Where were you on 9/11?

Cover illustration of The New Yorker by Art Spiegelman, 9/24/11.

According to Pew research, 97% of all Americans remember exactly where they were on the morning of 9/11, ten years ago.

I know I do.

I was driving to work at SFGT Advertising in Philadelphia, listening to NPR and thinking what a glorious, perfect day it was. About five minutes to nine (yes, I was late) a woman interrupted the news and said, “A light plane has just collided with the World Trade Center.” I thought — “Jeez, what a schmuck! It’s perfectly clear, how could you possibly run into a building that size?” Then I parked my car and ran upstairs to work.

A cluster of people were in the conference room watching TV, and I wandered in to see what was going on. When I saw the huge, gaping hole in the upper floors of the North Tower I was horrified. And then I saw the second plane hit the South Tower and explode into flames. It wasn’t a light plane. And it wasn’t an accident. The scenario was so bizarre, you simply could not believe your eyes… and could not tear yourself away. I called my mother-in-law in Greenwich Village and she crisply informed me that she lived “nowhere near the World Trade Center, for heaven’s sake” — but my nephew was supposed to have started nursery school in the WTC basement that day, so she was worried about him. (His parents had decided to wait until the next day.)

We watched as the smoke got blacker and more horrible around the upper floors and then, unbelievably, the South Tower fell. It was like a roller coaster falling away underneath you; a visceral plunge. I remember the stunned shock from the news announcers. Nobody had expected that, not so quickly, not a complete collapse! It was there, and then it was gone.

The news kept getting bleaker and more surreal. Which planes were missing? Where were they coming from and going to? Was Washington hit, too? What had happened to the flight over Pennsylvania? As they began to announce the flight numbers of the planes that had hit the WTC, I just started sobbing — thinking about all the times I’d put my daughter on planes alone to go see her dad, and how awful that felt, then imagining somebody prying the stub out of their pocket to see if their kid was on one of those planes. Inconceivable.

I remember my friend Abby being so angry, so inconsolable, so proud that she found a flag she could fly out our brownstone office window. I remember driving home with the flawless blue sky now a mockery, and huddling on the sofa with my husband, watching the imagery over and over again. And picking up my daughter at 3 pm (or was it noon?) when they let the kids out, and told us that they hadn’t been told anything. Some children had parents that worked in New York, and nobody was sure if they were safe.

I still can’t stop crying when I see images from that day. I don’t want to look or remember, but I feel like I have to — out of respect for all those we lost, and all those who lost loved ones.

Where were you on 9/11? I know you remember.