So, Where Were You?
For a year, that’s how every conversation started. Every conversation. I rarely ask or have occasion to answer it now. But today, it seems, we all do.
Ten years ago, I lived and worked in Bergen County, New Jersey. My parents and brother lived in Texas, although in different cities. Mr. Sandwich lived in California; we had been dating for four months.
It was a beautiful day. The sky was blue, with few clouds, and the temperature was perfect. As I drove to work, I couldn’t imagine a prettier day. I was listening to the radio, flipping between one of the half-dozen stations I had pre-programmed. The DJ said, “Oh, no, something horrible has happened!” I thought, “It’s probably a bad car accident. Way to sensationalize everything.” And then I changed the station.
When I got to work, I heard that a small plane had struck one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Remembering an earlier trip to Vermont, and how my commuter plane had flown so close to the World Trade Center that we could see in the windows, I wondered if the pilot had had a heart attack. Then another co-worker said, “My husband just called to say that another plane hit the other tower.” And I said, “That’s no accident.”
All of us tried to get information, but with the Internet inaccessible and no TV or radio in our office, it wasn’t easy. I couldn’t get a phone call through to my parents, and left a message for a friend in L.A. to call them for me (although it turned out later that she stayed home). Then I called Mr. Sandwich, who worked an early shift because he had to open his office. And it was a good thing I did, because no sooner did whoever answer the call yell, “Hey! She’s on the phone!” but he was picking up the line in a near panic. It turned out that he thought I worked in the city; he had yet to visit me, and thought that my stories about going in to New York were about workdays, not weekends.
Next, I called my brother, and the call went through. During our call his cellphone rang, and he was able to tell my mother that I was okay. He was home because he had to go in late–and when he turned on CNN, he decided not to go in at all. He told me what was being reported, and then said, “Shit.” I said, “What?” He said, “The other tower just fell.” I said, “What do you mean, it fell?”
The office closed shortly after noon. Our team pizza party became food for people who weren’t sure how they were going to get home to New York. I stopped at the grocery store to buy ingredients; I needed to cook comfort food and wasn’t sure what I had at home. When I came out, I saw a dozen fire engines from different New Jersey towns speed south on Route 17, heading for Manhattan.
I could see the towers from my neighborhood, although not from my apartment. But I could see the smoke. And miles away, for days, you could taste it in the air. Even indoors.
Months later, I drove toward the George Washington Bridge. It was a beautiful day, and I couldn’t shake a sense of dread. On the next day at work, I said, “Saturday was a gorgeous day.” And one of my co-workers said, “I know. Wasn’t it creepy?”
I hope that next time I see New York on a clear, sunny day, I can just see it as a lovely day. But I don’t know if that’s possible.