Where were you on September 11, 2001? I was in Bermuda, ticketed to fly home to New York on Sunday, September 9th. My plans were changed by a hurricane, which was supposed to rip through the island on Sunday. Bermuda’s airport was closed down, hotels removed beach chairs from the beach and taped up glass windows, guests were ordered to stay indoors, etc.
I rescheduled my flight home on the next available ticket — an afternoon flight on Tuesday, September 11, 2011.
Hurricane Erin — At 6 p.m., Sunday, September 9th, when the eye of the hurricane was supposed to be directly over Bermuda, I was standing on the oceanfront terrace of my hotel, gazing out at a picture postcard sunset, not a drop of rain or gust of wind that would indicate that a hurricane was anywhere nearby. The only thing dark and stormy was the drink in my hand — Dark ‘n’ Stormy is Bermuda’s national adult beverage, a mix of Gosling’s dark rum and ginger beer.
I had been scuba diving in Bermuda. I was a relatively new scuba diver in 2001, and many shipwrecks closest to Bermuda in the so-called Bermuda Triangle are at a shallow depth of 35-50 feet, perfect for a novice like me. I did not know at the time that scuba diving would help keep me sane in the days to come. I went diving every day until I could get home again. Underwater was the only time I could not cry, scream, watch the non-stop news coverage on television, or stand on line at my hotel for a phone or to the one and only DSL line for guests in my hotel to contact my family.
The fish underwater did not know about the horror in New York City, Washington, DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and their quiet beauty calmed me. I think of 9/11 each time since that I have suited up for a dive.
Waiting to go home — I was sitting just off the main hotel lobby when the TV screen showed a news report of the first plane hitting one of the the Twin Towers. Like many of us, my first thought was that it was one of those ‘flightseeing’ planes that routinely — then — did loops around the Statue of Liberty and even flew under Manhattan’s bridges. A B-25 bomber had stuck the Empire State Building during the black-out nights of WWII. But this hole was much larger than the vintage photos I had seen of that accident in the 1940s.
While I was processing this, the TV screen showed the second plane hitting the other tower. I remember screaming and people in the elegant hotel lobby looking at me like I was crazy. Indeed, I was. Then I turned into a caged animal wanting to be free, to get home to help my wounded city.
Word got around the hotel quickly that I was a native New Yorker, and both hotel personnel and guests offered support. Whatever I need, they said. What I needed was to reach my elderly mother in Manhattan, to know that she was okay and to let her know that I was okay. But phone lines were down and wi-fi didn’t exist yet. The only way to reach my son was to email a friend who lived near where my son worked in Manhattan and ask the friend to walk a message to my son, and then wait a day for the reply. I could phone my daughter in Los Angeles, but she had no news either about her brother or grandmother in Manhattan because phone lines were down, which included DSL lines (broadband didn’t exist yet in 2001, either). What I needed was for the airports to re-open so I could get home and give blood for the injured, make sandwiches for first responders, anything. And what I needed was to know about my friends and neighbors who worked in or lived near the World Trade Center.
When I got home — There was no six degrees of separation in New York City or surrounding communities. Everybody knew somebody who barely escaped or didn’t, or knew somebody who knew somebody who barely escaped or didn’t. A friend of my daughter’s, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost more than 600 employees, survived because she was late for work that day, taking her daughter to her first day at pre-school. A firefighter friend — one of the very first of the first responders — survived because he kept running from the collapsing buildings, unlike his partner who dove for safety under a fire truck and was crushed to death when the buildings came down. Another friend, who lived on the 54th floor of a building close enough to the Twin Towers that I could wave at workers in their offices, had no electricity for weeks. A salesman in a photo shop I frequented lost his sister who worked in the World Trade Center.
When I got home, every store window in my neighborhood had photos and posters of the missing. The one that tore me to pieces was one that asked, “Have you seen my Mommy?’ The poster included a photo of a little girl with a woman I recognized from my health club, who I sweated with but whose name I did not know. What tore me to pieces was that I also recognized where the photo was taken. It was taken on the 110th floor Observation Deck of the World Trade Center.
Everybody everywhere in these United States, maybe even the world, forgot their political, religious and cultural differences in the days after September 11, 2001. What tears me up today is that it didn’t last.
by Evelyn Kanter