Our Town downtown
September 4, 2006
Five years later my eyes can water if I’m listening to someone whose 9/11 story I’m hearing for the first time. It doesn’t have to be about them losing anyone. It doesn’t have to be about them being on Chambers Street when they heard the sound. It can even be second-hand.
Here’s one that did it recently; last week, actually. My youngest daughter was visiting from Wyoming and the other two daughters and a son-in law and I were sitting at Molly’s on Third Avenue talking about everything and nothing when somehow the subject came up. I know what it was; the Jackson Hole kid said the husband of one of her former college roommates who she’d seen that afternoon had worked in the financial world in one of the towers. He and another young co-worker met in the lobby that day and even after the plane struck the first tower, the other guy went upstairs to work. The husband decided not to. That buddy and other work buddies of his are gone.
Then I asked my kids to remind me how they first heard that day. One was waiting on 6th Avenue in the Village for a cab to take her uptown. She could see straight down at what other people were looking in that direction at. The other daughter on Christopher Street saw the news on television and went up higher up in the building with friends and saw the second plane strike. The son-in-law then lived alone further downtown and was walking to work when the sound of a plane flying too low got his attention.
I’d heard some parts of those recollections before. I had surprisingly never asked the daughter who was already living in Wyoming then how she heard. She said she was staying at her boyfriend’s when the radio alarm went off and the station it was set for was talking about planes and terrorists and New York where her sisters and her father lived and she frantically tried to call us all day but couldn’t get through till late that afternoon. Her cousin who lives in Wyoming, too, and did then, lost her college roommate in one of the towers. I cried when I heard the high school the girl had gone to in Philadelphia retired her field hockey number in a ceremony that fall. Her name was Joanna. I thought of her again last week when I took the three daughters to see Sweeney Todd and heard the love song about Joanna. Imagine the times her parents have heard the name or some song like that.
My college roommate lost a good friend who was the greatest lacrosse player in Cornell history. When I visit him in Connecticut there’s a book of poems by his friend whom I never met that Cornell has since published. It sits on the table by the chair where I read up there and I look through it each time I notice it.
I’ve talked about my 9/11 so many times; how I was on the phone with a buddy from Cleveland who routinely called me every morning. That morning he called and was just going to hang up to take his dogs out for a walk when he said that something just came on TV about a plane hitting the World Trade Center but he had to go. I didn’t have a TV and didn’t think much about what he said. I tried to make a call I was supposed to make about work, and couldn’t get a dial tone. I hit the zero button and an operator said excuse me but I’m in Queens and I’m seeing another plane hit the World Trade Center. I said Oh Jesus and grabbed my camera and walked from the East Village against the grain of people walking silently, some women and kids arm-in-arm. I didn’t really know what was going on until I listened to a parked car’s 1010 WINS report. I kept walking and got as close as I could. I was staring down at my camera when I heard a black woman scream next to me and I looked up to see the first tower finally give in to what had happened to it and fall to its knees. I was in the middle of the street and I put my hands to my mouth like people do.
-- Bill Gunlocke