Our management meeting was just starting; we were at a site in Cambridge, and our small group was wrestling with network connectivity issues in advance of reading the agenda, when Eric pinged Ralph on IRC. Something terrible was happening in New York. We could only read Eric’s transcription, which stopped with an “Oh my god”.
In the months and years that have passed and the number of times that murder has been shown and edited into “news”, the picture in my mind always goes to my friend’s words on the screen, his remarks about trembling and having trouble typing, and seeing.
A very good friend of mine often flew from Boston to DC for work, and had her flight plans changed at the last minute, making it possible for us to have dinner that night. I wrote her to say how lucky we were she didn’t fly that day, and how I was looking forward to breaking peaceful bread together.
One line came back to me in email. “*Her husband’s name* was on United 175.”
I gasped. He never flew for work – he didn’t have to. He was a doctor who specialized in family medicine, the kind of MD who took you cradle to grave. He was funny, and smart, and he made my friend bloom. And now he was gone, oh dear god. How would they find him? (The thought of it even now makes me choke.)
I didn’t exactly follow him that day, but I left the room mentally. In the blue tangy sky, in grief. My fiance was in meetings in San Jose; his mom called him from Denmark to break the news. We touched base (all hail irc) once his meeting started, and then, with Tim’s ok, I was gone.
I drove to the town where there was a candlelight vigil, and searched for my friend. Many somber faces – many somber children’s faces – and a disturbing encounter with a former soldier talking about hell and damnation in front of his toddlers. I escaped his manic rant, and arrived at my friend’s house. Her sisters were with her, and when she saw me, her shoulders dropped. We held hands, and hugged, and I told her I was there to help her with whatever she needed. I tried to get her to eat a little bit of food (a mantra repeated by all of her friends and family), and told her I would stay the night if she wanted.
Friends and family had found a little television in one of the storage rooms (this was not a TV house) and hooked it up. Within three minutes of getting a focused picture, there it was. Oh my God. She was looking at it for the first time, the second plane, her husband, dying in the corner of her dining room. I was in the far corner of the room; I went to her and said, “We don’t have to see this if you don’t want to.” She gave me a soft look, and I turned off the set, unplugged it, and hid it in a closet.
I stayed with my friend that night, and every other night for the length of my visit. What I remember finally were the sounds – the sounds of heartbreak and loss in an old house, callously interrupted by jets overhead. The screeching shook the small town that had lost 3 citizens, echoing over the harbor, too late to save anyone and too loud, too indecent to allow for grieving.
This morning, like every September 11 morning since, I have been quiet through those hours. I woke on this anniversary three hours behind New York, PA and DC, but with it in all around me, in the warm pre-waking embraces, the need to be held, cared for, comforted, in silence.