I was in my bedroom when one of my sisters who lives in New York called, telling me to turn on the TV. Later, my daughter who was safe and sound at Barnard College up at 116th Street in Morningside Heights told me she could see the smoke from her dorm room.
When I started writing There Was an Old Woman, I planned a subplot about a 9/11 survivor -- a man who goes to work that morning in one of the towers, intending to shoot one of his co-workers, and ends up rescuing him. But if you read the book, and I hope you will, you won't find a trace of that story.
As part of my research I visited New York and walked around the pit. I visited the temporary museum (the memorial hadn't been finished yet) and talked with one of the guides and other visitors. I had lunch with a curator from the New York Historical Society who talked to me about how they were collecting objects -- like the venetian blinds that were blown out of one of the towerï¿½s windows and got caught in a tree behind St. Paul's, personal effects that were sifted from the debris at Fresh Kills, twisted pieces of structural steel that were magnificent in a grim way and so big that they had to be stored at JFK airport in a hangar.
I came home overwhelmed with sadness, determined to scrap my novel -- or at least the part that dealt with 9/11. To write about it felt like touching a live wire. I couldn't possibly have done it justice, and the story I had in mind seemed more than ever to trivialize the tragedy.
Today I think about the people we lost that day, and so many more who kissed loved ones good-bye that morning and never saw them again.
Where are your thoughts today?
ROSEMARY HARRIS: Oh boy. This day is always hard. And always will be for me. I was supposed to work out with a fireman pal and he called to say that a plane had crashed downtown (At that time, he had no idea of the scope, he'd just gotten a call from friends at the station.) Then I put the television on and saw the worst.
Bruce had had a breakfast meeting downtown, saw firsthand and took photos, but I can't stand to look at them. He walked home as did thousands of others, with ashes covering his shoes and dusting the cuffs of his pants. My apartment in the city is right near the 59th St Bridge and all day people were walking over the bridge to get back to Queens (no public transportation was running.)No traffic on the FDR Drive and no planes overhead. No hospitals were taking donated blood. Empty wheelchairs lined up outside.
My fireman friend survived, after weeks down at the Trade Center, but he was never really the same. Many of his colleagues at Brooklyn's elite Squad 1 lost their lives.
Recently I had the somber but necessary task of going through the possessions of an elderly relative who had passed away. Not quite a hoarder, Aunt Mary did hold on to stuff for a long time - including this Reader's Digest article about The Greatest Skyscraper of them All. It's dated July 1969, and it's about WTC, then under construction. "Radical in concept, daring in design, it is a dazzling engineering achievement." The details are fascinating - how much, how many, how they kept the Hudson River out while they were digging. So optimistic.
RHYS BOWEN: My son was at drama school in New York City on that day. He called us at 6:10 CA time and said "Do you have the TV on?" We said we were asleep. He said "Turn it on now" and we were in time to watch the second plane crash into the tower. I don't think I've ever seen anything more frightening or ever felt more powerless to do something to help.
But obviously we were not touched the way Rosemary would have been. When I was a teen I used to go up to London to drama school. I narrowly missed getting on a train that was involved in a horrible crash and had to walk home 14 miles in dense fog. I suffered from delayed shock after that and that sense of "why wasn't I on that train?"
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I flew to England on September 10th, arriving at Gatwick early on the morning of the 11th, UK time (5 hours ahead of New York.) I rented a car and drove to Rye, in Sussex, where I had lunch, checked into a B&B and took a long nap. When I woke up, I went out to find some dinner, without turning on the TV, looking at a newspaper, or talking to anyone. It was the waitress at the little cafe who asked if I'd heard the news. I ran back to the hotel and turned on the TV in my room, watching the footage of the planes crashing, over and over.
I couldn't make an international call. No internet. I couldn't talk to my husband, or my daughter, who was away from home for the first time at college. I didn't know if anyone I knew in New York was okay. Or when--or if--I would be able to get home. It was a week before I could communicate with anyone in the States. I've never felt so isolated.
But there was, in England, such a shared sense of grief and shock, and that helped.
JAN BROGAN: My mother was very ill, and I was supposed to drive down to New Jersey that day to help her with housework and care for her. My brother who also lives in New Jersey, called me that morning and said DO NOT DRIVE TO NEW JERSEY today because of possible terrorist attack of the bridges. I asked what the hell he was talking about and he told me to turn on the TV. My husband and I tuned in in-time to see the second plane hit the tower.
I did drive to New Jersey the next day. My mother's house was twelve miles from New York with a view of the Empire State Building from the living room and front bedroom windows. I spent the next week taking care of my mom and watching New York City burn. Many of the parents at my nieces and nephew's private school worked downtown. Every day, there was another horrific story of parents who had died, leaving young children.
My mother died a couple of months later, so my private mourning became entwined with the national mourning.
LUCY BURDETTE: What a horrible horrible moment...and all that loss...and all the reverberations into so many lives...
I was playing golf and we found out when we finished on the 18th hole. I could only think of my brother who frequently worked in the Pentagon. A couple of hours later we found out he was safe.
John and I were in New York a month or so later. I will not forget seeing a closed cafe several blocks from the site--empty, filled with ashes and dust, the plates and silverware left exactly as they had been that morning.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: The most mundane...I was having a haircut. I got a call from the TV station, it had just happened, come to work, NOW. I walked the three blocks to Channel 7, on that gorgeous day, saw people in bars watching the coverage on the TVs through the opened storefronts.
I profoundly remember thinking--the moment I step into the TV station, my life will never be the same. I remember the news director came into my office, saying--you HAVE to find out why this happened! Sigh. And we wound up dong a big story on carry-on weapons--interviewing a flight attendant who explained to us that boxcutters were legal to carry on. As a result of being hard at work, I never saw the worst live video. And I've never watched it.
We then were assigned shifts, twelve hours on, twelve hours off. I had noon to midnight, for maybe--three weeks. I remember we were supposed to have a dinner party soon after, which I considered calling off. Then we decided---no. This is the time to cherish friend
HALLIE: Share your thoughts and memories on this sad anniversary.