NEW YORK What day is it? Thursday. No, Friday morning it”s 2 a.m. And even though I”ve put in a second or is it third? 18-hour day reporting for CNN, I can”t sleep.
It”s thundering here in New York City. And the deep rumbles are profoundly unsettling even for this veteran war correspondent, who has heard artillery barrages in Nicaragua and El Salvador and Liberia explosions in Panama City after the U.S. invasion, and Mexico City after earthquakes.
But this time, the ruin the danger and devastation and body count is at home.
I”ve lived in Manhattan for almost 20 years now. I don”t live anywhere near the World Trade Center. My apartment is safely north 123 blocks north, according to a city map I”ve just looked at, and realized is a sad relic of a New York City forever changed. Still, it all hits me where I live.
It hits all Americans where they live.
When I was a kid I”m a “50s kid one of the Big Questions was: Where were you when you heard that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated? One of the Big Questions from now on will be: Where were you when you heard that terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon?
Me, I was in my Upper West Side apartment, reading the New York Times just before 9 a.m. on the newest Historical Date To Remember: September 11, 2001.
The mother of my long-time boyfriend telephoned from Dallas, Texas. “Oh God, is Cas in New York?” she asked. Cas is a financial industry consultant whose primary client has, for three years, been a company with offices on the 93rd floor of the World Trade Center north tower.
Cas was safe at home in Dallas. His World Trade Center clients were among the thousands who were not safe: All 38 of them were killed in the attack.
How can anyone be sure? After the first hijacked airliner hit the North Tower, one of this company”s employees called a relative on his cell phone. Everyone else in our offices is dead, he said, in a voice broken by static and fear. A few of us are here in a windowed conference room one with a spectacular view of the city on a clear day like Tuesday trying to shield ourselves from the hellish jet-fueled flames.
And suddenly, the call cut off. Minutes later, the North Tower collapsed. Dissolved. A 110-story building just gone.
There were 38 people in that one office. 50,000 worked in the two towers of the World Trade Center. For three days now, everyone has been doing this grim math problem. None of us wants to factor it out, but all of us know the answer somehow: Thousands of people individual people, with middle names and pet peeves and petty worries people who liked their coffee black or with milk and two sugars people who read “Green Eggs and Ham” to their kids, and knew how to give great kisses, and left their smelly socks on the floor people who had plans for this weekend, and for the mark they hoped to leave on this world someday all those people were just gone.
And for those legions of the lost each one of them there are networks of people who knew them and loved them, or met them once and thought they were nice. People who will now have holes in their lives, in the shape of a person who never came home from work on Tuesday.
The New York Daily News headline on Thursday read: “10,000 Lost.” I”ve never been all that good at math, but how many holes does that leave in how many lives?
I have to close this now the alarm is set to ring in four hours. And when it does, I”ll jar awake and sit up, startled and disoriented. Until I remember: Oh, yes. The world has changed.
I”ll get up, get dressed: a pressed shirt that will look passably good on camera sturdy jeans and hiking boots for walking through Ground Zero dust dust that, after tonight”s rains, will have turned to unholy mud.
Officials say another several downtown buildings are on toothpicks may fall in the overnight storm. For three days now, I”ve looked at the faces of people on Manhattan”s sidewalks, buses, subways. So many spirits seem close to falling, too.
The “Are You OK?” e-mails help, profoundly they”re getting through, when telephone calls do not. Suddenly, prayers matter. For many of us, they”re somehow getting through, too.
I”ll try to write again soon. In the meantime, tell the people you love that you love them. And go about living. Those of us in New York City will try to join you soon.
Beth Nissen is a CNN correspondent and a former reporter for The Michigan Daily. She has also been a visiting professor at the University of Michigan.