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A Day I'd Like to Forget

Posted by Don Stitt on September 11, 2016 at 3:10 AM



(On the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I'd like to repost some words I wrote about That Day some years back)

 I remember the cloudless sky, the low humidity and the comfortable temperature. 

I had already read the paper and taken my morning bath. 

 I had voted when the polls opened at 6. 

 I had just made a second pot of coffee, and I was sitting down to play the piano. I don’t play the piano before 8:45 AM because I don’t want my piano practice to be a nuisance to my neighbors. But I had just looked at the LED on the VCR, and it said 8:45, and I figured pretty much everybody would be up, so I sat down to play, anticipating my dog’s interference. 

 I had taught my dog to “sing;” I had trained him to respond with a sympathetic whining howl to “Hello, Dolly” in the key of F, and now Russ would never let me play the piano unless he got to do his song first. He’d invariably trot up to the piano, put his paws on the bench, and wait to be picked up for his “big number.” 

 But something was different this morning. Almost at the exact moment he put his paws on the piano bench, a weird look came over his face, as if he had heard something in the distance. He immediately scurried around to the other side of the bench, curled up in a fetal position, and began to tremble. Even though the “trembling fetal position” thing was familiar, he only responded like this to two phenomena; fireworks and thunder. Fourth of July had left the poor dog scared witless some weeks before, and he would occasionally respond this way to thunder that was so far off in the distance as to be barely audible to us human-folk. 

 But this morning, the dog was responding to something I didn’t hear, and what’s more, it was a cloudless summer morning with a temperature in the 70’s and very low humidity. Couldn’t be fireworks or thunder. How strange, I thought. 

 I played for about 35 or 40 minutes. When I was done, I decided to go for a bagel at the butcher shop three doors down. As I passed through the courtyard, I saw Henry, the young guy who assisted the superintendant of our complex. He was watering the flowerbed. “Man, it was weird to see those planes flying into that building, huh?” 

 I smiled and nodded and kept walking, (which is my usual modus operandi when I don’t know what the hell somebody’s talking about.) 

 Immediately to the right of the entrance to my courtyard there was a TV repair shop. In the two years I had lived there, I had never seen a television on in the TV repair shop. But as I walked past this time, I couldn’t help noticing that the owner had all the televisions on. I walked in and gave him a “What gives?” shrug. The proprietor pointed to the TV in front of him. 

 I watched them replay the footage of the second plane hitting the second tower over and over, because it had just happened, and none of the newsanchors knew what to say or do. There was no footage yet of the first plane hitting the first tower. 

 A helicopter picked up some distant shots of terrified people standing in crashed out windows, engulfed in flames, and leaping to their deaths. These shots would never be shown again, and I’m sure I only saw them because live television can’t be edited. 

 Then, in a flash, the studios reverted to a live feed of the towers, and I watched the second tower collapse into a cloud of black smoke. 

 I thought back to an interview I had seen on 60 Minutes a few weeks before, and I gasped the words, “Osama bin Laden.” He had made a prediction of a major event that would take Americans by surprise. 

 And now I knew what it was that Russ had heard and been frightened by at 8:46 that morning. He had heard the first plane hit the first tower.

The next several hours are a blur. 

 I remember hearing on the radio that they were closing the polls, and the votes (like mine) that had already been cast that day would be discounted. A new election would be scheduled for the following month. 

 When I looked in on my dog, Russ, he was shakin’ like a Nash Rambler. I tried to hold him to calm him, but he didn’t wish to be held or calmed. He just wanted to vibrate. And so he did. 

 My wife called me from Western Connecticut State University, where she had begun a professorship the week before. 

 Looking back on it, I can say that I was in shock when I spoke to her, and later, to my sister. “Oh, calm down. It’s no big deal. Nothing to worry about,” I said, over and over. I was in deep denial about the horror I had seen on live television. 

 My wife informed me that she would have to stay at WestConn for a couple of nights, because they weren’t letting any cars come onto the island of Manhattan. 

 “Don’t worry about me,” I assured her, “there’s no problem here.” 

I remember Rudy Giuliani, who only days before was looking like a guy who’d be leaving office under a cloud of corruption and mismanagement. I remember him picking up a bullhorn and stepping into the war zone, rallying the troops, as it were, and creating the illusion of strong leadership when it was most needed. I’m no fan of Giuliani, and I think there are a number of books out now that will give us a more realistic representation of his mayoralty, but I will say that I’ll always be grateful for the strength and courage he exhibited in the aftermath of the attack. It was memorable indeed. 

 I also remember something else that day: I remember how characteristically brusque New Yorkers reached out to one another in uncharacteristic ways. 

 A young man offering to carry an old lady’s groceries, neighbors holding one another and weeping, strangers bumping into one another in the crosswalk, and checking to see that the other person was all right, instead of spewing invective and epithet. 

 It didn’t last long, but for about 48 hours, New Yorkers were all part of the same team. 

 I remember that we had the sympathy of the free world that week, and that we had more allies than foes. 

 I remember Christie Whitman, EPA secretary, assuring people that the air at Ground Zero was safe to breathe. 

 I remember the president telling us that he would get the man responsible, and that the man responsible was Saddam Hussein. 

 I remember how my dog finally calmed down when Liz came home to us on Friday. 

 And I remember seeing an American flag on the back of every firetruck that went by for years afterward. Flags became the must-have fashion accessory of the season. 

 This week will be the 15th anniversary of 9/11.

Frst-responders to the catastrophe are suffering from illnesses like mesothyleoma and black lung disease. 

 And my little dog idied peacefully in my arms 10 Decembers ago of natural causes. 

 Much has changed since that day, and much has been learned. 

 And I must confess that my skepticism rises automatically whenever I see a politician wearing an American flag lapel pin now. 

 I don’t think any New Yorker who lived through it will ever forget that morning. So many heroes, so many horrors, so many images seared into our collective memory. 

 But the image that I keep coming back to is the cloudless summer sky, moments before death and devastation rained down from it.

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