Part One; Watching: The numbers on my face made my owner, Glen’s grin twitch. He put down his pen and flipped to my next face, his anniversary plans with Dana and daily reminders. His knees bounced as he fidgeted in his Ergo chair contemplating his plans for a romantic dinner. Romance had never been his strong side, but he figured after thirty years of marriage, he would give it a try. The smile was the first I’ve seen in a while. His wife, three daughters, and only son have been praying for him to receive a promotion for all his hard work, extra hours, and dedication so they can keep their house. Now, he had finally earned it, and all was good in the world. ‘Thank God!’ He thought, as he pressed his lips up for a rewarding kiss from his cup of Joe.
Suddenly, his hands shook, coffee spilled all over his bright white new shirt, some dripped on me and his other desk mates. Before he could finish cursing, he stumbled to stand up without wobbling. As he looked around, he saw that it was the chairs, the desks, in fact, the whole building that was shaking. First thing he thought of was earthquake, although, strange, an earthquake in the middle of Manhattan, NYC? A rumble from the floors above reverberated through the walls and a security guard swung open the door and announced that a plane had crashed between the 93rd and 99th floor and to clear out immediately.
The office crews were more hesitant to leave their posts than expected, but as the stamping got louder and the ceiling plaster began to crumble and rain down upon them, they exchanged shared expressions of bewilderment. When the sirens went off, they instantly dropped what they were doing and ran to the hallway. Quizzical whispered chatter broke out among the crowd and then rose to an almost roaring rumble when they heard an ear piercing scream from upstairs. Lights flickered in the hallway and the siren was much louder as they made way towards the elevators. When we got inside, Glen dropped me into his briefcase and tucked it under his arm so he could plug his ears. We were heading down to refuge when the whole thing started to wobble and then freeze. Glen began to panic, temperature rising, heart racing, asked, (to no one in particular) “What’s happening?” The elevator was only a few feet from the next floor. The voice of a janitor from up above caused Glen to raise his brows, look up, and lean closer. A flashlight hit his pupils too fast, causing his eyes to squint. Behind the light was Gonzalez, whom he recognized from those late nights spent at the office in the last couple of weeks. “Gonzalez, what’s going on?”
“Don’t panic, I locked the elevator, but y’all need to get out, now” he responded calmly as he lay down on his stomach and reached out his hands. Glen motioned to the lady behind him go first. She barely hesitated and in seconds, was lifted up onto the next floor. “There was an explosion and we need to get out of here ASAP!” He shouted as he continued pulling people to safety.
One by one they helped each other, bodies on backs, then shoulders. They were pulled up by now two strong men. The screaming and stomping around from above didn’t stop, but this group remained incredibly calm and efficient. Once all eight people were pulled up to safety they stayed together, except the first two, a couple from the tour group, who ran the opposite way to try to avoid the crowd. They were holding hands and running to the left stairwell only to get blown back from an explosion. They were coughing like crazy and struggling to breathe as they stuck their heads out the window where the glass was blown out from the force of the explosion. The man took his overcoat off and started waving it around in the air. He thought he heard the sound of a rescue chopper up above.
“Help! Please help us!” screamed the lady next to him. A couple of guards ran over to help them, but a pillar fell and caught on flames. The couple was now trapped, between the flaming pillars and the blown away stairwell, now a cliff-like structure of doom. So they both hung their heads out of the window, waving and screaming for help.
All the chaos distracted the group from the rescue effort and just as Glen sees the man start to climb out the window, a larger man bumps into him, “move it, let’s go, let’s go…” pushing him into the crowd of people and like one giant wave, they poured down the stairs, tripping and cursing, some struggling to stay standing. Suddenly a thick cloud of smoke covered their bodies and they became very hot, very fast and struggled, coughing and gagging for oxygen. As lights and glass exploded and, windows broke, piercing their eardrums a constant ringing remained. The fire alarm now blended in with the other sounds and people really began to panic. Some women were saying prayers, a couple of men were cursing strange obscenities telling everyone to shut up and just focus on getting down, some were chanting repeatedly, “Are we gonna die? I don’t want to die!” The severity of the situation was setting in and the outlook was grim. As they took their last breaths, screams, and cries on their way to a sudden and early grave, the floors collapsed on each other one by one and in a matter of seconds, everything had turned to dust.
