Seven years ago I worked as an editorial assistant for a leading cardiology journal in San Francisco. One of my humble jobs, every Tuesday morning, was to pop into a bagel shop on the way to work at 6:00 in the morning, and pick up bagels for the doctors' weekly peer review meeting.
As I was walking to the office, a UPS delivery man pulled in front of a coffee shop, his radio blaring. The voices of the radio announcers sounded urgent, strained. A woman was standing outside of the coffee shop. I can close my eyes and see her perfectly. She had her coffee in her right hand, raised to her shoulder. She wore a blue sweatshirt, and had red hair. The leash leading down to her yellow lab was wrapped around her left hand, which hung at her side.
As the UPS man (he had brown hair, held a small box and a yellow envelope) rushed out of the truck, the woman with the dog smiled and asked him "What's going on?", referring to the loud radio.
The rushing UPS man paused, looked at her for just a moment... "A plane hit the World Trade Center in New York"... and he rushed in to deliver the packages. I had stopped walking. The woman with the dog looked at me. Shocked, perplexed. I looked at her. What do you say? I said what I suppose alot of people said many times that day... "Oh my god."
At the office, I turn on the radio. Between seeing the UPS man and getting into my office, the second tower was hit. I sit, stunned, at my desk. The doctors are filing in for the meeting. They don't call it off. They don't send us home. They simply go about their business, shaking their heads, while the whole world is changing.
When word comes across the radio about the plane hitting the Pentagon, I start to lose it. The pentagon is what my Mom sees when she looks out of her bedroom window. Stupidly, I try to call her. The lines are overloaded, busy. That sickening feeling of not being able to get through.
Later, there's word that one plane is missing, possibly headed for Washington to strike another target. I worry about my mom. Try calling again, and again fail to get through. A few minutes later, miraculously, my co-worker tells me my Mom is on line one.
I talk to her. She's scared, crying. Says she can smell the jet fuel and burning from the Pentagon. She doesn't know what to do. I tell her she needs to get out of there, and fast. The highway, which she can also see from her apartment, is gridlocked. The cars aren't even moving at this point. There are SWAT teams on the rooftops of the buildings around her, which are occupied by armed forces offices out of the Pentagon as it is being remodeled. Men in uniform are running down the street. She says it looks, smells and feels like hell.
The rest of the day blurs. We worked, the whole day. I hear on the radio that the buildings have collapsed, but I don't fully understand what has happened until I get home, and actually see the footage on television. What the hell just happened? What is going on? San Francisco is eerily quiet. My boyfriend and I live near a highway off-ramp. What is usually bumper-to-bumper traffic in the afternoon is non-existant. It's quiet out. The planes usually roaring in to land in South San Francisco aren't there. We sit and stare at the television, marveling at destruction. I cry for a while, and talk to my mom again. She's three martinis in and resigned for the coming apocalypse.
I look out the window and see the same shades of red, grey, white and blue flickering on the screens of the televisions in every apartment. We're all watching it; we're all wondering what it means.