he really was a great commander. i'm disappointed that we never got to see him make it to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, but considering the politics, i can't really blame him for taking the retirement and leaving.

on another note, did you ever make a decision about returning to school for film?
u_505 From: u_505 Date: September 11th, 2006 07:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes, I have. I'm going to do it. I wanna make movies. As for General Barno, I wonder if his health was a factor. My guess is that if his health is good that he really didn't want any 4 star job that was available. He would have made a great CinCPac or CinCCentcom.
smau From: smau Date: September 11th, 2006 07:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
"it was a beautiful day on our block, while less than a mile away the world was falling apart."
wow...that is depressing

Amazing that it has been only 5 years...feels like yesterday and a million years ago...
Somehow it is hitting me harder now than when it happened.
darkadaptedeye From: darkadaptedeye Date: September 11th, 2006 07:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
feels like yesterday and a million years ago...

very true. i think for a long time too many of us were either too busy reacting to it, or were trying to move on and away from it.

on days like this, i tend to completely avoid the media circus. but today it's the weather that's acting as the reminder.
xtarasuex From: xtarasuex Date: September 12th, 2006 03:04 am (UTC) (Link)
You seem very nonchalant about the whole thing. As if you were sipping coffee and the tower fell. And no reaction. Altough I don't believe thats what happened.

Was the sex good. I wonder if I'd be grasping on to every second if the attacks were that close to me and not knowing what was going to happen next.
I wish I could live daily with that kind of interest in my life.
darkadaptedeye From: darkadaptedeye Date: September 12th, 2006 03:47 am (UTC) (Link)
it's an interesting juxtaposition that comes up in several of the accounts i've read from other new yorkers: that "beautiful day" aspect.

in a way, we were nonchalant. it was a disaster, but it wasn't directly on top of us, it was just over there. we were slipping into survival mode, and all we could do was watch from a relatively safe distance, where it was sunny and nice. and if the somehow the whole city exploded and caught fire, we had limited options on where else to run.

but we weren't totally cold. we saw and knew that it was bad. we knew that a lot of people had to be dying. we knew it was a tragedy and that the horror must have been immense for the people in the middle of it. we knew that it likely meant the country was going to war. we knew that the american worldview had no choice but to change, and that the world would become a different place.

and to a small extent, our relative safety was a mixed blessing: one part relief, one part guilt, and one part waiting.

as for the sex, in that moment it was about being close and connected to someone. it was intense since we didn't know what was going to happen next. we didn't know if or where the next attacks were going to hit. and for a couple that had been broken up, we felt a sudden re-connection in the face of those events.

as for life, we sometimes need to be aware of the death and tragedy to remind ourselves to sometimes enjoy the simple things in life: like breathing and not dying.

Edited at 2015-09-11 07:58 pm (UTC)
stagger_lee77 From: stagger_lee77 Date: September 12th, 2006 12:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
wow. just... wow. i've often wondered what 9/11 was like for an actual new yorker, but i've always been afraid to ask. thank you for sharing.
darkadaptedeye From: darkadaptedeye Date: September 12th, 2006 02:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
since we were in the military, i think people like you and i also react a bit differently than most of the general population. instead of panic, there's just a calm/rational "ok, this is going on, what do i need to start doing next."

it wasn't so different than finding yourself in a warzone. although most other americans thought "it could never happen here", i think almost any of us who've ever deployed overseas knew that it was an eventuality.

in 2001, parts of this country finally started to learn what it was like in europe (as well as the middle east, southeast asia, and latin america) for most of the past century: "partially cloudy, with a slight chance of bombings."

stagger_lee77 From: stagger_lee77 Date: September 12th, 2006 07:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
you know what's weird? i had only been at fort stewart for ~3 months when 9/11 happened. before that, i was in 2ID. after the USS cole was bombed, they had us on the lookout for certain license plates because they thought bin laden might have some associates there. at the same time, the CEO of daewoo corp embezzled ALL of the money and disappeared. if they couldn't find him, a korean, in korea... what made them think they would find who was reponsible for bombing the USS cole??
darkadaptedeye From: darkadaptedeye Date: September 12th, 2006 07:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
heh. ever wonder if that money ended up as "campaign contributions" to anyone in particular?
stagger_lee77 From: stagger_lee77 Date: September 13th, 2006 10:56 am (UTC) (Link)
now that is an excellent question...
mr_cutiepants From: mr_cutiepants Date: September 12th, 2006 06:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Weirdly, this was the only moving 9/11 thing that I've encountered this year. Guess I got numb to the other shit. Or just "numb with a side of somehow equally numb rage against propaganda".

Somehow your story made me cry at work though. Maybe because I can somehow imagine it happening to you.

Weird.
darkadaptedeye From: darkadaptedeye Date: September 12th, 2006 07:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
wow. thanks.

i've been lucky since i've somehow avoided all news for the past several days, aside from what's drifted in through other people's journals or blogs. and i actually always avoided writing about it for the longest time since i didn't want to contribute to the pile of commentary and rhetoric that streams out every year at this time.

and i don't know that my story has any real point to make. it was just a few people trying to make the best of things in the face of uncertainty.

if anything, my biggest issue was a later guilt. i was an infantryman with combat experience who had cross trained as a medic. my last unit of assignment was a national guard special forces unit. they deployed not too long after that day. in october they were already reporting their first casualties up in afghanistan.

as much as i mistrust and dislike and generally hold contempt for the current administration, i've always wondered if i was letting others and myself down by staying here in the city, instead of going back in and trying to make a difference in the world.
darkadaptedeye From: darkadaptedeye Date: September 13th, 2006 01:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
on a different tangent... and before it keeps slipping my mind... yes, you would definitely be welcome to come hang out with me and the rest of the scooter gang. (we tend to meet for drinks at Double Down, Union Pool, or the Bushwick Country Club fairly often) i've also been keeping my eyes open for you whenever i see something vintage at a good price.
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