For my generation the Big Question wasn’t “where were you when Kennedy was assassinated?” (not even born yet) nor was it “where were you when we landed on the Moon?” (too young to know the difference between the Moon and a light bulb).
No, for us it was “where were you when the Twin Towers collapsed?”.
I had come home from work (time difference you know) and was taking a walk with my dog when the planes hit the towers. Didn’t know it then of course – enjoyed the lovely autumn weather.
When I got home, my (then) husband called me and told me to put on the TV. He was in the city and asked to check what had happened: “People are gathering at the shop windows where there are TV’s – something big has happened”.
I put on the TV and bam.. didn’t leave it until 7-8 hours later to go to bed.
At that time we had satellite and I watched CNN and BBC for hours, switching between channels.
I think I started to watch when the first tower collapsed.
I remember seeing news cameras showing people jumping from the towers.
I remember the news from Pentagon and eventually Pennsylvania coming.
I remember speculations about rescue via the roof – and then it wasn’t an option anymore.
I remember someone saying (maybe later that night) that some shopkeeper had raised his price of water bottles to outrageous high. Don’t know if that was true.
Almost my first thoughts were with the people on the planes: did they understand what was happening, what were they thinking, what were they doing? Did they see they were flying low and wondering what it meant?
A second, very morbid thought was, that the terrorists weren’t as efficient as they could’ve been: if they had hit the towers 1-2 hours later, everyone would’ve been at work and the death toll had been much larger.
I don’t remember when I read/heard that the people could phone from the planes. That was the second time I wondered what was going through their minds in a situation like that. I couldn’t.
At the same time I also started to think about the people trapped above the floors where the planes hit.
They must’ve been waiting to be rescued, and soon, and efficiently. When did they realize there was no way out?
What would I do in that situation? Try to find a stairwell? What about the fire and smoke – would I have crouched on the floor and eventually passed out or would I have made the choice to jump? I don’t know. I don’t know.
A few years later I was at the Vienna airport killing time since my flight was delayed. I spent a long time in a small book shop, by a shelf in the corner, not a very “prominent” place for books.
I found a paperback that was about the calls from the planes. I skimmed the book (not wanting to look like I read without buying), but couldn’t do it very long, since I instantly got tears in my eyes.
I would have assumed that people on the planes would have used their phone calls to tell about the hijackers, identify them, explain what has happened.. But no, instead it seems they talked about love, relationships, life in general. I guess they knew it wasn’t going to end well and they wanted to say goodbye.
I don’t know why I didn’t buy the book. Later I tried to find it online, only to notice that there were several books on the same issue. Never bought any of them.
One clear memory has stuck with me through all these years: in Time Magazine there was an article a year later about a girl, Hilary Strauch.
Of all the stories about that day, that was the one that, for some reason, was on my mind through all these years. I could envision her trying to find a channel where she wouldn’t see the footage of that horrible day, with little luck. I hope she found something to distract her.
Where were you when you heard what had happened?