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I Have Only Two Thoughts This Morning

I Have Only Two Thoughts This Morning

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Published by Darren Kaplan
This is what I wrote eight years ago today looking back on 9-11.
This is what I wrote eight years ago today looking back on 9-11.

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Published by: Darren Kaplan on Sep 11, 2011
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04/14/2012

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I have only two thoughts this morning--"what a beautiful day" and "I'm late." I was up until 2:00 a.m.

the night before and I had a hard time getting out of bed. Now I am rushing to catch the 8:38 train instead of my usual 8:19. I hurriedly kiss my little girls goodbye and my wife drives me the two minutes from my house to the train station. "Goodbye, I love you." "Love you too." I dash for the train and make it aboard just as the doors are closing. The 8:38 train arrives in New York's Pennsylvania Station at 9:14 A.M. Thirty-six minutes; I'm very lucky to have such a short commute. But thirty-six minutes can be the dividing line between two different worlds. I don't know it yet, but this morning, my thirty-six minute journey is taking me an unimaginable distance from where I started. Today my train ride will end in a new and unimaginably frightening world. At 8:45 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At 9:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 crashes into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. But I don't know any of this is happening. I am still on the train and there are no radios or televisions to alert me to what is taking place, or that, with each moment, I am hurtling closer and closer to a new world. There is an announcement at some point; I don't know exactly when or whether it was before or after the second plane hit, but suddenly the public address system crackles: "Attention passengers, if you work at the World Trade Center, please stop and call your office when we arrive in Penn Station." Passengers exchange uncomprehending looks and nervous smiles. The first bombing of the World Trade Center is on everybody's mind. "Not again, right?" I look across the aisle. The man in the seat across from me is trying to call his office with his cell phone. I see the luggage tag on his briefcase, the kind of clear tag that you slide your business card into for identification. I can't make out the name of the company, but the address on the business card reads "One World Trade Center." The man's call does not go through. Another passenger is also on his cell phone. "My wife says a plane just hit the Twin Towers," he announces. "No, now she says two planes hit, one in each tower." At that moment, my train enters the tunnel under the East River and all cellular reception ends. We are now approximately four minutes from Pennsylvania Station. I try to digest what I've heard. Two planes? That doesn't make any sense. It's possible for one plane to accidentally strike one of the Twin Towers, but how could two planes hit? And if it was terrorists, where would they get one plane, let alone two? We arrive. I rush up the stairs from the lower platforms to the main concourse of Pennsylvania Station. There are two small television sets facing out from one of the small fast food restaurants. An enormous crowd has gathered in front of the televisions. The picture shows black smoke pouring out of a large hole in one of the towers. "What happened?" I ask nobody in particular. "Two planes just hit

both of the Twin Towers," a man in the crowd replies. "What kind of planes?" I ask, attempting to process the information. "Somebody said it was a 757," another man replies. What? That makes no sense at all! 757s are commercial airliners and what would a commercial airliner be doing on a flight path so close to the Twin Towers? If it was terrorists, how could they force a pilot to fly into the World Trade Center? And 757's are huge aircraft, if something that large had hit the towers, how were the towers still standing? The information I'm getting here is simply no good. I head upstairs and emerge from the West 34th Street Entrance of Pennsylvania Station. What I notice first is the wail of sirens; they are coming from everywhere. In New York, you hear sirens all the time and you don't really pay attention. But today, the sirens are all around and echoing up and down through the streets from all directions. The sirens coalesce into a continuous earsplitting wail. The crowds of people that always fill the streets around Pennsylvania Station during rush hour are still there, but nobody is actually rushing. Instead, they are just standing and looking downtown. You can't see the Twin Towers from here, but you can see big, thick clouds of white smoke rolling up from the south. Everyone is just standing and looking on silently. I try to phone my wife on my cell phone. I get through on the third try. Hi, I'm OK . . . Yeah, I'm fine . . . You OK? . . . the girls? . . . What's going on? . . . What do you mean two 757s? . . . That can't be right. . . . OK, I'm going to head up to the office . . . I'll call you later . . . I love you. I walk my usual block to the Sixth Avenue Subway. People are streaming out of the subway station. I see several people with cameras and huge telephoto lenses leaving the subway and heading south--news photographers--the subways are not going any further downtown than 34th Street and this is as close as they can get by train. But the trains are still running uptown. I take my usual "Q" Train and get off at my usual stop at 57th and 6th. I walk over to my office on the corner of 56th and 5th Avenue. My office is on the fourteenth floor and I cannot see downtown from any of the windows, the surrounding buildings block my view. Thus, despite the fact that I am, at most, six miles away from the World Trade Center, I watch the events unfold the same way the rest of the World does--on television. Everyone crowds around a small black and white television set one of the other lawyers keeps in his office. I watch both towers collapse. I hear the reports that the Pentagon has been hit. I hear the erroneous report that the State Department has been bombed. Repeated over and over by the local newscasts is the rumor that there are other planes unaccounted for, all of which are, at this very moment, probably headed toward New York. We anxiously consider how close we are to the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the GM Building and Trump Tower. We realize our office is surrounded by high value targets. In a hurried meeting of the assembled partners, we agree that we should close for the day. I volunteer to stay behind and make sure that everybody has a place to go before locking the doors. Secretaries are crying and I do my best to comfort them. We hear a jet overhead; everyone assumes

that we are under attack. I look up and see the distinctive twin-tail shape of an F-15. "Relax," I say, "it's ours." The trains have long since stopped running. We are prisoners on Manhattan Island. Eventually everyone finds a place to stay. I pause long enough to think of all the people I know who work in the Twin Towers. I am certain that every one of them is dead. My office has a large balcony that overlooks 5th Avenue. It is the singular feature that justifies the absurdly high rent we pay. We have spent much of the day on that balcony looking at the smoke engulfing downtown. The street below is completely empty of cars. I've never seen it like that. In both directions, as far as the eye can see, 5th Avenue is devoid of vehicle traffic. An unfamiliar sound fills the late morning air of Midtown Manhattan--total and complete silence. At about 11:00 a.m., I begin to see the first small crowds of them--the refugees. People from downtown New York aimlessly heading north. Away from what will come to be called "Ground Zero." Soon the sidewalks of 5th Avenue are filled with an unending column of humanity--all streaming north. Some of them are covered in dust. All look numb and expressionless. They are mechanically putting one foot in front of the other knowing only that they need to head as far away from Ground Zero as possible. It is just as I have seen in movies. But I never thought I would see it here. Not in America, not in Manhattan. The crowd is silent except for the occasional echo of a portable radio. In the thousands, they stream underneath my balcony. Never looking up, their eyes focused straight ahead. They look defeated. This is what war looks like. Please don't presume to tell me that what we are not engaged in a war right now. I know what it is. I've seen it.

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