It Is Personal

My head was spinning as I heard eyewitnesses recount impossible to believe details of what they were seeing and hearing that September morning. Matt and Katie speculated about what might be happening in the towers. I stood in front of the TV, unable to move. The sun was shining outside here in the suburbs of Cincinnati; looking out my window the grass was green and everything seemed quiet and serene. I blinked several times, trying to reconcile the images and the banter on the television. It just didn’t make any sense.  The words “World Trade Center, New York City” filled the screen below the smoke and the towers and the chaos.

Suddenly, I flashed back to the tape cassette sent to me several years ago by Marni, the woman from New York who we had talked of going to the Columbus show with just this morning in my email box.  The return address on the envelope had been from her place of employment, a financial brokerage firm.

2 World Trade Center.  Holy shit.

I ran to the phone and dialed my friend Elizabeth.  Normally I spoke to her several times a day anyway, so it wasn’t unusual for me to call.  In fact, I called her so often that I knew when she didn’t answer her home phone that she was likely taking her son to preschool at the Jewish Community Center in her area of Cleveland.  She knew Marni better than me, having talked to her on the phone and met for dinner a few times when she happened to be in town.  I’d only met Marni once, last summer in Columbus.  She was quiet, and nice; smart and funny.  Elizabeth would know how to get in touch with Marni to make sure she was OK.

“Elizabeth, oh my God.  Can you believe it?”

“What, what did one of the psychos do now?”  It was clear from her tone and response she had no idea what I was talking about.  In the hours to come, you would learn how much people knew about the day’s events just by their tone of voice.

“Haven’t you heard?  Are you near a TV?”  I asked her, stunned that she didn’t know that the world was upside down.  How could anyone not know?

“No, I had to get my son ready and I’m just staying here for the hour in the lobby.  What’s going on?”

“A plane hit the World Trade Center about twenty minutes ago, and just now another one hit the other tower.”

I heard her sharp intake of air on the other end of her cell phone.  “You’re joking.”

“Does that sound like something I’d even make up?  Do you know which tower Marni works in?”  I was praying every prayer I could think of that somehow, she’d been in the second tower.  That way, she would have seen what was going on in the first one, and had plenty of time to start descending the stairs before the next plane struck.  I didn’t know Marni well, but knowing someone at all involved in the incredible scene playing out before my eyes made it urgent, personal, and even more frightening than it might have already been otherwise.

“Wait, does she work in the Trade Center?  Are you sure?”

“Yes, she sent me a tape the year I lived in Oklahoma of some of Rick’s radio stuff from when he performed on Broadway that year.  She sent it from work.  It was 2 World Trade, but I don’t know if that is the building with the antenna or not.  The antenna building was hit first; I hope she wasn’t in that one.  Do you have her number?”

“I do,” Elizabeth responded.  “But it’s at home.  I can’t leave here until J is done with his class.  By the time I got home I’d just have to turn right around and come back.  I’ll call her as soon as I get back home.  I’m sure she’s fine.”

“I don’t know,” I said doubtfully, staring at the TV.  “You’re not looking at what I’m looking at.  I’m having a hard time believing that there isn’t going to be a lot of casualties from this thing.  Wait till you see what they are showing on the TV; it’s absolutely insane.”

I could hear Melinda stirring upstairs; it was time to go get her up and ready for the day.  She would want to watch Dora and Baby Einstein and play in her pool on our back porch.  I said goodbye to Elizabeth, who promised to call me back as soon as she had an update and went to get my daughter out of her crib.

It was going to be a long day, I thought, as I headed up the stairs.  I had no idea.

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