I can remember, 12 years ago, walking up the stairs to my office, and a co-worker saying a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. And then awhile later, a second one had hit. And we knew. We knew at that moment that the first plane hadn't been an accident. We were under attack. And then someone shouted, "They're hitting the Pentagon now!" And I can still remember going up to the women's bathroom and sitting in the stall, and writing in my journal. Writing what was happening, and writing, "Please, God, Please." I was scared. We all were scared--terrified, really.
And I can remember flipping around all the news stations, but landing on low-voiced, somehow comforting Shepard Smith, day after day after day on the news...I could never pull myself away, eyes and ears glued for more details. Just like everyone else, I watched those images, over and over again.
And I can remember this. I can remember a paramedic saying to a reporter that the media was really doing a disservice to the American public, by NOT showing the gruesome carnage. He said, "People need to see the reality of this situation." He felt they needed to see the bodies, and the detached limbs--to see and feel the horrific-"ness" of the scene--to experience what they were witnessing and not be anesthetized by clever editing and distance.
And I remember this horrible detail--how rescue workers said, initially you could hear all these cell phones going off--ringing underground. And as hours went by the ringing became less frequent and fainter, and fainter still, until there was silence. I imagined people, alive, trapped underground--not dying in the towers, put trapped under so much concrete, air slipping away into twisted metal above them.
I remember someone from France saying, "We are all Americans today." See, I cry now, just typing it.
And I can tell you, on my bookshelves, I have two books on personal accounts of that day, a story of a woman seeing just a foot in the street. I have the Time and Newsweek magazine issues, and Life Magazine's commemorative issues. I have the NY Times' 10th anniversary coverage pull-out, and I have the Vogue magazine article on the woman who had 90% of her body burned by a fireball when the elevators opened up and enveloped her. She got out, she was lying on the grass outside, but when she looked at her skin, she thought, something is wrong. It was snow white and completely smooth, waxy. She fought back. She thought of her children and she survived. I think of my Maira Kalman's children's book, "Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey" the story of the defunct fireboat that came to the city's rescue on that unimaginable day.
I have watched all the t.v. shows. I can remember sobbing; sobbing so much after an all-day viewing of the events, that it felt like I was watching the entire thing happen for the first time, my head so full of snot and tears, and a pounding headache. I remember going to Starbucks and sitting with 2 people on the 5th anniversary, and one saying to the other, "I'm sick and tired of this 9/11 stuff," and the other person replied, "As well you should be." Really? I sat there stunned. I felt like I didn't even know these people. I can never forget. I CAN understand not wanting to feel the pain of it. I can never be "sick" of it. Sick from it, yes.
I'm not sure if anyone has waded through all this writing. It's a lot of memories, and I haven't even written a half of them.
And so tonight, always on a walk with Ebert, I was approaching the corner where our post office sits. And I looked up and there was the American flag, twisted, at half-staff, and limp against the silver pole. No air was stirring, not a whit. I stood staring, and the tears welled up inside of me. It looked like the flag was crying, slumped in grief. It, too, remembering the day's significance.
We walked more, and I ended the night by walking again past that post office. This time around, though, there was the faintest of breezes. And those breezes lifted the bottom edge of the flag and it began to move. And I felt, America, you are still alive. Please, continue to fly.
I drew this in a child-like manner to try to capture the vulnerability, the helplessness we felt and feel on this day.