Yesterday we heard a lot of commotion and trucks. I told John it sounded like men in our woods, but he said no. We know there were work crews trimming trees along our road yesterday to keep branches from the electrical wires, so we assumed it was the crews. But when I walked Shadow this morning on the road, I noticed that the grass fire lane that runs along the north line of our property and is part of the hunting club’s property had been mowed. We’ve heard hounds in the kennels each night barking their heads off. Now they mowed down the lane and all around the old tobacco barn behind our property all the way up to the old farm house, what used to be the center of our land when it was a working farm back in the 1800’s some time.
As we were falling asleep last night, we heard the unmistakable whistling snort of deer so close I think they were in our driveway. We heard the crack and crash of antlers crashing together. Each evening there has been a beautiful male with big arching antlers visiting our clearing. He steps out of the forest, nibbles grass, but at the slightest sound he tumbles back through the brush. The female with the crooked front leg and her two fawns rest in our clearing each night too.
I walked back along our road and down the fire lane, then walked all through the woods. It was a crisp fall morning and with the hunters readying for opening day, and the deer crashing antlers each night, I knew it was fall.
I thought a lot about how this morning was different from another morning 8 years ago.
On that morning – September 11, 2001 – I was on a Long Island Rail Road train. I was heading towards Manhattan and the office building where I worked. I was really excited because I was starting my second graduate school class at New York University, a basic marketing class, that evening and I couldn’t wait. I loved to be in school and New York University was one of my favorite schools to attend. Just minutes before the first plane hit, I was looking right towards lower Manhattan. The sky was so blue and the air was crisp enough that I wore my new suede jacket that day. As the train thundered into the East River tunnel, I saw nothing but clear blue sky. I never saw it coming.
When I emerged from the subway and walked a few blocks to the office building, a taxi cab had pulled up and I saw my boss stepping out of the cab. She looked really, really upset.
Another man and I stopped to ask her what was wrong. “A plane just hit the Twin Towers,” she said. “It just came across the radio in the cab.” Her apartment was across the street and up the block from the Twin Towers. I quickly asked her if her husband and daughter were home, and she said no, they had left for school and work before she did. We all went our separate ways but now I saw people coming into the building looking worried, scared or upset as they heard bits and pieces of what was going on a few miles away from us.
By the time I got upstairs to my office, my phone was ringing. My brother in law, who is an EMS worker and a captain in the NY Fire Department, was on the phone. He started barking orders at me before I even asked what was wrong. “Stay away from the windows. Get everyone inside. Make sure you have drinking water and food as the electricity may go out.” What the heck was going on?
It wasn’t just a random small plane as I had thought. By that time, he knew it was a terrorist attack. All those drills I remember him having to go through and now we were in the middle of things.
Our department administrative assistant got a website up that showed live news and that was how I saw the second plane. I kept the radio on. I called my husband to tell him I wasn’t coming home that night because they’d shut down Manhattan and oh by the way, we were under attack from an unknown group. He hadn’t turned on the TV but while we were on the phone he switched on CNN. I hung up and gathered my staff together and made sure nobody had family near there. I wasn’t sure what I would do if anyone did have a loved one downtown, but at least I’d be there to hold them up.
Everyone in our company ended up in a big conference room huddled together as big screen TV’s were set up. We sat together on the floor, at tables, and held each other and watched our world fall apart. I thought I’d be sleeping on the floor of my office that night but very quickly, workers in our company organized groups to sleep at people’s apartments in the city. I didn’t have to – around 3 o’clock, they were letting trains out to Long Island, so I walked nearly 40 blocks back to Penn Station and then got a train home. I sat next to a lady covered in debris. She was crying and crying. The conductor of the train got her a roll of paper towels and water. Another lady and I tried to comfort her but we couldn’t. She just couldn’t hear us. She was just shaking and crying and trying to get plaster and dust and all that crap out of her hair and off her business suit. She got out at Mineola, and I always hoped she was okay. She couldn’t even tell us her name that day she was crying too hard.
When people who were not in New York City ask me what I remember most from that day, I tell them it was the sounds. The eerie silence through all the streets, as if Manhattan itself was holding its breath. But mostly the fire trucks and sirens. All the roads were closed to traffic and the main avenue in front of our office building was closed. It was turned into a one lane thoroughfare for emergency vehicles. At 10 am, fire trucks and police cars from the Bronx and upper Manhattan were coming down, all heading south. By 11 am, I started noticing trucks bearing the emblems of units from Connecticut and Westchester. Around noon, the trucks were from Pennsylvania. There were Army vehicles coming down the streets and convoys of military personnel. And sirens. Non stop sirens. And even though we were miles away, the nauseating smell of fire – burning plastic mostly, but probably a thousand other chemicals too.
This morning as I stood by our quiet, burbling creek, listening to the crows and the crickets, watching a few leaves spin lazily to the ground in my woods, I thought about all those people. I knew some of them who died. I remembered how painful the church services were each year, but how I would go and sit with everyone and cry. St. Paul’s would read off the list of everyone who died while the bells tolled. At first you thought your heart would break with pain thinking of all those people whose lives just ended for no good reason. And then you went numb, completely numb, at the sheer horror of listening to each individual person called by name and we all said, “Eternal rest, grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.”