As bad as my memory has been of late, my memories of that day are quite clear. Collin was working at a cafeteria--he'd finally been moved to the day shift. He'd just left for work. I was getting dressed to go to the library. The Today show was on TV. It was interrupted for a news bulletin. I was in the bedroom, but I could hear Katie Couric saying, "A plane has hit the north tower of the World Trade Center."
I came out of the bedroom. Looking at the screen, the black smoke billowing from the tower, made me think of a night fifteen years earlier. I was in New York for the first time, celebrating the sale of my first novel with my agent, Maria Carvainis, and her assistant, Elizabeth Spencer, at Windows on the World. We'd gone there because the WTC played a large role in Alexander's Empire (which would later be retitled Dance of the Gods). That night, the fog was so thick that on the 104th floor it looked as if thick pea-green shades had been pulled down. I was disappointed. I'd been waiting to see the view of the city from there.
"We all worry when it's this foggy," our waiter confessed. "We've had more than one close call with planes." Not surprising, since there were three major airports in the area (JFK, LaGuardia and Newark).
I said, only half-joking, that it must be a tempting target for terrorists.
Flash forward to that sunny Tuesday morning in September 2001. With the media focused on the north tower, the second passenger plane slammed into the south tower, putting an end to any notion that the first could possibly have been an accident. We were under attack.
Don't ask me why, but I didn't feel the panic most people seemed to feel. Maybe because in St. Louis, I was so far inland that I didn't believe such an attack could ever happen in my hometown. I recalled what my dad had always said: "No war will ever be fought on US soil." He firmly believed that after being caught with our defenses down at Pearl Harbor, our military would never let it happen again.
I did feel a need to talk to Collin, to let him know what was happening. In 2001, we didn't have cellphones yet. I couldn't call him until he got to work, so I decided to go on to the library and call him from there. I took both my Walkman radio and my pocket TV with me so I could keep up with the news. By the time I got there and was able to call Collin, the Pentagon had also been hit and the fourth plane, at that point unconfirmed as being under terrorist control, had crashed in Pennsylvania.
After I left the library, I stopped at the grocery store. I remember all the talk in the checkout lines. I remember watching the towers fall on that pocket TV as I was checking out, the checkout clerk watching with me.Even though I was seeing it, I couldn't believe it had really happened. Again, my thoughts were in the past, recalling that night at dinner--timing our ascent in the elevator to see how long it took to get to the 104th floor...Elizabeth dragging me off to the restroom so I could see it just in case I wanted to set a scene there...Maria carrying off a menu because I'd mentioned wanting one for research....
I still have that menu.
In the days that followed, the news teams were on the air 24/7. The nation was in shock.Everyone was cautious, even suspicious of their Arab-American neighbors. In Hollywood, movies with violent themes were put on hold and comedies were prevalent. Collin and I were the oddballs who watched movies like Independence Day, Armageddon, Deep Impact, etc. back-to-back. I don't know what a psychiatrist would make of that, but I felt a need to see good triumph over evil, mankind beat impossible odds.
Today, ten years later, the war on terrorism may not be over, but with the death of Osama bin Laden, the snake's head has been cut off. Finally.