I woke up in a U.S. city that was about as far away from New York as one could get. And still, I was shaking. Those 4,968 miles were too close to home. Anywhere would have been, for a horror like that.
The clock radio alarm went off at 6 a.m. Katie, who we'd put to bed early last night, popped up like a strawberry Pop Tart impossibly sweet and perky. Jen, bless her soul, reached over me and shut off the din, then followed Katie into the living room, allowing me a chance to get a few more minutes of sleep.
The clock radio. Usually it bursts to life spewing Third Eye Blind or some annoying local deejays yapping about thongs, and this morning, certainly, I vaguely recalled lots of talking. Jen, though, heard "airplane" and "New York," and her first bleary-eyed act, after setting Katie up with her orange juice, was turning on the television.
She blew back into the bedroom and startled me awake. She didn't grab or shake me but the tone of her voice alone struck me straight to the bone. "Honey, a plane crashed in New York City, they think it was terrorists."
"Honey, I'm scared."
I jumped out of bed. The first image, literally as I turned to face the television, was the moment of impact of the second plane.
I sat down on the futon, as calm as I could, but really a part of me thought I would have fallen to my knees if not. "Oh my god," was all I could say. Jen sat next to me, biting her fingers. "Oh my god." I processed the information splashed across the screen the talking heads, the scrolling text and started to shake. Two planes. No, three. Four? American Airlines reports one missing. All planes ordered out of American airspace, any one of them still airborne fifty? was a possible fireball of death.
I hated the fact that I was too awake, too far out of the grogginess of deep sleep, to pretend it was a dream.
It was noon in New York when most of Hawaii was just waking up. The siege itself, if not the resulting chaos, was already over. While people on the East Coast suffered the horror of all these different reports coming in as the sun rose, we got it all at once. The moment we tuned in, or logged on. My mind was reeling. My heart was pounding.
Katie was peacfully playing with her puzzle at our feet. People on the screen behind her were running from a thick cloud of smoke and dust. As Katie babbled and sang, we talked to her and responded to her... we were frozen, unable to turn off the news just yet, but painfully conscious of her innocense, her obliviousness.
She turned around, once. My blood instantly ran cold.
She turned back spotting only a logo in the corner of the screen and chirped, "It's United!"
"Yes," I said, trying to feign amusement. "That's..." Something huge lodged in my throat.
"United carries people!" she said, proudly.
Katie loves airplanes. Commercial jetliners. Boeing 747s and 757s, capable of carrying hundreds of people, filled with enough fuel to cross continents or oceans. Impossibly huge, magnificent industrial birds, launched into the air with immense power, reaching speeds of four-fifths the speed of sound, at great altitudes. Millions of Americans fly every day. Business people, families, children.
It's a marvel of modern life. And much as I dread air travel myself, Katie's obsession became mine. Twice a week now we would sit out by the reef runway at Honolulu International Airport (runway 8R) and watch the "heavies" take off. Just last week, I was thrilled to get two of my digicam shots accepted at the notoriously picky Airliners.Net.
This morning, four civilian planes were used as instruments of horrible, horrible evil. Four. God.
And I thought of the sound, the chest-rattling roar of an aircraft taking flight. I felt, inside, the sheer physicality of one of those machines. And I saw it slam, over and over again, into the World Trade Center in New York.
My eyes clouded. I stood up, suddenly, shakily, just to keep from... I don't know, wigging out. I bent down to kiss Katie, then hugged Jen and gave her a long overdue kiss too. "I love you," I said. "I love you."
I decided, frantically, that I had to get to work. I brushed and dressed in front of the TV. Jen, who wasn't scheduled to start at Liberty House today until noon, said she'd keep Katie home, and promised to turn off the news. I kissed the girls and told them again I loved them, and headed out the door. But before the elevator door opened, I unlocked the door and stuck my head back into the apartment to say, once more, "I love you."
I listened to NPR, as I did every morning, but now knowing and hearing things once unimaginable, incredible. Some of the regulars, checking in from New York, were clearly shaken themselves. The tension in the voices, the deliberately somber musical transitions, echoed in my skull. I just absorbed the data, too scared to try to process it while driving.
I turned into the parking lot and caught my breath, remembering, stupidly, how just a few weeks ago bigwigs in this town were plotting how to turn our building into a World Trade Center for Honolulu.
For a moment, I was relieved that people did not consider Hawaii a significant international city (a fact that my office usually exerts enormous energy to change). Then I remembered that the island is basically a hive of a dozen U.S. military bases, as well as home to another important symbol, Pearl Harbor. Then I felt like I was sitting on a potential target.
I think everyone in America was feeling the same way.
