September 11, 2005

Four Years Ago

. . . I was sleeping in the living room, because I was slightly under the weather. The phone rang and it was K calling from Florida on my husband's land line. She was saying something about what sounded like an armed standoff at the Pentagon and another bomb at the World Trade Center. "It sounds like we're under attack," she exclaimed, and under stress, her voice betrayed the years she'd spent in the Upper Midwest, the word "attack" coming out with a slight Chicago accent.

It was too far to grab for the phone, but I made a mental note to find out what was going on. One of us would call her back—probably my husband would do it as I went to work. I knew I should wake him up, though.

I had overslept slightly, so I started to run the bath water in the master bath; I needed to shave my legs before getting dressed. With some sort of crisis happening, the radio had to go on, but it's not a nice thing to wake someone up with media blasting in their ears, so I needed to nudge my husband awake first.

It was around 7:30 a.m. I had to hit the road by 8:10, which was fine: instead of breakfast, I'd drink a Slim-Fast in the car on my way into Los Angeles. I shut off the bath water and kissed my husband, letting him know his ex-girlfriend had called about something weird unfolding on the East Coast.

"Honey, we have to listen to the radio now," I tell him. "I think there's been another bomb at the World Trade Center or something."

"Sure," responds. "Turn it on."

In the master bath I flipped the radio on loud enough for us both to hear it and started to take my clothes off. Bill Handel's voice came on; he recapped the morning's events for people like us who don't get up early. I was down to my underwear as he announced that planes had hit both of the World Trade Center Towers. I forget about bathing and went back into the bedroom, wide-eyed as we both listened to Handel. Our eyes locked as Handel announced that "both World Trade Towers have been reduced to rubble."

I sank down on the bed next to Attila the Hub and he crossed himself. We were looking at each other, each hoping that we'd somehow heard wrong.

Ten minutes later I got a call from one of the managers at work, who told me that because of the uncertainty about what the attacks in New York and Los Angeles meant, I should stay home that day.

"Call K," I told my husband. "And then I'm leaving: I've got a manuscript at the office I want to retrieve."

"I'm driving you," he insisted. He returned K's call as I got dressed. We proceeded slowly back through Los Angeles, which had become a ghost town, and cautiously parked at the office building near Museum Row where I worked. We gathered my manuscript up so I could bring it home. It wasn't clear how long I'd be stranded at home, so I piled together all the reference works I could, but we also tried to minimize our time in the building, because we still didn't know whether there would be attacks on other business districts. The silence all around us was eerie.

Hustling into Attila the Hub's Saturn, we made our way back home to the hills near Pasadena.

In the big cities most people were still glued to their televisions, watching planes fly into buildings over and over again, and crying. I tried to give blood because it was all I could think of to do, but the hospital was swamped, and they sent me home, telling me to try again in a few hours. I lay on the couch and fell into the kind of sleep that comes from feeling overwhelmed. Attila Hub headed out to meet his sister, who was swinging through Southern California on the last leg of a car trip. They had lunch at a local coffee shop, but not for long: she was feeling the homing instinct too, and wanted to hurry back to Arizona. When I awakened my husband was there again, and I headed back to the hospital with yet another book in my hands, hoping they would finally let me give blood.

As I waited I alternated between my book and the television, looking back up as they announced that another office building next to the WTC had collapsed from the stress it endured that day. Another hour of waiting, and the clock ran out. They sent some of us home without getting our blood. We feel cheated, as if we'd had rainchecks for products we were going to buy on sale, but the store ran out of them. And we knew it was absurd to feel that way. At this point the nation was still hoping for survivors, like there had been after the Oklahoma City attack. A sinking feeling in our hearts, however, told us there was little chance anyone's blood would be any use at all.

By day's end I was a different person than I had been when I woke up.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dreams; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connelly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

—William Butler Yeats, "Easter 1916"

As I lay down that night I mentally told Al Qaeda "you have no
idea what you've unleashed. None at all."

Posted by Attila at September 11, 2005 10:28 PM | TrackBack

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