Next thing I knew, I was covered in thick ash and smog. I was not in the briefcase, I was missing my binder, and the rest of the pages had vanished. I was floating down the street, only a scrap now. I have never been a scrap. Glen always took such good care of me. He kept his life on a tight schedule and I felt honored to be his organizer. But this certainly was not part of his plans, we knew that much. Glen’s vibrant, charismatic personality got him by well in life and he never gave up, even when times were tough. His life was much more than what could have been written on my various faces.
Life? Where is life? All I see now is burned and grey and still. Sky was bright blue and beautiful from Glen’s window an hour ago. Now… blackness and thick smog filled the air. Glen… Where are you now?
Part Two; NOW: I float through the rooftops, porches and into back alleyways. I float through the streets that used to be so crowed, but everywhere is empty and all is buried in ash and flames. There was an eerie stillness in the air. Soon I begin to hear the familiar screams and panicked voices, this time coming from the streets up ahead. Everyone is running away from me, from us, from all this death and debris. The windstorms of rubble keep ash covered people running, looking like zombies, struggling to breath.
A pastel white woman with thick glasses covered in ash, whispering to herself in Hebrew.
A fireman with third degree burns crashes into me mumbling, “I gotta go back, I gotta go back. There are still people in there…” he was referring to the tower that was still remaining, but on fire from second plane attack. The brief inflection whiffs me back into the air to be carried faster through the hot, hot wind.
A young baby girl crying is for her mother. She is lost.
I hear a younger woman in scrubs state through stuttered speech and tears that she saw people dropping from windows, hand in hand or solo, like miraculous tear drops coming from the towers.
The city’s symbol of bureaucracy and financial corruption will soon become the symbol of illusionary “freedom” tower and I immediately thought of the couple by the window, trapped between the burning stairwell and pillar. Did they escape, or were they one of the jumpers?
I am swept past them all, and for miles and miles but the panic never stops, sirens from fire trucks are blaring, horns honking. What irony and human tragic grief they must feel to think what was written on me today, would bring about the most honest smile on Glen’s face since the banks almost took his house away, to his biggest regret, for if he’d only been out for that “smoke break” on this dreadful day, he would have been able to kiss his wife and kids and been grateful to be alive.
My edges are torn and burnt and the numbers on my face mean nothing now. I ponder this while drifting closer and closer to the Brooklyn Bridge, where thousands of people are walking to get out of the city. I am blowing in a heat wave of smoke, landing on various shoulders until I find myself landing softly on a park bench covered in ash.
Long dreaded hair locks drape over her shoulders as she holds her face in her hands and closes her eyes, trying to block out the disturbing images running ramped through her mind. People jumping from windows, burned and bleeding faces running from buildings, firemen going into them, only to become crushed by the structure’s brutal collapse.
She kept wondering why, with our government and military, being as powerful as they are, why they did not interfere? Where was the mayor and who told the policemen to send the people back into the buildings after the first plane already hit? They will say it was to keep the people calm and not to cause panic, but did they know more? Why did building seven collapse randomly at 5pm, and why did the media take their focus away from that incident shortly after covering the events? A smoking gun perhaps? Why aren’t more officials asking questions instead of giving answers so quick it makes your head spin? Something is not right here. Something worse than I want to believe has happened and our country will never be the same.
She picked me up and as she read the numbers on my face, she wondered where I belonged in that building and what the numbers really meant. Then, she glanced to the bottom of my page and read, Friday: Take kids to Chuckie Cheese Saturday: Celebrate anniversary at The C… the rest of the note was missing. She placed her hand to her mouth and tried not to imagine who Glen was and who would be grieving for him so terribly today. She suppressed her cries with her hand, but could not stop the tears from falling from her eyes.