Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering 9/11: The Day the Mountains Stumbled

This piece appeared in the October 2001 issue of Hybrid Magazine.  It was written on and about September 11, 2001. 

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Both our phones are dead. They should be working: the payphone at Nostrand Avenue had a dial tone, even if I couldn’t get through to Manhattan. I press Redial despite the silence. Ron Kuby announces an unconfirmed report of a car bomb outside the Capitol Building. Five minutes ago Curtis Sliwa confirmed what I heard in the subway; the towers have collapsed. My girlfriend Kathy works three blocks from the World Trade Center. I last spoke to her at 7:45 a.m., right before she left for work. “I love you,” she said. “I’ll see you tonight.” I have not spoken to her since.

On the fifth try I get a dialtone, then ringing. Voicemail picks up. Kathy is not at her desk. Of course she’s not, I realize. They’ve probably evacuated her building by now. I leave a message anyway. 

“Kathy, it’s Kevin. I heard about the World Trade Center on my way home. I wanted to come back and get you but they’ve shut down all the subways into Manhattan. If you get this message call home. I love you.”

If you are finished recording press 1 or hang up now, the cheery robot lady says, otherwise press pound for more options.

I hang up.

Once we were proud of owning no television. That was before I tried viewing CNN footage via MediaPlayer at 56k. Someday these screams and herky-jerky fireballs will be cliches, something to put beside your Princess Diana Memorial Porcelain Figurine and your black velvet Elvis. Today they’re still real. I remember a line from Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu: “A mountain walked or stumbled.”
Today the stars were right, I think to myself, today the mountains stumbled.

“Kathy? It’s Kevin again. You’re probably somewhere safe by now, but I’m not sure you can get out of the city. If you’re checking your voicemail, call home when you can. I love you.”

The infrastructure survived remarkably well, I think as I return to our computer and check my work emails. I shouldn’t be surprised: the Internet was designed to survive a nuclear war, never mind a few fanatics armed with jetliners. The network routes around damage, slowing things up a bit but keeping the lines of communication open. I start writing an email to my friends.

I made it out of Manhattan: I’m fine. I type. I haven’t spoken to Kathy yet. I sit there for a few minutes, unable to complete the paragraph.

“Kathy? It’s Kevin. Please call home when you get this message. I love you.”

“We need to wake up, we need to realize that Islam causes this kind of behavior, and we’ve got to stop letting these Moslem terrorists into our country to take our money and our jobs, then turn around and spit in our faces like this.”

I change the station, cringing. Already the nuts are calling in, I think to myself. The phone rings. I flinch, then run to the next room to get it.

“Baby, thank God you’re there!”

“Where are you?” I ask, not worried about anything else right now.

“I’m in Brooklyn. I was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge when the second tower fell. Everybody screamed…” Kathy’s voice begins to break. “The woman next to me fainted. I felt the bridge rumbling and I thought another plane was coming for us…”

“It’s all right, honey. Where are you? I’ll come and get you.”

“No, stay where you are!” She’s insistent, almost hysterical. “ think they’ve declared martial law. I don’t know what streets are closed and what streets are open. I don’t want to lose you in the crowd.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” Her voice is ready to break again. “I don’t want to lose you.”

“I’ll be right here.”

“There are a lot of people waiting to use the phone, I love you, I’ll see you soon” and she hangs up before I can reply.

I made it out of Manhattan. I’m fine. I just spoke with Kathy and she’s OK and on her way home arrives in my mailbox a moment after I send it to a few mailing lists. The Internet is running like nothing ever happened: even the company’s BlackBerry gateway is up as I scan my work mail and see pager responses. Airplane just flew into World Trade Center. Pentagon hit. Second tower down. Thousands dead.

“They hijacked planes out of Boston,” the stony-faced construction worker told me this morning as we pulled into Borough Hall and the trembling, weeping people got off at the first stop in Brooklyn. 

“Planes full of passengers. The radio said there’s sixteen flights unaccounted for.”

As I finally get CNN.com to load, I see they’ve downgraded that to four now, and saying there was no car bombing in Washington after all. On NYCGoth-L somebody is saying Whitney Houston just died of a drug overdose. I check CNN and Yahoo, but there’s nothing on there but “America Under Attack.” I spin through the radio stations until finally I come to Z100.

“I’m telling you,” the caller says, “My mother’s friend works for the Department of Records, and she told her they just filled out a death certificate for Whitney Houston.”

“We’ve had a couple of calls about this. We were finally able to get through to Whitney Houston’s publicist in Los Angeles, and she informed us that Whitney Houston is not dead.” The front door creaks open. I jump at the noise, then run to the hallway. “It’s an urban legend,” the DJ says. I grab Kathy and hold her tight and we’re both crying as the caller replies you don’t understand, this was my mother’s friend, man, my mother’s friend.