Steve was in the conference room, watching CNN. I stood beside him. I don't think we exchanged a word for several minutes. And I don't remember, now, what we said when the silence was broken. Just the same things everyone else was saying.
As the rest of the staff trickled in, we started doing an inventory of colleagues in New York and D.C., and set about checking on them. Everyone at our D.C. office was accounted for, but understandably shut things down for the day. Good friend David reported in, clearly upset, but okay. My boss' son, an occasional fixture in our office, was also safe but he saw the second impact, and the terrible deadly leaps of desperate office workers, with his own eyes. One of our more prominent corporate partners, Morgan Stanley, was headquartered in the World Trade Center with 3,500 employees, the facility's largest tenants. But information was painfully scarse.
Steve called a meeting, and we reluctantly tried to turn our thoughts to more practical issues. How the morning's events might affect our plans in Shanghai next month, for example, and even our already precarious arrangements for our main annual conference next year.
"The world has changed forever," someone on TV said. I swallowed hard.
We were told we could go home for the day. Most of us said we would, but ultimately, all of us stayed and worked. Our boss called us dedicated, but I have no doubt my coworkers were doing the same thing I was: desperately burying ourselves in the minutae of our small world to distract ourselves from the awful human reality of the day.
Then I heard it. The unmistakable roar of a jet engine. I ran for the window at the end of the hall, overlooking Aloha Tower. Every day we'd see planes taking off from HNL out that window, but we knew today there shouldn't be any. My coworkers crowded around, and we scanned the skies, no one vocalizing what we all were thinking: "Is it our turn?"
It wasn't. It was a formation of military fighter jets. We soon learned that F-14s were being scrambled to escort every single inbound commercial jetliner, some of them deflected from the West Coast.
Everyone stopped in the conference room a million times today, each time, each one of us trying to wrap our brains around what we were seeing. The World Trade Center, gone. Four jetliners down. The president in hiding. The nation at full alert. Other countries shocked and stunned, financial markets teetering on a crash or shut down altogether. And children cheering in the streets in Lebanon.
I spent most of the morning trying to get the office back online for some reason, and I still don't care to know it, our DNS servers at GTE were unreachable. I couldn't get our backup servers to propogate to our workstations, and everyone who wanted to browse the web for news had to share the office server. Most sites were swamped. Google, wonderfully, started offering cached pages from major news sites. So we had more access to more incredible information, more horrific pictures.
When I finally did restore access, I logged on and was immediately swept up into the reactions of dozens of separate online groups, all of them united in concern if not in the same way over the tragedy.
Diarists posted lists of journalers in the New York area, and meticulously tracked them down people who didn't know each other, but did, filled with concern for each other. Everyday people were instantly pouring their reactions and reflections onto the web. Meanwhile on TV, live footage of explosions in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The beautiful and horrible truths of the new, connected, global village.
Still, I worked. I coverted attachments, scanned documents, faxed invoices. I finished the copy of a marketing piece, and prepped it for distribution. I helped Steve draft and distribute an official statement on the day's events from a business perspective. At least, my body did these things. My mind was in a whirl.
I thought about the media, how vital they are in times like these, and how deep the pitfalls can be. I thought about George Bush Jr. how I'd always doubted he could handle a national crisis, but for everyone's sake, now hoped he could.
I thought a lot about the airplanes, musing on the same questions the experts were asking. Where was the plane that crashed in Pittsburgh going? (D.C., probably, or Camp David.) How could four planes be taken simultaneously? (With little difficulty, given how lax we are with domestic travel.) How soon did the FAA know something was wrong? (Surely, instantly.) Could a commercial airline pilot have really driven his jet into a civilian target? (Absolutely not, most say the terrorists must have been at the controls.)
And I thought a lot about the World Trade Centers. How, now, there's no there there.
I've been in those buildings. I've leaned sneakily far over the railings on the observation deck. Someone, some kid, was certainly doing the same thing at 8:45 a.m. this morning.
And now she's gone. The buildings are gone. The single largest landmark on the New York City skyline New York City itself one of the single proudest icon of America destroyed absolutely. For New Yorkers, and even me, their absense is impossible to process. Like a sky without a sun, or as Kim Rollins wrote to Kymm Zuckert "like a body with a missing head."
Our generation's Pearl Harbor. Even as one whose life and culture were affected by that Japanese attack, I don't doubt the sentiment for a second. September 11, 2001 will surely be a giant dot a huge throbbing scar on the timeline of world and U.S. history. Veterans will surely bristle, but I'd venture to say, we're in a clearly darker place today.
