Eight years ago I said something that seems so amazingly naive in retrospect.
I was working for a public relations firm at the time. The person I interfaced with at my largest client had become a friend of mine. Still is. She was born and raised in Idaho. She was currently living in Utah. She had never been to New York City. She was afraid of heights.
When you want to meet with members of the technology press, you can easily set up clusters of meetings by heading to three major US cities - San Francisco/San Jose, Boston and New York. We were in Manhattan for the New York leg of our press tour. Her and I in the "Big City" with time on our hands between appointments.
She had a list of places her grandmother told her she simply could not miss while in town. Grandma wanted her to see the Statue of Liberty. *That* we did not have time to do. We'd never make it over to the little island and back. Instead we agreed on seeing it from a far. We headed downtown.
When the cab dropped us off on Manhattan's southern tip, she decided she'd never get a good view of Lady Liberty unless she pushed down her fears and went somewhere high. We got online at the Trade Center - we'd go to the top. I didn't tell her of it's past. I simply rode the elevator up with her and held on to her hand for support as she stood next to the great windows on the upper level admiring the views.
She was happy to set her feet on the ground again. She stopped a moment in the courtyard between the two towers and did what I had told her earlier would make her look as much the part a tourist as she really was - she looked up and exhaled deeply in awe. I did too.
I told her then. "They tried to bring these down. Can you imagine?" I said softly.
"Here? That was here? Those bombs underground? That was here?" she said. I regretted saying something. She was clearly uneasy being there.
I didn't think much about my response. I felt it. I felt safe and secure and I told her why - "But they already tried. Don't you see. They already tried. They're not going to try it again. They'll try something new."
Three years later I heard a plane struck the Trade Center through the interoffice grapevine. I couldn't fathom it being on purpose. I rationalized it being a small prop plane with a novice pilot losing control. They told me of the second. That one somehow made more sense - a plane getting lost in the smoke caused by the fire of the first.
I couldn't get online. Every web site of any sort of news outlet was unaccessible - overloaded with people desperate for news. I couldn't get a phone line out. Lines were jammed. I finally pulled up a baseball bulletin board I sometimes frequented. A college student in Alabama and a former New Yorker living in New England began feeding the rest of us news. They'd transcribe reports from the television so we could feel not so in the dark.
When Alabama typed "commerical airline" into his update I began to feel sick to my stomach. When New England typed "hijacked" I wanted to throw up. I read "Pentagon hit" and I walked away from the computer.
My mind raced. My stomach churned. I wanted to call my friend in Utah and tell her I lied. Tell her I was so very ignorant of evil back then. Instead I went out back for fresh air - only the air was not fresh.
I was in an office building an hour and half south of New York by car yet you could see the skyline from the beach. The air to the northeast was filling with black smoke. You could smell the fires. I'm not sure that's something I'll ever forget.
My office mates and I headed back in - most of us. We left behind a group of women crying and praying off to the side of the building. The rest of us couldn't stand to see or smell the evidence. Somehow seeing the details on TV was bad but not quite the same as seeing the real thing somewhat removed.
One of our accounts was pushing a news feed into our customer support center. We all huddled in and around that space staring at the three screens broadcasting CNN. Tears flowed without inhibition. People muttered prayers. Our president walked around in a trance saying over and over, "I was supposed to be there today. I was supposed to be there. Oh. Oh Thank God they canceled. It could have been me."
I do not personally know anyone that died that day. I know lots of people that could have or should have been there. I do know lots of people that did lose a loved one. In fact I'm about to email one of them to let her know I'm thinking of her...and him. I know people that were injured - the effects of which still linger for some.
It's been 5 years since four planes erased my ignorance. Five years and yet to this day I can not drive up the New Jersey Turnpike without a lump in my throat because until September 11, 2001, the skyline I knew always had two giant Towers at the southern end of it. I always turn to my husband and say quietly, "It still doesn't look like New York to me."
And he, who was a boy when those big monstrosities were erected nods, "I remember the city without them and then with them...and I agree."
I look at my children and I realize they'll never see the same hole in the skyline and pray it's something they only ever have to read in history books. Yet I'm not that naive any more.