Pearl Harbor was a military strike, killing and wounding 3,581 people the vast majority Navy soldiers. And, well, it was in Hawaii. Home to me, home to the U.S. Pacific Fleet, but I suspect in most Americans' eyes, a place no more real and near than Tahiti. Today, conservatively, we could have lost 10,000 people. Most of them, completely innocent civilians, just going to work, or getting a bite to eat, or flying home to be with husbands on their birthday. This in New York City, the nation's gleaming front porch, and the heart of our business and financial industries.
There's no comparison.
No, there should be no comparison. And I'm sorry. This was not an act of war. It was an act of terrorism. Cowardice. Evil.
Jen called to say Liberty House was closed for the day (contrary to repeated, erroneous reports by the local media), along with the rest of Ala Moana Center, and she spent the day at home with Katie surrounded only by toys, music and children's videos. I got home late. We ordered pizza, and rushed Katie to bed. Jen, not surprisingly, passed out alongside her. I envy them, putting an end to this horrible day.
I can't help but soak up more of the news, even though so little of it is changing tonight. Now, reports of people buried under the rubble, calling relatives in other states to bring rescuers to them. Locally, the first names of islanders known to have perished Georgine Corrigan, an antiques dealer (here's a blurb on a recent sale she did), and Christine Snyder of the Outdoor Circle (here's a letter she wrote to the Honolulu Advertiser last March).
Yet I know tomorrow will bring more. Much more.
More never-before-seen footage, as the thousands of witnesses in New York get their tapes and film to the media. The incredible, unprecedented rescue and recovery efforts at the former site of the World Trade Center. Undoubtedly we'll hear 911 calls from airplanes, then recordings from black boxes. Then, of course, there's the U.S. response retaliation and the aftermath of that.
I'm terrified by what happened today. But what might come next scares me even more.
This is a horrific act. First act of war on American soil. Feelings of anger, remorse, confusion, pain. To think what we Americans caused more pain than this to Japan with radiation makes me too stunned to say anything. Think about the forgiveness they have toward us after we caused so much pain. I suppose in a way, they can relate.
x (September 12, 2001 9:12 AM)
Unbelievable. It's definitely clear that Katie doesn't grasp the significance of this tragedy. But I agree, she's way too young to understand. Nor should we expect her to at this point in time. I think you and Jen did the right thing.
Keith (September 12, 2001 1:04 PM)
At this point, I am looking in three directions: Back, feeling the pain and agony of the loss of so many. Forward, fearing the potential repercussions not just governmental but internal as well (there's a Muslim community just up the road; they may not be responsible but others in anger may not notice or care that they're nice, hard-working people). Right now, though, I'm looking at the present with little more than disgust, though. Yes, a tragedy occured. Yes, the public deserves to be kept informed. I don't think that means we have to see the impacts over and over and over again on every channel on the dial. As a people, I fear this maelstrom of repeated images of death and Chaos will serve less to unite us than to numb us unto apathy, or even worse, into unguided acts of vigilantism no better than the terroristic acts that led to this unfortuante state of affairs. I can only hope that we, as not only a country, but a whole damned idiotic world will manage somehow to keep our heads through all of this and avoid the rutted, crater-scarred road that leads only to war and the hellish pit of violence.
Lusus Naturae (September 12, 2001 2:23 PM)
I have nothing to offer right now - so crippled I am with grief for my own adopted country - but these words from a U2 song: "In New York freedom looks like too many choices/ In New York I found a friend to drown out the other voices.../ ...Irish, Italians, Jews and Hispanics/ Religious, nuts, political fanatics/ And still, they live happily not like me and you/ That's where I lost you... In the stillness of the evening/ When the sun begins to fade/ I hear your voice still whispering/ Come away, child.../ ....New York, New York..."
Stella (September 12, 2001 4:29 PM)
I just moved here to Virginia from Hawaii three weeks ago and as I sat in English class, hearing the news that the WTC had just been attacked by terrorists (they hadn't even collpased yet when my class got the news) I wondered, blankly, what everyone in Hawaii would think when they woke up and heard the news. I wondered how HI would be affected by it, seeing as it is, like you said, almost 5000 miles away. It's nice (well not really NICE...nothing about the attacks were NICE...) to read an account of someone from my former place of residence.
Grace (September 17, 2001 11:24 AM)
i know i live in australia but my heart stopped for a few seconds when i saw those planes go into the twin towers ... all my friends and i talked about that whole day was how sorry we are for all those americans
Amy (July 2, 2002 10:48 PM)
E kala mai! Comments have been disabled due to overwhelming abuse by spammers. Please click through to any of the video hosting services linked above to leave a public response, or feel free to send an e-mail. Mahalo!
© 1997-2008 Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: email@example.com · Created: 13 November 1997 · Last Modified: 14 January 2008